Do “content mills” degrade the overall quality of content on the web?

We live in a fast paced, digital age. Does that mean we have to give up good quality writing and reporting to stay relevant on the web?

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Will we soon see blog posts labeled as though they were certified-organic fruits?

(Credit:CC: Flickr user dlytle)

Walk through the produce aisles of any grocery store and on the outsides of avocados, pomegranates, mushrooms, and just about everything else you’ll see an astonishing number of stickers and labels advertising various kinds of quality standards: certified organic, fair-trade, all-natural, locally grown, and so forth.

Might we soon be seeing the same kinds of labels on digital content?

A small trade group called the Internet Content Syndication Council (ICSC) has been circulating a document since late May–highlighted Tuesday in an AdWeek article–to drum up industry concern about “content mills,” a fast-growing sector of the digital media business that publish loads of cheap, fast stories (mostly created by low-paid freelancers) that rank high in search engine results, and run ads against them. Content mills like Demand Media, AOL’s Seed.com, and Associated Content (freshly acquired by Yahoo) say they’re streamlining the creation of print and multimedia content up to the speed of the Digital Age, filling up holes in the Web with new, often very niche-oriented material. But they have also unleashed a bogeyman of a business model onto the Web, with many journalists and media outlets claiming that their craft is getting cheapened, perhaps fatally so.

“The rise of ‘content mills’ threatens to degrade the overall quality of content, thereby reducing the usefulness of the Internet for users seeking information–and also for the advertisers who want a good environment for their messages,” the ICSC document reads. “To counter this threat, the Internet Content Syndication Council believes the time has come to start an industry discussion about the best way to preserve standards of quality for informational content.”

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