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Google announced two weeks ago that it altered its search algorithms to help weed out low quality results and content farms – sites largely consisting of plagiarized material – and the aftershocks are still being felt across the web.

Who exactly won and lost is still subject to analysis and speculation. But for some, the change fell like the fist of an angry, capricious god. Some so-called content farms were hardly affected at all while other perfectly legitimate sites saw their traffic nosedive. One start-up had to lay off 10 percent of their employees.

It should come as no surprise that companies can live or die based on their Google search ranking. Search engine optimization has long been critical to survival on the web, especially for sites that subsist off page views and advertising impressions (as most news sites do). It’s a frightening reality that companies like Google and Apple, which control digital infrastructure, have tremendous power over who flourishes and who fails.

It might seem like news properties and other creators of original content have cause to celebrate over the demise of sites that steal their work. But posting material from other sites has never solely been the purview of shady bloggers.

“Reusing material and re-purposing it was basic long before the Internet,” says Jay Rosen, press critic, writer and professor of journalism at New York University. “Anyone complaining about that is just complaining about it sped up.” Most news properties today take part in some form of aggregation or “curating” for personal gain. Without that mainstay of the Internet, the humble RRJ blog might be a very barren place indeed.

(Ed’s Note: It’s unclear whether the change, which was initially rolled out in the U.S. only, has been applied to Google.ca yet.)

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About the author

Kevin Hamilton was the Front of Book Editor for the Summer 2011 issue of the Ryerson Review of Journalism.

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