~ 27. November 2010 ~
I recently noticed a content farm called Helium.com. Similar to eHow.com, it solicits brief articles from a base of users and licenses them to third parties, taking a cut and kicking pennies back to the authors, or something. I’m not going to pretend I understand the whole process and am not going to join to find out. I’m guessing there’s a healthy dose of SEO optimization and web trackers involved.
This site is a treasure trove for information literacy instruction—better in some ways than eHow, because of all the inflated truth claims (”Where Knowledge Rules”) and over-the-top advertising and social media integration. To get the full effect of the site, turn off all ad-blockers.
Why is this site so great? Because you can simply show students an article—just about any will do—on some serious topic, and ask them to find out more about the author (link conveniently provided), who is invariably someone well-meaning person who loves hacky sack and/or snowboarding, but has no business telling you how to recover from head trauma. Basically to be a Helium writer it’s less important to know how to write than to not know how to stop writing.
So, I’m trolling the site looking for some basic article on the death penalty, click on one called “Assessing the Death Penalty” and go straight to the author’s page. Dude sports a more impressive resume than most, military background… and, it turns out, he’s the current U.S. Ambassador to Zimbabwe.
Is it really him? Seems to be, based on the U.S. Embassy page:
Does Ambassador Ray enjoy his work in the content farm? Sure seems to.
Sample article titles:
- The influence of science fiction on society
- The history of Scientology
- Are expensive or designer shoes worth the extra money?
- How could a loving God send people to Hell
- Social media: Why you should be careful what you post
I think he’s probably not writing for money; his page shows that he has sold 12 articles and donated $3 to charity, which I’m guessing is the total earned. Still, it’s kind of odd, right? What exactly is this site offering him? The strangest thing is that he’s not on LiveJournal or some other virtual community based around self-expression—this one is founded on the idea of creating banal blurbs with some vague assurance of reliability conferred by an obscure ratings system. How exactly do you choose Helium as your writing platform? What does that selection process look like?