Sick of all the shoddy articles content farms churn out? Well, guess what? So are some of the content farms, and they’re even sicker of the perception that everything they publish is badly-written Google clutter.
For the past few months, Examiner.com has been exploring ways to improve the quality of its news, and today it issued the first in a series of white papers outlining how it intends to do that. The task isn’t modest. Examiner, which covers both local and national news, maintains a network of 68,000 contributors who produce up to 3,000 pieces of content a day. That’s more than The New York Times, the Washington Post, USA Today, CNN, ESPN and MSNBC.com put together. Yet at any given time, there are only six to eight human editors “actively focused on reviewing, rating and assessing” those contributions, says Mitch Gelman, the company’s vice president of quality. “One of the big challenges is, how do you do this in a way that’s scalable?” says Gelman.
The first step was to figure out the dimensions of the problem, which required analyzing a sample of Examiner stories and dividing them into four categories: very good or better (20 percent of the sample), good (30 percent), acceptable (20 percent) and poor (30 percent). Criteria included timeliness, authoritativeness, quality of writing and originality.
“Right now, if you go to Examiner.com, you’ve got a seven in 10 chance of getting a pretty good story, and a three in 10 chance of a story that’s probably not going to fulfill your information needs,” says Gelman.
Knowing the quality of Examiners’ (as contributors are known) output allows the company to segment them into tiers. Top-tier writers can be given automatic publishing privileges (as well as a higher pay scale), and bottom-tier writers can be directed to training courses at “Examiner University”; both help free up editors to focus on content coming from the middle tier.
Identifying who the top Examiners are also allows the company to put forward its best face, automatically giving their articles the most prominent display on its channel pages and pushing them to partners. Moving forward, their stories will also be marked with metadata that will allow search engines, including Google and Google News, to recognize them as superior content.
Speaking of which: Gelman says Examiner’s drive for self-improvement wasn’t conceived in response to Google’s campaign to purge search results of “webspam” and low-quality content. “It was more of a coincidence, and a pleasant one, than cause and effect,” he says. It’s more coincidental still that Demand Media has simultaneously been trying to upgrade the quality of eHow, its main outlet.