Wordpress is the single largest website platform on the internet. It powers 2 out of every 5 websites, from amateur blogs to big online publishers like Time Magazine, Vogue, and TechCrunch. It's relatively easy to stand up on almost any hosting service, easy to author in, and offers thousands of plugins to enhance its capabilities. And now it's getting an AI authoring tool that is equal parts impressive and terrifying — at least to me.
I've spent most of my adult life writing for online publications, starting way back in 2006. So maybe I'm biased in the ways of the old school tech blog author. But when I watched the demo of the new Jetpack AI Assistant, available both for Wordpress.com-hosted websites and as a plugin, my skin crawled. It's not that I'm worried about my future as a person that makes a living making words on the internet — I'm worried about the quality of the internet overall as AI tools like this are integrated and start pumping out huge volumes of low-quality content for cheap.
It's already a problem I touched on with CNET, a venerable tech blog that's turned to AI to generated dozens of finance articles with the sole purpose of generating search engine traffic for credit card sign-up commissions. It's low quality, bottom-feeder content that exists solely to pad their bottom line. Now don't get me wrong, of course the job of any online publication is to make money and we all have to do things to make that happen — collecting subscription fees for access, running display ads, offering links to stores in exchange for an affiliate commission, writing articles for a sponsor, or even just straight-up publishing a sponsor's content. It's all a balancing act between content that generates revenue and that which you actually want to write.
To be blunt, that's something that we struggled with when CrackBerry was part of the Mobile Nations family of sites. None of the high-powered editors wanted to write an article about the 10 best Apple Watch bands, and can you blame them? It's not what they signed up to do — they want to write reviews about this new thing they really liked and hard-hitting editorials about the exciting and controversial subjects of the day, not search-engine optimized collections of links to Amazon. It would've been really tempting to use a tool like this to churn out those articles, especially since it never really mattered if the content was provocative, the whole goal was just to drive readers to click through to the store and buy the thing so we could get our cut. And it worked.
The pitch for Wordpress's Jetpack AI Assistant is frustrating to me. They call it a "writing companion" that can look at the content and comes up with summaries, tables, formatting, and titles for it — that's taking up some of the "extra" drudgery work that isn't "making content". But Jetpack AI Assistant can also just take a single-line prompt and spit out an entire article for you. Yes, that's exactly the sort of thing you can do with ChatGPT and I wouldn't be surprised if Open AI's generative AI is powering this behind the scenes.
I hate to sound like an old curmudgeon here, and this isn't specifically about ChatGPT or Jetpack AI Assistant, but AIs in general: I have concerns. Sure, initially generative AI tech like this will see the exact kind of use it's seeing today on Red Ventures sites like CNET. They'll use it to create the content that authors don't want to write, but that the bean counters really like to see published because it reliably makes money. But for a smaller shop, there will be the very strong temptation to see if they can get by using just a content generation tool like Chat GPT or Jetpack AI. If you're not going to compete with the big guys for regular visitors, why not compete on the long tail of specialized Google search results?
It means that it will take even less work and money and time than ever to pump out low-quality content at a high volume, and that could mean bad things for the internet and the people who use it (i.e. all of us).
In the meantime, though, if you have a Wordpress site and want to try out the Jetpack AI, you can do that right now. The plugin is a free download (already used by more than 5 million sites) and you get 20 free requests to the AI Assistant before you'll have to pony up $10/month for unlimited requests.