Hi. This is an old, unmaintained blog. You may find these sites more to your liking:

Carson Brackney: This is my primary site.

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Ad Astra Traffic Team: For those who'd like to get writing gigs with Ad Astra.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Happiness is a warm Articlebot...

Every once in a while, people ask my opinion on content generating software. More often than not, they focus their questions on Articlebot, which is apparently the industry leader in what is sometimes termed "content manipulation."

For those of you not familiar with Articlebot, it basically plays the role of a very over-caffeinated editor with a thesaurus who is hellbent on changing every possible piece of a manuscript as often as he or she can.

You give Articlebot text, it rewrites the text. Then, if you'd like, it will rewrite it again. And again. Ad infinitum. Take a simple sentence like "Writers cost money." Articlebot may come up with everything from "authors require cash" to "wordsmiths command filthy lucre." Well, maybe not, but you get the idea.

Basically, a person can take an article and "spin" it into thousands of articles.

Why would anyone do such a thing? Search engines. Search engines love content. The more you have, the merrier they are. And webmasters love it when those search engines list them nice and high, above the fold, on the first page of search results for their targeted keywords.

If you want to succeed with a site devoted to "sock monkeys," you can get quite an edge over the competition if you have plenty of sock monkey content.

Who wants to write a thousand articles about sock monkeys? Alternatively, who wants to pay a guy like me to write a thousand articles about sock monkeys? That's right, nobody. Enter Articlebot. A site owner either forces himself to write a few sock monkey pieces or hires someone like me to write a few. Then, he "spins" them with Articlebot and comes up with thousands of pages--each of which is sufficiently manipulated to make the search engine believe it is a wholly different article.

So, I must really hate Articlebot, right? It is seemingly stealing a lot of work from me. Instead of an order for a thousand sock monkey articles, someone is just ordering two. I must truly believe Articlebot stinks to high heavens, huh?

Not really. Personally, I think it is a clever idea. I also think it was probably inevitable, considering the nature of current search engine algorithms. I also don't see it as a competitive threat.

The people who use Articlebot to create a slew of pages in orders to grab search engine placement are concerned with one thing: search engine placement. They see content as a means to that end.

My clients recognize that component of the content game, too, but are viewing my writing from a different perspective. They are generally hoping to offer something that will actually attract readers to visit and stay at the site. The better search engine rankings are great, but they are looking for more.

Additionally, those who use Articlebot to create articles galore would never be interested in hiring me to write the damn things in the first place. The reason spinning articles with Articlebot is attractive to some is because of the low per-article cots. They can produce gobs of seemingly unique articles on the cheap. If Articlebot was not available, they would not hire out the task to me--they'd simply focus their efforts elsewhere.

Finally, the inherent limitations of Articlebot-created articles do nothing to really cut into the market for freelance writers. Every single article produced by the software will, by its very nature, be worse than the original. Some of them will be absoutely attrocious. None of them will really appear to be wholly "organic," in my opinion.

All of this is not to say that Articlebot isn't good at what it does. It is. However, when an author writes something they choose their words with a purpose in mind. They convey a certain style with their choices. When the 'bot comes through yanks a carefully chosen word and replaces it with a "not quite perfect" synonym, the readability and flow of the original work is often crushed.

Yes, it is still readable. It just isn't as good. I know the folks at Articlebot would probably at least feign disagreement, but many of the generated articles unintentionally turn out pretty funny.

I personally believe the idea of creating Adsense sites around Articlebot articles is probably not as effective as those sites based on real author-produced text. Sure, the Articlebot user may get some "escape" clicks on ads, but that is going to be about it. I think most Articlebot fans would even admit that the CTR is a little on the low side compared to what would happen with real, directed content. They simply hope to make up the difference with either higher traffic numbers of a greater sheer number of sites.

If you want a thousand sock monkey articles you can pseudo-hide from visitors and show to search engines in order to get a push on Google, Articlebot may be decent investment. If you want to produce content that someone will actually read, you come to me.

Personally, I think some who want to "game" Google with robot-generated content will also try to maximize their site pefromance by also trying to provide a good end user experience via a professional content writer. Articlebot doesn't force a move away from using a writer. Seems to me that the smartest people out there using Articlebot will still be looking for good writers.

There are those have moral objections to Articlebot. They will tell you it is cluttering the internet. They will argue it is a tool for plagiarism. I am not interested in the morality of Articlebot. It is software. Software cannot be evil. It can be used for evil purposes, perhaps. But it is not evil, per se. Articlebot is a gun. Guns don't kill people. People kill people.

I have read the owner/programmer of Articlebot defend his product against the moralistic articles. Personally, I approach his spirited defense the same way I would the arguments of an AK-47 producer lobbying in favor of Second Amendment rights. He's got a motivation to dismiss criticisms of the product regardless of how "true" they may be.

I don't like guns designed to mow down co-workers in fits of rage, and am really suspect of firearms in generally. Maybe that's why I find Articlebot a little distasteful. However, I am yet to see Articlebot used in any armed robberies and I don't think it is the end of the world.

Some people are using it to create hideous sites filled with absolute bunk. That may be a bad thing, then again, it might lead to something better.

In some twisted way I am almost rooting for Articlebot to become a universally-used tool. I think the pressure that could be created on search engines by users in the face of finding Articlebot-dominated sites toward the top of results could result in some quality innovation on the part of Google, et al.