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Wednesday, October 4, 2023

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Mahalo's Calacanis: Time To End The Content Farm Arms Race

No stranger to controversy, Mahalo CEO Jason Calacanis threw down a gauntlet at his “content farm” competitors, arguing they’re polluting the web and angering Google, to the detriment of searchers and their own companies.

Calacanis made his remarks during an “Ending The Content Arms Race” talk at FM’s Signal LA event. My semi-live blogging of his talk is below.

Jason recaps how he started Mahalo in 2007 reaction to what he considered bad search results on Google, results that were filled with spam. He felt human editors could do a better job selecting results for the most popular searches. Along the web, the company transformed into providing content. But last year, as he felt the Mahalo was heading “sideways,” he revisited its mission.

The Content Explosion, But Where’s The Quality?

Mahalo found that people really wanted articles, video and Q&A content, so it began to focus more strongly on that. But it also found it was playing catch-up against companies that were cranking out huge amounts of content.

Demand Media does 5,700 pieces per day; Aol 1,700 per day; Yahoo’s Associated Content at 1,500 pieces per day. All this versus Mahalo’s 1,100 pieces. The figures are all off a slide Calacanis flashed up — I don’t know the source materials for those figures, sorry. The slide above is from later in his presentation, when he shows the figures again but says less content might be better.

But in trying to fight in punching out more content, Calacanis also realized he was generating bad content. He flashed up a slide of Mahalo’s “How to Play The Xylophone” page which started out as step one, “Be Sure You Want To Play The Xylophone,” as you can see below:

Why was he putting bad content like this out, he asked himself? [Part of the reason for him asking was because last week, Business Insider did a send-up of that page — the screenshot above comes from that post, which goes into more detail about the former page].

Why were his competitors doing the same? He flashes a pretty bad Yahoo Answers page that gets laughs; a page from eHow on how to bathe a small rodent:

Calacanis also pokes at the Huffington Post. After explaining he knows Arianna Huffington, has talked to her in the past, likes her — he brings up an example of the Huffington Post summarizing someone else’s news articles. He says 80% of the Huffington Post is simply rehashing of other people’s content like this.

“It’s mind blowing to me when I see the Huffington Post beating the people who are doing the original reporting,” Calacanis said.

The Google Giant Awakens

But the days of riding to the top of Google are over, he says, flashing up a blog post from the head of Google’s web spam team Matt Cutts, who said in late January that Google would looking at ways to to prevent “shallow or low-quality content” from doing well in its search results:

People are asking for even stronger action on content farms and sites that consist primarily of spammy or low-quality content. We take pride in Google search and strive to make each and every search perfect. The fact is that we’re not perfect, and combined with users’ skyrocketing expectations of Google, these imperfections get magnified in perception. However, we can and should do better.

Says Calacanis, this was a sign that Google was awakened to content factories, bad news for those businesses.

“The one rule of working with Google is don’t make them look stupid. If you make ‘The Google’ look stupid, they’ll f- you up,” he said — except the audience got the full F-bomb. “eHow, you’ve awoken a giant,” he went on — explaining how he’s been on the wrong end of the Google giant in the past.

Calacanis went on to say he likes Demand Media, knows executives there as well as at other so-called “content farms” and has lots of admiration for them. But they all need to change, and the solution to calming the giant is for the content to get better.

Stop The Internet Pollution

“We have to look in the mirror and ask, ‘Is this what we want create for our users?’ We are polluting the internet.”

Now Mahalo spends $100s to $1,000s on each page to ensure better content, Calacanis says. “It’s good for business if we get back to focusing on quality … we have to switch.”

Calacanis shows a “How to cook a turkey” page on Mahalo which he says has tons of good video content, the decries it has to compete against 17 different articles from eHow on every variation of how someone might want to cook a turkey. “Do you guys understand now why I’m going insane?”

Going on, he said: “We’re going to make high quality content, and I will ride Google every day until I’m number one for ‘How to cook a turkey’.”

Calacanis also asks the advertisers at the event not to support poor content. “You shouldn’t put your ads next to sub-par content. We will not make content unless we have an expert. Demand Media will make content if someone will take $10.”

He warns again about Google: “Google is figuring it out. eHow makes Google look stupid.”

Last week, Calacanis says the Mahalo Xylophone article got updated, at the cost hundreds of dollars, with lots of videos. “But I can sleep at night again.”

Looking at the page myself quickly, I see what appear to be two original videos. I don’t know how much more content has been added overall compared to the old article. I suspect no single page is really going to explain how to play any musical instrument in any depth.

Calacanis concludes with a question to his competitors: “Are you making content we can be proud of or pissing off Google?”

See also: Demand Media & Being “The Best Click” On Google for a related article from the event today.

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