Crimes against content: is crowdsourcing to hamsters a bridge too far?

August 18th, 2011 by

microtask_crowdsourcing_hamstersThey say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. In today’s world I’m not so sure.

My doubts began when I came across this article on a Chinese power-leveling site for popular MMOG RuneScape. The writer (or more likely the algorithm) has taken an original article about Microtask, sliced it up and loaded it with terms (“seers village”, “Port Khazard”, “dragon claw”) which boost their own SEO rankings. The result is a horrific, incomprehensible mash-up which is the reading equivalent of eating ice-cream full of shards of glass and shrapnel (I guess – my dentist won’t allow me to eat it).

Like someone who can’t resist staring at a car crash, I found myself searching for more examples. I soon discovered other cases where original articles (like this piece of finely-honed prose) had been mutilated into pseudo-English effluent with all the hyperlinks replaced with links that benefit the mutilators.

Other mind-jarring examples contained content from multiple genuine articles. Disturbingly, these articles suggest a real (if unfortunate and/or possibly high) human being might actually have been involved in the creation of sentences like “Microtask game using a hamster to sub-tasks: to help players build hamster bridge”. Which is actually entertainingly ironic: articles about Microtask’s system of distributed work are themselves being systematically disassembled by distributed workers. It’s like something out of a Cory Doctorow novel.

I guess the goal of this heinous content-crime is to produce bogus “original” material that search engines think is legit. Maybe one day, Google will stop trying to be the new Facebook and work out how to block this stuff. Meanwhile, I can reassure readers that future versions of Digitalkoot will almost certainly not include any dragon claws, goblin villages or hamster sub-tasks. Oh, and if you’re reading this on a power-leveling site, please excuse the typos.