Adam Penenberg aka The Man Who Took Down Stephen Glass decided to write about Serv.io, a crowdsourcing content farm that allows publishers to request articles for quick publication. They call it “content engineering,” which does not bode well for my job since I have a MA and not an MSc.
The resulting article, written with tongue firmly in cheek is an excellent example of the dangers of “content engineering.” Unlike, say, a banking program, content is difficult to engineer. If you’re thorough, writing about a company is a hard slog and if you’re not thorough you need to at least be vibrant. Penenberg’s resulting crowdsourced pean to Servio was, in fact, neither.
Basic facts were accurate; anything that required interpretation, however, was ripe for abuse. They simply avoided the questions I submitted that asked them to describe the company’s greatest weaknesses and to critique its competitors, and I never did find out what the company’s revenues were. Anything having to do with the company’s cofounders Jordan Ritter and Alex Edelstein was painfully fawning. They were described as “hip, young businessmen” with “boyish good looks,” so much so that “it is not difficult to imagine how they have become so successful in the hip world of Internet business.”
Can ink-stained wretches like Penenberg (and, presumably, me) be replaced with content engineers? Absolutely. Most stories are press releases rehashed and, barring the occasional scoop/investigative piece, it has been that way since the broadsheets. There’s no money in shaking the crown of power from a lowly perch. There is money in feeding novel info to a ravenous, neophilic audience.
Penenberg’s article was a goof, sure, but it points out that item we read online – even this one – could be outsourced or crowdsourced. Does it matter? Not particularly, but it is nice to know that there is a real person behind Oz’s curtain… at least some of the time.