May I use you?

Well, really, May I use your blog?

More adventures in blogging, this time in dealing with correspondents who want to use my blog for some purpose of their own, in exchange for something; the nature of these proposed deals is usually unclear to me, though I’ve been slowly learning. Here, two cases, of somewhat different sort, to which I’ve assigned the names: the Strong Family Circus; and Matt Thomas, Content Supplier.

With a cartoon for the occasion:

Cartoon from Gaping Void Culture Design Group (more on them below)

For some time, I’ve been getting these offers and musing on them. Never reply to say no thanks, because I know that then the writers will just re-double their efforts to talk me into their deal. But when I noticed patterns in the offers, on 5/1 I started saving all the e-mails to a file (currently 61 items long).

The Strong Family Circus. 14 of these, all fitting this pattern:

Research on [TOPIC]
To: Arnold Zwicky [at my Stanford e-address]

Dear Editor,

My name is [FN] and I’m an Editor at [SITE, call it Joyful Fix-it House]. I was doing research on the [TOPIC] and just finished reading your wonderful piece: [URL OF BLOG POSTING ON TOPIC]

In that article, I noticed that you cited a solid resource that I’ve come across in the past: [WIKIPEDIA PAGE ON TOPIC]

We just published an updated, comprehensive guide on [TOPIC]. It is completely free and you can find it here: [URL at (what I’ll call) Joyful Fix-It House]

If you like the piece we’d be humbled if you cite us in your article. Of course, we will also share your article with our 100k newsletter subscribers and followers across our social platforms.

Either way, keep up the great work!


[at the bottom is a postal address in New Zealand]


— All the messages have the same LN, call it Strong

— FNs in my sample: Jenn, Jen, Jennifer; Jesse; Joey; Jillian; and (surprise!) Roy

— You quickly suspect that the Strong family is an automaton (sending out requests under the names of a rotating series of fictitious editor names at the Joyful Fix-It House site, which is a real thing): the automaton hoovers up names and addresses of posters and topics of their postings, and Wikipedia pages cited in them. It then, suspiciously, pulls up an article of its own on the topic, dated a month or so before the date of my blog posting.

— from the JFIH homepage:

Welcome to [JFIH], the home and garden authority. We curate only the highest quality home improvement content. Our writers include master gardeners, interior designers, professional contractors / handyman, and home improvement experts with significant personal and/or professional experience.

Ah, curate. They bundle together material from other sources (with no attributions, as far as I can see), to produce something like a much expanded Wikipedia article, but with a uniform — informal, even jaunty — style. Their official list of topics: Gardening, Backyard, Home Improvement, Home Decor, Cleaning. The site has a search engine that seems to work just fine for articles within these categories. But then …

— The list of articles at JFIH cited in the e-mails I got from them include quite a few (like: Wilmington NC, tiny red ants, and coyote dog) not in the categories above. When I searched for them on the JFIH site I couldn’t find them; but when I clicked on the URLs for them I was taken to articles, but ones listed with different categories (Your RV Lifestyle, Your Dog Advisor). In any case all the articles had dates on them from before my blog posting — but of course anybody can type in a date.

I’m not at all sure how the assembly process works, though I suspect some of it’s done on a case-by-case business, possibly with the aid of a program, so that articles can be summoned up on the spot. All, apparently, to create something on JFIH that people like me can cite and, crucially, link to, to boost the site’s hit rate and hence its standing for web searches.

JFIH could of course link to my postings any time they wanted, but I see no place where they ever cite sources. On my side, I have no reason to cite the JFIH pages (though I could, without any deal with them, if I wanted to); I got what I needed earlier, from Wikipedia and other sources. But JFIH wants me to cite them, and makes an offer to me in return that’s worthless to me. Or at least that’s my reading.

Well, ya gotta have a gimmick (to get ahead in the SEO world). (“You Gotta Get / Have a Gimmick” from the Styne/Sondheim 1959 musical Gypsy, in which three veteran strippers teach the young Louise their skills

Matt Thomas, Content Supplier. Just one message, from someone I’ll call Matt Thomas:

[Matt Thomas]
Fresh content ideas for
To: Arnold Zwicky (at gmail address)

Hello Team,

I noticed that your blog is lacking some new content. Great blogs like yours need fresh content to keep readers coming back. I am a freelance writer and I would love to do a guest post for you in exchange for the link on my website. The FREE article will be written by us and all you have to do is publish it! How does that sound?

I am an expert writer and content marketer with a decade of experience. I would like to share a few content ideas for your blog that will help you grow your audience.

Feel free to contact me back if you’re interested in reading some samples or letting me guest post on your website.

Would you be interested to some topic ideas I can come up for your blog? [AZ: some serious editing glitches here, too gross to just let pas]

[Matt Thomas]

Also quite formulaic. Possibly from a human being, possibly not. There is no evidence that anyone from this address had ever read any of my postings, only that the URL of my blog had been somehow extracted.

The opening line, however, gave me a good laugh. I do not want for content for my blog. I am awash in topics, partially completed postings, and the like. Anyway, my blog is deeply idiosyncratic; it would be hard to imagine that anyone other than Arnold Zwicky could have written these particular postings (you might view this as a fatal flaw, but there it is).

Meanwhile, the letter offers, not to exchange links (as with JFIH), but to create a posting for me, “in exchange for the link on [Matt Thomas’s] website”. I think that should be link to, not link on; the writing is (ominously) a bit murky. But that’s scarcely worth pursuing, since the letter refers to a website, but provides no link to it, nor even a name for it, and there seems to be no website under the name the e-mail was sent from. So it’s just a clumsy confection.

The business noun content. Matt Thomas is said to be an expert writer and content marketer. The e-mail header refers to fresh content ideas. The letter begins by asserting that my blog is lacking some new content — while great blogs need fresh content.

Matt Thomas, in short, is a content supplier. The term content here seems to have originated in business contexts, where it’s related to an older and more general usage — sense d in NOAD:

noun content-2. … [d] the material dealt with in a speech, literary work, etc., as distinct from its form or style: the tone, if not the content, of his book is familiar. [e] information made available by a website or other electronic medium: [as modifier]:  online content providers.

A number of dictionaries agree with NOAD that in such contexts, it’s used of websites; it’s something that websites have (though it might now have extended its sphere of use). It combines a reference to what is expressed in a website — information, but potentially more than that (attitudes, emotions, etc.) — with a reference to what means are used for that expression — writing, but potentially more than that (visuals, font choices, layout, etc.).

In certain contexts, people called content suppliers fill the niche that used to be filled by people called copywriters; whatever the subtleties, what content suppliers mainly do is write stuff, and Matt Thomas’s e-mail address identifies him (or it) as a writer.

My suspicion is that the offer of a free article would produce something brief that Matt Thomas would then try to switch for a better, larger article with a copywriter’s fee attached (there are many sites offering professional copywriting services, often at several levels from standard to expert, depending on the copywriter’s experience). But the whole thing could just be aimed at SEO.

Amazing business sites: the Gaping Void Culture Design Group. Source of the cartoon up at the top. Headers for its home page:

Culture Design™: How Iconic Leaders Deliver Sustained Operational Excellence
You are not alone. Culture is the greatest business challenge of our day.

And the text. Just let it wash over you:

Most things we think of as culture solutions look like surveys/assessments, 360s, apps, etc. The problem is that these are not solutions. They simply generate data. And, data is NOT A solution.

Effective culture solutions fundamentally change how people look at their work, relate to their colleagues and customers. It is emotional. This is why most executives struggle with it.

Think about the most successful CEOs of our time, GE’s Jack Welch, IBM’s Lou Gerstner, Steve Jobs, and more recently, Pepsico’s Indra Nooyi, and Microsoft’s Satya Nadella, all have one thing in common. They each lent their success to well-articulated, inclusive cultures that not only delivered outstanding employee engagement but more importantly, sustained operational excellence.

Often, when leaders like these leave, things change. Culture is misunderstood.

There’s no coincidence that they are business icons. They understand the functional power of culture to transform their organizations. It’s not an opinion, here’s the data that shows this.

Culture is not simply about making employees happy, it’s far bigger: it is the key to delivering amazing business outcomes.

The Ultimate Management Tool

We think about culture differently: It is designable. It is an executable, measurable, management system that drives outstanding business performance.

This is Culture Science®. We’ve helped organizations as diverse as AT&T, Microsoft, Roche, US Air Force, MIT Sloan, and Zappos. We can help you too.

If you agree, let’s have a conversation. If you disagree, let’s definitely have a conversation.

We deliver a real, human, emotional, immersive connection to work.

Are you ready to work with us?

It’s a sales pitch, attempting to seduce us. It’s a dominance play, attempting to control and direct us. I hear stirring music, I hear commanding exhortation:

Oh a band will do it my friends, I mean a boys band, yes indeed
I say River City’s gotta have a boys band and I mean she needs it today
— from the 1957 musical comedy The Music Man


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