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Looking back at sportals and spamalism

search terms offer insight into both our fears ("how bad is caffeine during pregnancy") and desires ("bronies"). And thanks to thousands of poorly paid freelance writers looking to pick up some extra cash or toiling for wages, the results we're served in these vulnerable moments are often hastily scribbled, poorly written, ungrammatical filler text. This old world relic represents a time when getting to the top of Google rankings wasn't dependent on the quality of information you supplied but how many people linked to your site.

Content mills make product to fill a page
, creating the impression that something is there. It's the marshmallow fluff of content.

The differentiator is that although things move quickly in online journalism, writers (freelancers included) are given enough pay to ensure they research the story. They read academic literature; they consider their topic. The legitimacy of a news outlet allows them to call up anyone in the world and pick their brains for a half-hour. Then and only then, once a writer has the best knowledge possible, do they begin clattering fingers against keyboards.

At $2 for 300 words, you're not afforded that luxury. You can't talk to a quack doctor, never mind the person with the most knowledge in the room. In order to make the sheer volume of work you're expected to produce economical, you simply have to write. A quick glance at Wikipedia might work, but nothing more. (In fact, most writers at such content mills would probably just rather copy and paste Wikipedia content, which is why sites like MyAMS have built-in word matching software to prevent you from doing so.)

Content mills appear bleak to outsiders. It's easy to perceive what they do as disingenuous or manipulative, to say nothing of being exploitive. However, after some time in and out of the system, a dark secret becomes clear. These content mills aren't entirely different from legitimate content creation, once known as journalism.

At their essence, both trades invoke the notion of Johannes factotum--Jack of all trades, master of none. Journalists who don't have a specialism can be given a news story, a topic, or an angle in the morning and produce a widely read, explanatory piece that is treated as the story of record by lunchtime. Of course content milling and journalism are separated by a decent distance, but they exist in this same (large) ecosystem. The Johannes sector also encapsulates freelance work bidding sites such as Updesk, the new name for Elance-oDesk after the two big beasts in per-job freelance hiring merged in December 2013. This is the game Amazon targets with its Mechanical Turk website, which allows individuals to earn money on Human Intelligence Tasks, or HITs. Odd jobs, which include writing 50-word product descriptions for $1.25, are available by the thousands.


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