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Google's Schmidt: Brands to clean up Internet 'cesspool'

If people are willing to pay $4.99 for six hamburger buns or $3.50 for a simple cup of coffee, why aren't they willing to pay for content they value?

Google CEO Eric Schmidt Dan Farber

According to Google CEO Eric Schmidt, the Internet is a "cesspool" where false information thrives. As reported by AdAge, Schmidt was addressing his remarks to magazine executives who were on a pilgrimage to the Googleplex.

The cesspool is one of the byproducts of the Internet. With no barriers to entry and nearly frictionless production and distribution, it's easy for false information, lies, doctored images, and other forms of deception to infiltrate the Internet. Web crawlers aren't particularly good at making judgments about the truthiness of digital matter, and the wisdom of the crowd can't keep up with the river of data streaming online.

Schmidt gave the magazine publishers hope for their future. Brands, he said, are the way to rise above the cesspool, and of course he is right. The corollary is that advertising via Google and its brethren is an essential way to build and sustain a brand.

But brands, even those with long, venerable histories and massive ad budgets, can be decimated as we have seen over the last decade and in the current economic nuclear winter, with banks, automakers, publishers, and retailers fading away.

Offline revenues, especially for newspapers, have been in steady decline, and online revenues are not making up the difference. As a result, there is less editorial investment from so-called mainstream media in the primary and investigative reporting that is often fodder for blogger refactoring. But the blogosphere and newer online publishing entities, such as GigaOm, Politico, TechCrunch, Huffington Post, and VentureBeat, are bringing new, or at least alternative, voices into the mix, contributing far more to the good side than to the cesspool.

Schmidt and the magazine publishers reportedly expressed concern about the cost and quantity of what high-value (exemplary journalism) content. "Narrative sustains the [media] business...but the future of high-quality journalism is a huge problem. A reasonable prediction is that there will be fewer voices. More money is needed to fund high-quality work," Schmidt said as reported by the Huffington Post. With a major economic contraction underway, funding high-quality work will become even more difficult.

Relying solely on advertising revenues hasn't proven to be a winning strategy for most publishers. Unfortunately, Web users come from a place in which paying for content is not part of the culture. If people are willing to pay $4.99 for six hamburger buns or $3.50 for a simple cup of coffee, why aren't they willing to pay for content they value? One can only assume that people are willing to settle for content of generally less value that is free of charge--or that hamburger buns are more essential to life than a good, well-researched story.