A year after graduating from college, I was living in London and having my first taste
of precarity. Almost every day, I’d troll the Craigslist job postings, quickly learning
that my standards were much lower than I thought. I moved other people’s objects
around the city, stood in rooms holding canapés, stood in alleys holding trash bags
filled with canapés. The only time I drew the line was when my catering company
asked me to stand in rooms holding canapés in a diaper and bonnet. True story.
I also moved words around Microsoft: for forgotten art journals, Jewish cultural
centers, bottom-feeding media blogs. A house cleaning company hired me to write
original content for its website. Over a few months, I churned out posts about kitchen
cleaning tips, dust mite prevention, and the best ways for young mothers to organize
their daily tasks (writing from great personal experience, of course).
It would have been a stretch to call myself a creative, let alone a brain-for-hire.
Across all of these jobs, whether on the web or in the city, I rarely felt like I was doing
more than exercising my hands: moving digits to move things—aesthetic things,
informational things. Even before I had the critical vocabulary to articulate this
feeling, I could recognize the reach of it. I was merely one of many actors playing out
a new labor paradigm.
That was 2006, roughly the time when the first great content farms came into
being—when my scattershot online content production formalized itself into an
So, what is a content farm? Simply put, a content farm is an online news
organization that generates articles based on trending topics.
Take Associated Content, created in 2005 and later rebranded as Yahoo Voices! In
its heyday, this farm used robots to scan websites like Google Trends and generate
relevant article prompts, which could be claimed and written by its content farmers,
sometimes with as short a turnaround as thirty minutes. Associated Content was
known, at its peak, to publish 10,000 pieces of content a week.
While it’s true that there’s a human on either end of content-farmed articles, we
should not mistake their economic purpose: they’re being written to game search-
engine algorithms. They deploy trending language to ensure higher rankings. The
articles get more clicks, their advertisers more “eyeballs,” to use industry parlance.
Every eyeball, another few cents, and so on and so forth
Humphrey Arinze Chukwu 43 w