Google Employs Users to Help Spot, Block Spam Sites

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Google is concluding that if people are so up in arms about its perceived declining search results, then it will let the masses get to work in helping refine its search technology. The company announced a Chrome browser extension Monday that lets users block unwanted sites from appearing in their search results.

The Personal Blocklist extension, which can be installed here, serves two purposes: It helps users spot and block low-quality spammy content that they want to avoid. The sites will not show up in search results, though users can see blocked sites at any time and manage them. The new extension also helps inform Google’s search algorithms, as they try to get a handle on the rise of content farms, which spit out thousands of SEO-optimized stories a day. Google said it will use the block data as potential feedback for its ranking system.

The move comes as Google has been taken to task recently for the quality of its search results. TechCrunch founder Michael Arrington blogged that the search experience still sucks because discovery searches are inundated by SEO-related results attempting to game Google’s system.

Google seems to be further acknowledging that it’s got an issue here. The company previously said it’s working on dealing with content farms. But now, it’s empowering people to actually single out sites and block them. It’s a quick and dirty way to address the problem by shifting the burden on to users instead of Google taking more of an active approach. It may be that Google is looking for better guidance on what people think a low-quality content farm is. One person’s how-to video is another person’s spam.

The extension may prove helpful for the most vocal of critics, especially tech-savvy early adopters who use Chrome and are looking for immediate help. But for most people, however, the impact will be limited because many don’t use browser extensions. And it doesn’t appear that users can share their blocks lists easily, so this will be an individual battle that won’t immediately benefit from the shared collective experience of its users, at least until Google starts utilizing the data.

But if Google takes this information seriously, this could spell further trouble for companies like Demand Media, an online content company whose name has become synonymous with content farms. The company behind eHow and other sites recently went public. Google’s new tool also raises questions for companies like AOL, which has laid out plans to pump out more content based on search results and its latest acquisition the Huffington Post, which puts out timely blog posts based on trending news.

There’s an open question as to how aggressive Google intends to be on content farms considering it often gets advertising revenue from them. Besides saying it’s cracking down on content farms, it hasn’t really laid out the what that means. But if Google takes the feedback seriously, this could mean a serious challenge for many content companies.

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