Google Targets Human-Generated Spam

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Google's Matt Cutts explained in a blog post yesterday that his company is taking steps to target "content farms" that generate "low-quality" content that's vaguely on topic for various searches. He compared the challenge to Google's domination of "pure webspam," the sort of automatically generated, SEO nonsense of the post-boom, pre-Google Internet.

But I wonder if the challenge ahead of Cutts isn't greater than the one that faced his predecessors. With pure webspam, the giveaway was usually just that text was machine generated. Telling machine writing from human writing isn't that hard. But telling good human writing from not-so-good human writing is a whole different story. Humans, ourselves, don't seem to be so good at it (Cf. Dan Brown), so I wonder how the engineers plan to distill our uncertain/heuristic/malleable rules into an algorithmic weighting system.

As "pure webspam" has decreased over time, attention has shifted instead to "content farms," which are sites with shallow or low-quality content. In 2010, we launched two major algorithmic changes focused on low-quality sites. Nonetheless, we hear the feedback from the web loud and clear: people are asking for even stronger action on content farms and sites that consist primarily of spammy or low-quality content. We take pride in Google search and strive to make each and every search perfect. The fact is that we're not perfect, and combined with users' skyrocketing expectations of Google, these imperfections get magnified in perception. However, we can and should do better.

Read the full story at Google.

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Alexis C. Madrigal

Alexis Madrigal is the deputy editor of TheAtlantic.com. He's the author of Powering the Dream: The History and Promise of Green Technology. More

The New York Observer has called Madrigal "for all intents and purposes, the perfect modern reporter." He co-founded Longshot magazine, a high-speed media experiment that garnered attention from The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and the BBC. While at Wired.com, he built Wired Science into one of the most popular blogs in the world. The site was nominated for best magazine blog by the MPA and best science website in the 2009 Webby Awards. He also co-founded Haiti ReWired, a groundbreaking community dedicated to the discussion of technology, infrastructure, and the future of Haiti.

He's spoken at Stanford, CalTech, Berkeley, SXSW, E3, and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and his writing was anthologized in Best Technology Writing 2010 (Yale University Press).

Madrigal is a visiting scholar at the University of California at Berkeley's Office for the History of Science and Technology. Born in Mexico City, he grew up in the exurbs north of Portland, Oregon, and now lives in Oakland.

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