Tech by VICE

Content Farms Are Dead

Content farming was actually designed to be an infinitely profitable business, and that delusion will result in suddenly broken business models.

by Carles Buzz
Jul 15 2016, 4:00pm

Anyone still living life on the content farm will be left behind, owning an unfarmable piece of property that can't be sold. Consumable content can't be harvested or consumed, much less sold for a respectable price. The content farm will produce a crop that the world doesn't recognize, as the world moved on to a new palate of content. It's time to accept that the content farm model is not driving the future of media.

The content farm was about achieving scale before competitors could achieve scale. We'll remember analytics and the race to invent the most meaningful metric of engagement. Millions and billions of clicks, pageviews, and video views from humans and robots built the value of the content farm. The era of infinite scale was really just a simple supply versus demand issue. More people needed content to consume online. Companies were born to supply that content. What's the big deal? That's usually how the world works.

My own perception of the content farm model was rooted in my own personal angst. I felt that content is mass-produced for reasons that don't result in 'honorable content.' Content farms were making the world even more meaningless with less meaningful content. At the time, it was just what people wanted. The future of content is more immediately immersive, and will be better formatted for a mobile content consumption device.

Content farms will be remembered as businesses that preyed upon Millennials.

Content farms played by the rules of the platforms that allowed them to scale.

Content farms were born out of depersonalized blogging principles that appealed to even wider audiences.

Content farms were eventually absorbed into the platforms that allowed them to grow.

Content farms produced the content for people who needed to feel like they were being enriched by staring at their screen.

The spirit of the content farm is dead because they've moved on to a more enriching brand of mass-produced content. Important content has always been mass-produced, but the ability to reach significant niches without readers feeling exploited was never accomplished. Content farms targeted niches, but also attempted to target everyone on the planet.

We'll remember the content farm era as a phase of experimentation. Humans have interests, and if you create a content farm that taps into the interests of humans, you could strike it big if you become the most trafficked realm of that niche. Eventually, your content farm could create content in alternate mediums that add brand value to your media portfolio. Millennials, technology, sports, recipes, music, humor, and feminism are some of the most popular content verticals that we'll never forget.

Content has been farmed for centuries in various mediums, but the future of the unsustainable digital content farming model is over. Finally, there's too much content, and we can move forward into a new paradigm of content production. A convenient content solution will contextualize relevant content in such a fulfilling and immersive way that you will be glad you've let companies trail your internet path for years, and it won't even require an app. Believing that the low price of instantaneous publishing of text to the internet would result in a model that could be eternally exploited was shortsighted. Interpreting the blob known as 'the media' and the practice of content farming as being on parallel trajectories is uninformed.

Media was not designed to be a profitable business but has found a way to exist for hundreds of years due to a societal demand. Content farming was actually designed to be an infinitely profitable business, and that delusion will result in suddenly broken business models.

Media is about constructing reality based upon the technology and platform upon which people consume content. The threat to the future of media as a place for news and text-based story telling is that future audiences may no longer feel a need to be connected to 'the world.' A drive to be informed will be replaced by a drive to be immersed in a reality that is even further removed from 'the real world.'

In only two weeks, we've already seen Pokémon Go change the way people view their mobile device as a gateway to another portal of existence. The internet as we know it are a series of pages against which advertising is sold. Whether you call it news, journalism, or clickbait--the content farms are competing against new realities and platforms of content consumption. Email lists, chatbots, virtual reality, and Facebook's latest product that publishers are dependent upon won't save or eliminate anything. The unintentional tendencies of human nature will determine the future of everything.

People in the business of content can still believe in their future, even if it is no longer farmed on 'the internet' as a content farmer once knew it. Humans will always find comfort in content. The most successful content farms won't be known as internet page generators. Some content farms will be fortunate enough to be acquired. In a naturally selective process that is often called 'pivoting' or 'diversifying,' most content farms are already in the process of dying a slow death.

Life on the Content Farm is a column written by the last relevant blogger.