On July 2, Yahoo! – one of the largest Internet corporations in the world – announced a round of product changes and cuts in an effort to refine their focus for moving forward in the future. One of the biggest surprises? The announcement that Yahoo! Voices and the Yahoo! Contributor Network would be shut down, effective 11:38 p.m., July 31 and an undisclosed date in August, respectively.
For many individuals, the implications of this announcement go far beyond a simple product change; could this signal the beginning of the end of user-generated content?
A Brief Look at Yahoo Voices
Yahoo! Voices is the current home of millions of user-generated articles generated by members of the Yahoo! Contributor Network.
The network was introduced in December of 2011 as the replacement for Associated Content. It was designed to serve as the official digital library of Yahoo!. According to the corporation, Yahoo! Voices encompassed “the best content we’ve published over the years,” and was designed to grow with new articles, videos and slideshows submitted by contributors.
Yes, it grew. From its start, the network published 10,000 articles per week, a figure which rapidly grew along with the contributor network. Contributors could register on the contributor network and produce content – for free or by assignment starting around $1.50 per piece – which was then published on Yahoo! Voices.
The Benefits to Yahoo!
Yahoo! Voices offered more than an open publishing source for writers and contributors looking to increase their portfolios. Like the majority of large web search corporations, Yahoo!’s true profits stem from advertisers.
This meant that Yahoo! was able to produce content on a massive scale – through low-paying assignments and contributors willing to write for free – while drawing advertisers interested in the specific subjects being written about. Yahoo! Voices quickly became a multi-million dollar revenue source for the company.
It was – until this announcement – a draw for both contributors and the network, a win-win.
A Shutdown? Why?
With the announcement that both the Yahoo! Contributor Network and Yahoo! Voices would be shut down came the notice that all content published through it would be removed from the web except for some of the “work for hire” content that the service generated. On the surface, it seems like a drastic move. What fueled it? Why?
It all comes down to search engines and the algorithms that they use to search the web and to generate results and rankings. The initial switch from Associated Content to Yahoo! Voices came around the same time that Google’s Panda algorithm was released in 2011. It was designed to target “content farms” that produced content on a massive scale without quality checks and assurance. When this algorithm came out, the amount of content started to matter less than the quality of content. The move from Associated Content was accompanied by the deletion of 75,000 articles. Sounds awfully familiar.
The familiarity likely means that the latest announcement, the closure of Yahoo! Voices is likely fueled by a similar algorithm change. While Google updates its search algorithms an estimated 400 times per year, the latest release to cause a major stir was Panda 4.0, released on May 20 of this year.
The algorithm is designed to help boost quality content sites while lowering the rankings of low-quality content sites. Lower rankings means less advertising revenue and lower quality scores across the board. It’s likely that the open-content sourcing of Yahoo! Voices allowed for the mass production of content deemed low quality by the algorithm. The network had come under fire in this area previously.
Does This Signal the End of User-Generated Content?
The real answer to this question has yet to be seen, and honestly, it could go either way. To find an answer, it’s important to step back and to look closely into all of the details mentioned previously. To sum it up:
- Algorithms that track content quality – rewarding high-quality and punishing low-quality will continue to evolve over time.
- Companies will continue to look for ways to drive advertising revenues.
- Contributors will consistently be in need of locations to publish content.
When these three facts are combined, the most probable answer to whether user-generated content is set to fail becomes clearer: the content will continue, but the quality must improve.
A company can depend on user-generated content; in fact, content from a variety of authors provides a sense of relevancy that can be hard to match. However, when quantity becomes more of a focus than quality, the network will start to fail. It seems as though that is the case with Yahoo! Voices.
To improve quality, and the potential for success with user-generated content, it’s important to consider the following factors and to put these safeguards in place:
- What is the driving factor? Is it the quantity of articles? If so, the effort will fail.
- Are the writers pre-qualified to write? Are articles checked prior to publishing? Fact checking, proper source citation and plagiarism checks must be in place to be sure the content helps search engine rankings rather than hurts them.
- Are the writers well-compensated for their work? When writers receive compensation based on the quality of their work, they are likely to be more experienced and to produce higher-quality content.
- Is the content that is produced valuable? If it’s designed to increase site activity or just to sell, it’s less likely to be seen as valuable by search algorithms. If, however, the content is produced to provide valuable, well-researched information that is beneficial to readers, its potential for success is much higher.
User-generated content is not coming to an end, however, the methodology and reasoning behind its creation must evolve to move into the future and to work with search algorithms as opposed to against them. The shutdown of Yahoo! Voices is a clear signal of this much-needed change.