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Jason Fry: A blow to content farms, Facebook’s continued growth, and the continued pull of the open web

Editor’s Note: We’re wrapping up 2010 by asking some of the smartest people in journalism what the new year will bring. Today, our predictor is Jason Fry, a familiar byline at the Lab. Jason also prognosticated earlier this week about the potential success of  the NYT paywall.

Hyperlocal will remain stubbornly small scale. Large-scale efforts at cracking hyperlocal will seed more news organizations with content, but that content will remain mostly aggregation and data and still feel robotic and cold. Meanwhile, small-scale hyperlocal efforts will continue to win reader loyalty, but struggle to monetize those audiences. By the end of 2011, the most promising developments in hyperlocal will come from social media. Promising efforts to identify and leverage localized news and conversation in social media will be the buzz of late 2011, and we’ll be excited to think that social media is proving an excellent stepping stone to greater involvement in our physical communities.

Google will deal the content farms a big blow by tweaking its algorithms to drive down their search rankings. But the company will be opaque to the point of catatonia about exactly what it did and why it did it, reflecting its reluctance to be drawn into qualitative judgments about content. There will be talk of lawsuits by the spurned content farms and no small amount of jawing about Google’s power, lack of transparency, and whether or not it’s being evil. But even those worried about Google’s actions will admit that search is a much better experience now that results are less cluttered with horribly written crap.

Tablets will carve out a number of interesting niches, from favored input device of various specialists to device you like to curl up with on the couch. But these will be niches: The open web will remain as robust as ever, and be the killer app of the tablet just like it is everywhere else. News organizations’ walled-garden apps will win some converts, and apps in general will continue to point to promising new directions in digital design, but there will be no massive inflows of app revenue to news organizations. This will be seen as a failure by folks who got too excited in the first place.

Facebook will further cement its dominance by beginning to focus on ways to extract and preserve moments that matter to us from the ceaseless flow of the news feed, building on its photo-archiving role to also become a personal archive of beloved status updates, exchanges, links, and other material. The most promising startups and efforts from established social media companies will center around creating quiet water that draws from the river of news without leaving us overwhelmed by the current.

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Joseph Lichterman    Aug. 26, 2014
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  • Kim Kay

    I agree on your take on hyperlocal content. In a way, large scale efforts on hyperlocal could eventually become just like your second point and be seen as content farms, so by keeping efforts small scale and more on point with local ‘flare,’ you have a better chance at being successful.

  • David Gehring

    I think maybe hyper local will be served on the larger sites by providing some form of digital community bulletin board where local community members can post and carry on a conversation about local events and news. The current model involving quasi-professional, but really totally amateur writers for localized content will fail due to an expectation that the writing and reporting be “good” as well as impossible economics for scaling that model.
    On your second point, I can’t wait for Google to make that change to their algorithm.

  • Patricia

    Anybody with any real experience in internet and content business would have known from the start that content farms would never work

    Confidential to web 2.0: You’re “2.0″ because there was a whole 1.0 before you. A look to that would show you this generation of the internet isn’t the first to try to game search, and won’t be the last to learn how it doesn’t work.

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