When “Content” Was A Dirty Word

In Words & Images
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Fuck it, it’s still a dirty word.

Get it? It’s a content farm! Photo by Scott Goodwill on Unsplash

I have been at this for a while. The whole “writing for the internet” thing.

The writing never gets old. It may be the only enjoyable part of this process anymore. The chasing around of places to publish — that shit gets old. Is old. It is beyond old. It is the jack-o-lantern left on the porch clear into December. I’m tired of it but no one wants to take care of the mess.

My first few writing gigs were in print. On paper. Distributed manually.

In the early, early, early days of this website called Examiner.com a very select few writers were picked to develop content in very specific verticals. It paid pretty damn well. All you had to do was write something, and you got paid. How novel!

Photo by Isis França on Unsplash

Then they needed to scale. The verticals became absurdly narrow (Denver Board Game Examiner? The hell?) and the payment wasn’t so much about the writing as it was how many times you could get people to load the page.

It went from how well you could write to how much you could trigger advertising engines to do their thing. The more writing the merrier the advertising revenue. Publishers like to imagine that these two things are somehow related.

I can assure you they are not.

Today Examiner.com doesn’t even load. They went out of business in 2016.

Around this time I went looking for other writing gigs. I wanted to work from home, to work online and remote (I still do). There were thousands of jobs looking for writers to create content for websites. Search engine traffic was a breeze to manipulate in those days. They weren’t paying me to write for humans, but for machines and crawlers. Also, they weren’t paying me to do it. They were paying those with a reasonable grasp on the English language who lived halfway around the world who would work for fraction of the cost.

This was the age when “content” was considered a bad thing because most of it was bad. Poorly written, loaded with keywords, and as much of a chore to read as it was to produce. “Content” was merely the glue that held the advertising together on the page.

In many ways, this is still the case.

Search engines wisened up and the content had to go from “being English” to “something readable.” Most of us were back in business. Some of us found brands who realized that content should have a story. That they needed to make something akin to a constantly evolving commercial and to do that they needed creative minds to come up with blogs and white papers and scripts for commercials.

by “My Life Through A Lens” on Unsplash

Others were still in the search engine game and trying to produce enough stuff consistently in the right areas to show up when a prospective client went looking.

“Content” became a word that I started weaving into my resume and portfolio. Each time I type it out is like fingernails on the chalkboard.

Today, even the purest and most well composed and magically produced story or video or photo album or whatever is made purely to trigger the magical advertising engines. Websites like Medium or Facebook or Instagram or whatever else we are using keep lowering the bar of entry with the idea that more people will share their stuff. Another page view, another chance to get paid, another impression to run an advertisement against.

The more the merrier. No one ever knows what will go viral anymore, so why not try everything?