How Much Content is Too Much?

    February 8, 2011
    Chris Crum

As you probably know by now, AOL has purchased The Huffington Post to further bolster its growing content business. HuffPost co-founder Arianna Huffington (now Editor-in-Chief of all AOL Content) said following the announcement, that earlier this year, the company was looking to expand local sections, launch international sections, add more original videos, and additional sections that would "fill in some gaps" in HuffPost’s current offerings. This would include things like cars, music, games, and underserved minority communities. 

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WebProNewsThe Huffington Post produces 300-500 articles per day. Should we consider that a content farm?

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Where have I heard that "filling in the gaps" before? Oh yeah, it was Demand Media CEO Richard Rosenblatt talking about DM’s strategy of filling in the gaps in Google’s index (we believe it’s gone well beyond filling in gaps to over-saturation at this point). 

In fact, that’s not the only parallel one might draw between Demand Media and The Huffington Post. Demand upon filing its IPO a couple weeks ago, also expressed interest in growing internationally. As far as original videos, DM is already the biggest supplier of videos on YouTube. Like HuffPost, Demand is also looking to expand into more and more verticals.  Of course with AOL’s buyout, HuffPost is by default expanding into many more verticals. 

Arianna Huffington Now Running Content at AOL"By combining HuffPost with AOL’s network of sites, thriving video initiative, local focus, and international reach, we know we’ll be creating a company that can have an enormous impact, reaching a global audience on every imaginable platform," Huffington said. "Let’s go down the checklist: Local? AOL’s covers 800 towns across America, providing an incredible infrastructure for citizen journalism in time for the 2012 election, and a focus on community and local solutions that have been an integral part of HuffPost’s DNA. Check."

"Original video? AOL’s just finished building a pair of state-of-the-art video studios in New York and LA, and video views on AOL have gone up 400 percent over the last year. Check. More sections? AutoBlog, Music, AOL Latino, Black Voices, etc, etc, etc. fill gaps in HuffPost’s coverage. Add all that to what HuffPost is doing with social, community, mobile, as well as our commitment to innovative original reporting and beyond-left-and-right commentary, and the blending will have a multiplier effect."

In a recent article, I asked, "What if content from one company dominated search results?" Well, what if content from a few select companies did? Is that much better? If DM’s eHow has the how-to genre covered, than AOL/HuffPost surely has current events covered. Search for "justin bieber super bowl commercial", you’ll find The Huffington Post among the top results. Search for "who won super bowl", you’ll find The Huffington Post. Search for ‘jane harman resigns,’ you’ll find the Huffington Post. Search on tech related news topics, you’ll often get TechCrunch or Engadget results. 

Now, let’s be clear. I am in no way comparing AOL’s content to that of Demand Media’s. Clearly there are a lot more quality issues going on with eHow than Engadget, for example. The best result may very well be a TechCrunch article or a Huffington Post article on any given topic. Sometimes, the same might even be said for eHow. 

The problem is simply that we’re bound to see variety in search results dwindle further and further down. What percentage of first page results is going to come from either Demand Media or AOL? Right now, I’d wager that it’s pretty high. Throw in a few others like Yahoo and Examiner, and it’s even higher. In the era when just about everyone has the ability to contribute content to the web, it seems that only a select few get to reap the search traffic benefits. At least for now. That means users are seeing less options (without digging too far). 

We have still yet to see what Google has in store in the way of content farms, but we know that it is indeed "shifting its focus" to these kinds of entities. We know the recent Google algorithm change was not directed at content farms, so the spammy sites with unoriginal content that got hit by that are not what Google considers content farms. Content farms are something else. The phrase "content farm" can cover a lot of different entities depending on who you ask, but the poster child, and the one company whose name comes up nearly every time the phrase is mentioned (including in Google’s top results for the query) is Demand Media. But Rosenblatt says the company is not a content farm. So what is? Associated Content? Suite101? Huffington Post? None of the above? All of the above? 

It’s unlikely Google will single out a company or domain. Blekko has taken this approach, but Google’s Matt Cutts has indicated that Google will not approach the situation with any human editing, but is looking at an algorithmic approach. While the definition of content farm may vary from person to person, Google has actually attached a definition to it, so as far as Google results are concerned, that’s the definition that should be paid most attention to. That definition is: "sites with shallow or low-quality content."

Seems simple enough. This would indicate that as long as Google sticks to its word, and is able to do so, Demand Media, AOL/HuffPost, and any other company churning out content will do just fine as long as they are able to actually churn out quality content. The question is can they continue to do so on a large scale that meets the grand visions that these companies have? Maybe they can, and everyone will benefit. Search engine users shouldn’t have much of a beef with the saturation of search results if the quality is always there, but that may be easier said than done. Quality is in the eye of the beholder though. It will be interesting to see how Google’s idea of quality matches up against users’. Lately, it seems it’s not always matching up so well. It often does, but it often doesn’t. 

As companies are rushing to create ways of filtering out the noise of an ever-increasing amount of content, the search space may become more competitive than it’s been in a long time. Bing is trying its hardest to give Google a run for its money in search market share, but companies like Blekko and DuckDuckGo are bringing different ideas to the table. It’s unlikely that you’ll see either of these achieve Google-like domination of the market, but I do think they represent a bigger picture view of the space, illustrating that that there is room for more ideas based on different concepts. Search is becoming more diversified. Google may dominate the market for the foreseeable future, but people will do more of their searching across multiple properties.  They won’t go to Google for every type of query. 

There still remains tremendous potential for social media in search. We’ve barely scratched the service on where this could go. Facebook could become a much larger player in the space. Google is making moves that could make it a much more effective search engine in terms of using friends to filter out noise. Bing has already begun doing this. Blekko and DuckDuckGo are taking different approaches to filtering out noise. 

Infinite content makes search more important than ever, and it’s entirely possible that there’s just too much for any one search engine to handle effectively – even Google. That doesn’t mean that Google has to give up on its mission of organizing the world’s information. It does mean, however, that users are forced to find the right combination of tools to help them organize their world’s information.

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Chris Crum
Chris Crum has been a part of the WebProNews team and the iEntry Network of B2B Publications since 2003. Follow Chris on Twitter, on StumbleUpon, on Pinterest and/or on Google: +Chris Crum.