Comment To see where this dump truck is heading, let’s first follow the trail of debris.
It’s hard to trace back, but the impacts of Internet content producers, which thrived until about 2010, are still easily visible.
The net effect of content generated at the rate of ten to thirty pieces a day on special topics — all by the hands of non-specialists via the guiding hand of Google Trends — has led to an Internet that, in 2010, was saturated with soft (if not nonsensical), keyword-filled articles that offered little usable information, and in many cases, a lot of advice and information that was simply wrong.
And as content mills naturally spawned more content mills (and why not when the more guilty associated content was sold to Yahoo! for $100 million), what happened next was inevitable. Those new content companies simply parroted what they found on larger content mills, using the internet of the time as a training set, so to speak. The cycle of shoddy articles with little detail, or worse, inaccurate detail, was repeated over and over again until it became difficult to tell one article from another unless it was found on one of the few hack and reputable sites.
The name of the game for these early content companies was pure volume. Ad network revenues (Google Adsense, etc.) were already down in 2005, but with thousands, if not millions of articles, each generating maybe three cents a day, the money wasn’t bad. For a content mill with 200,000 items, this was a nice $2 million business with extremely low overhead. Hosting wasn’t hugely expensive, web design was easy with open source CMS tools like WordPress, Drupal, and others, and most importantly (and ultimately most disastrous), bulk content could be purchased for pennies per article from offshore stores.
This pattern has meant that the Internet has quickly been inundated with poorly written nonsense, much of which is still searchable in its original form or even more badly rehashed. Google had to start stepping up its game to filter around this and learn how to deliver quality content versus the magical combination of keywords that content producers might leverage.
The problems with content producers are clear, especially all these years later, but it was all on a human scale with the limitations of “slow” writers and keyword fillers. The future presents us with a new issue, which could destroy the way we use the internet forever.
Let’s do some math
Pretend it’s 2006 and you’re in the content business. You are at the top of your game. You have a team of 100 writers in India earning the equivalent of $10 a day to write and publish twenty 400-word pieces (topics dictated by Google keyword trending data vs experience, etc).
Your daily salary costs are approximately $1,000. Every day your content mill publishes 2,000 pieces of “unique” content 365 days a year, and each of those articles, assuming high search engine rankings (which back then could easily be played with keyword tricks) each of those items will generate three cents a day.
And while we use nice, rounded numbers for ease, consider these yearly numbers (yearly because you only have to run this business for a year, the Adsense money comes in anyway, at least for a while):
The salary for writers who create, post, and tag 20 articles a day costs you $365,000 a year. They generate 730,000 pieces of content worth $10.95 each over the course of the year (assuming three cents a day for 365 days). And all of that, which is pretty indifferent to you, Western Content Lord, means you have a business that generates about $8 million a year.
Oh. But you have to subtract hosting and the like. Let’s call it five thousand dollars. The big bad cost? All those “expensive” writers. And you think to yourself, who needs it?
Well, you don’t.
Because oh boy, is there a new business model for content producers. And while their early 2000s predecessors made the internet annoying and filled with junk articles that hit keyword and word count targets without saying anything, this one is disruptive enough to turn the internet into complete junk. And not just garbage from a content standpoint, but also from a whole how internet business works.
Put the S in IoS
This new business model is already developing. You have probably read many articles generated by GPT or similar AI models. The reason you probably haven’t noticed is because they’re not bad. Fine you to think they’re not bad, but that’s because you were weaned off the Internet of Shit (IoS) created by content producers, which trained us to lower our expectations when it came to information consumption.
The problem is that these AI-generated articles have to get their information somewhere in enough volume to adequately churn out new clones of information cloaked in slightly more eloquent language. And where do AI training algorithms get all this from? From IoS, of course.
If we do more math, assume that 10 percent of the IoS-derived training data contains factual errors. As the AI trains, then retrains and retrains, those errors increase. And mount. And multiplied and over a decade of retraining on bad, weird, oddly worded, and increasingly incomprehensible data, we end up with a real IoS.
And math is super important again, and so is volume.
A single content mill operator on the scale of Western Content Lord, for example, can use free tools to generate content as quickly as human operators can input it with a simple hint phrase. That same team of 100 workers can insert 300 pieces a day.
They don’t write it, they just ask Chat GPT. They can ask it to fill it with keywords like a mofo and generate keywords too, for that matter. Eventually, that ChatGPT process (as one of many examples) will have API hooks to publish the output directly to WordPress or whatever CMS Content Lord chooses.
When the platform unification between AI and CMS platform is complete, so will the circle: the Internet is just talking to itself.
The race to the bottom
What Western Content Lord and its competitors don’t realize is how quickly the race to the bottom will begin, and soon.
Google Adsense and every other ad network on the planet will recognize the flood and cut what you pay for a click or a view to almost zero. And then it will be nothing, but not before Google and the like scramble to blacklist well-known AI content producers. But there will be too many that pop up too quickly. It will simply be easier for a Google, for example, to create a safe list of well-known publishers supported by hardworking humans.
Great, you think, the balance has been restored! Not so much.
Keeping up with all the innovations in search that push those IoS results down the drain for you will cost Google money, billion-dollar-scale AI training, and considerable and frequent retraining on the Internet corpus. Will that corpus be infected fast and furiously, and how do the research giants pay for all that research innovation? Through ad revenue.
Search advertising giants like Google might appear to hold their noses and accept queued content mill results because it’s in their economic interest to do so. But what if the pool of “acceptable” content shrinks by 95%?
The exponential rate of internet shit
Let’s go back again to the topic of mathematics and volume and the like to address the most important point: informational danger is an exponential problem. A series of errors generated, then repeated by content producers over a decade, means those problems are trained in the basic language model of AI from the corpus of the Internet and hardened.
It’s one thing to live in an era of fake news, in part because to most thinking people, it’s obviously fake. When the Internet repeats a mistake often enough, it becomes truth, and this is the most insidious accidental result of all of this.
Personally, I’d feel better about ending this piece with some sort of “fight the power” message, but honestly, at this point, the cat is out of the bag. Content producers may be satisfied with per-item revenue measured over a five-year value plan and may amount to as little as 0.05 cents over the period. But who cares, right? It’s free money. Hosting is cheap, a CMS is free, and as long as there is money for advertising, the passive income effort is worth it.
This is the internet you deserve, it seems. ®