Content Farms vs User-Generated Content Sites
In media discussion about user-generated content sites, it is not uncommon to see the term "content farm" bandied about.
In most instances, the term content farm (or content mill), which I find to be extremely derogatory, is unfairly used. Why? Because user-generated content sites and content farms are very different things.
Let's first take a look at the definition of user-generated content.
Consensus has it that user-generated content is media created by people acting independently of their professional activities. They may be motivated to create content by a desire for self-expression, the need to get a point across, a compulsion to express creativity or share a passion with the world, or ambitions to become a professional writer/poet/journalist/online star, but their motivations are most certainly intrinsic.
This means that the media on user-generated content sites is created by people who are, for the most part, genuine and passionate about their work. In most cases, those contributing content to user-generated content sites are free to write about whatever they please and however they please.
Content generators on these sites may gain financial perks in the form of ad revenue or prize money, but for the most part are not paid for their work by the user-generated content sites themselves. Most importantly, content generators on these sites almost always retain ownership of their work, and can alter, move, or delete it as they please.
Though these sites see a wide variation in quality, the overall value of their media is great because it was created with genuine passion.
- Intrinsic motivation
- Open platform
- The content generator always owns his content, and may continue to earn money from it over time (should it be monetized)
- Quality varies widely
Good examples of user-generated content sites include:
What about you?
Lots of great user-generated content creators have also written for content farms to make some up-front money on the side. Have you?
Now, let's have a look at content farms.
Content farms, on the other hand, feature content that is often paid for on a piecemeal basis. They are vaguely similar to user-generated content in that amateur writers may join and contribute content, but the similarities end there.
While user-generated content sites usually give content creators the freedom to write about whatever they like, content farms specify certain topics or titles from which their content creators have to choose- or they simply assign the work. Content farms have strict standards on content and in many cases content generators must first pass a test or submit an application before being admitted.
The content generated on content farms is also designed to be as optimized as possible for search engines- the goal is to rank high in search engine results, drive a lot of visitors to the site, and make money from ad revenue. Content created just to drive traffic or clicks to ads tends to be inferior to that created because the author genuinely wants to share information on a subject, hence the content you’ll find on a content farm will typically be low quality relative to content you’ll find on a user-generated content site (though you will definitely find the same sort of click-driven drivel on UGC sites).
- Content creators are motivated by money; the platform is interested in driving traffic and clicks on ads
- There are stricter article standards and often one must apply before being accepted
- Ownership is usually sold to the content farm upon submission and approval
- Quality is consistent, but thin
Good examples of content farms include:
- Yahoo! Voices (previously Associated Content)
People are seldom motivated to publish articles or videos on content farms for intrinsic reasons- if they did, these sites would not have to pay for their content. Those publishing on content farms do so primarily for money (though to be honest the amounts typically paid per article are very low).
Are people who publish media on content farms somehow lesser content generators? Absolutely not. Many of the most successful, inspired, and talented content generators I know publish both on user-generated content sites and content farms alike. Content farms provide a nice up-front bonus for articles that are typically not hard of time consuming to write, so along with private freelance writing gigs, these make for great resources for new freelance writers who are getting their bearings in the field.
What do you think?
Should content farms be considered to be UGC sites?
Are content farms really user-generated content sites?
Content farms are, indeed, comprised of content created by users- at least, content created by people who have accounts, log in, and independently create and submit articles, however they deviate from the traditional definition of UGC (by the OECD’s standards) in that their content is not exactly created outside of professional routines and practices. After all, they’re being paid for this work, and many people who write for these sites are professional freelance writers.
One might conclude, then, that content farms aren’t ‘real’ user-generated content sites at all.
The gist: be careful what you call a content farm.
If user-generated content sites were to be compared to restaurants, content farms would be fast food franchises. While one might consider a McDonald’s to be a restaurant, it would be pretty insulting to denounce a local family-owned bistro to be a fast food joint.
Is there wide variation in the quality of one-off restaurants? Absolutely. There are thousands of restaurants far more vile than the worst fast food franchise out there, just as there are thousands of genuine UGC articles and videos that are really, really horrid. That said, if you want to go out for a really nice dinner, you’re not going to get the kind of attention to detail and delicious food you might like by going to a Burger King, just as you’re not going to find any spectacular online resources on content farms.
This is why it’s insulting to call a user-generated content site a content farm. Yes, there is variation in quality, but I’m willing to take the bad along with the good- what matters to me most is genuine passion for a subject, and for all their polished consistency, content farms simply don't have it.
- Users sell articles for upfront payments (typically small)
- Both writer and site are motivated by money
Closed publishing platforms
- More rules and requirements
- Often have to apply to join- not open
- Paid up front, then that’s it
- Articles not updated
- Uniform but generally low (the buzzword here is “thin”)
UGC Sites vs. Content Farms
- Users publish media outside of their professional lives
- Intrinsically motivated
Open publishing platforms
- Moderation rules, but typically free and anyone can join
- May be able to passively make money, but not paid upfront
- User retains ownership of the content
- Varies widely, but includes some great, genuine stuff
If user-generated content sites were restaurants, content farms would be fast food chains. Not all restaurants are fast food franchises; it’s an insult to refer to them as such.