Saturday, July 30, 2011

The HuffPo and the Fake AP Style Book Weigh in on the Content Tsunami

I.                 The Huffington Post as roach motel (they check in, but they don’t check out):

Scene 1: Ad Age columnist Simon Dumenco writes a piece about Steve Jobs and Weinergate. Since it dealt with a popular topic, the post turned out to be a big hit, attracting lots of visits. So much so that the piece was “aggregated” by a blogger at The Huffington Post. What this means is that Dumenco’s article was paraphrased with extensive quotes without adding anything to the original (i.e., another avenue by which the Content Tsunami grows without actually increasing the quality of information):
HuffPo's aggregation, titled "Anthony Weiner vs. Steve Jobs: Who Won On Twitter?," consisted of basically a short but thorough paraphrasing/rewriting of the Ad Age post -- using the same set-up (i.e., pointing out that Apple had the misfortune of presenting its latest round of big announcements on the same day Weiner resigned from Congress) and the bulk of the data presented in the original Ad Age piece. Huffpo closed out its post with "See more stats from Ad Age here" -- a disingenuous link, because Huffpo had already cherrypicked all the essential content. HuffPo clearly wanted readers to stay on its site instead of clicking through to

Scene 2: Dumenco publishes another blog piece detailing HuffPo’s dubious modus operandi.

Scene 3: HuffPo editor Peter Goodman acknowledges the extensive “borrowing” by the blogger and announces that the offender has been fired.

Scene 4: Dumenco thanks the editor for acknowledging the excessive and unscrupulous use of his content, but demands that the fired aggregrator be reinstated. His point is basically that this is not an isolated exception but rather typical of the Huffington Post’s way of doing business. He cites another writer who describes this popular website’s editorial policy as follows:
What the Huffington Post does with many stories it picks up from others (including LA Observed) is have a junior writer rewrite them without adding new facts or smart observation, then not hint until the end that the story actually came from somewhere else.
Dumenco then goes on to analyze other instances of how the website hijacks other people’s content, tweaks it a little and adapts it in order to attract the highest possible number of visitors. For instance, a piece on James Franco is given the HuffPo treatment: “The post is peppered (as per HuffPo's standard practice) with classy SEO-humping keyword phrases -- including ‘James Franco Porn’ and ‘James Franco Gay’ -- as well as 11 in-bound links to previous Huffington Post "coverage" of the actor.”

Scene 5: The over-aggregator is rehired. However, there is no word as to whether the Huffington Post will cease commandeering other people’s content on the high seas.

My take on the incident is: Do you really want to keep on harping on about the Content Big Bang when so many business models seem to be based on reproducing other people’s work with tiny little tweaks to gain some adclick nickels and dimes?

And if you still don’t believe me, listen to this from Bill Maher’s show:
Bill Maher: The problem with the Internet, and I don’t see anyone saying this, is that it depends on clicks. That’s how they make their money. They don’t really want to give you a lot of information. They want to make you click as many times as you can. I mean, I love Arianna Huffington, but the Huffington Post…
David Carr: But it’s a mousetrap…
Maher: Right, it’s a mousetrap…
Carr: It’s like a roach motel. Once you get in, you can’t leave.
--Real Time with Bill Maher, Episode #218 (Originally aired 6/24/11)
II.               Another synonym for "content"

And, finally, The Fake AP Style Book (a.k.a. Write More Good) weighs in on the Content Tsunami.

Boon. Threat. Savior. Scourge. Builder. Destroyer.
All these words and more (“porn”) describe the world of communication technology, from computers and the Internet to the ever-increasing variety of smartphones and other technological toys that people use to avoid paying for the entertainment (porn) they consume.
But the Online Information Superdome is a double-edged sword. It’s true that the breadth, depth, and relative cheapness of online platforms have a democratizing effect on content (porn), theoretically giving just about anyone an equal shot at a large audience for their output (porn). It’s also true that major corporations and scrappy small publications alike are still figuring out how to get paid enough for their content (porn, cat pictures) to sustain their bloated ranks of middle managers. [p. 115]

(I have covered the great cyber-garbage patch—allegedly the greatest opportunity for the translation industry since Yaweh cursed the Tower of Babel—here, here and here.)

Miguel Llorens is a freelance financial translator based in Madrid who works from Spanish into English. He is specialized in equity research, economics, accounting, and investment strategy. He has worked as a translator for Goldman Sachs, the US Government's Open Source Center and H.B.O. International, as well as many small-and-medium-sized brokerages and asset management companies operating in SpainTo contact him, visit his website and write to the address listed there. Feel free to join his LinkedIn network or to follow him on Twitter.

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