When I started Plagiarism Today in August 2005, I was doing it as a lark. I had an idea to create a blog about content misuse on the internet, one that looked at the intersection of copyright, plagiarism and other creator issues, but it was an idea that had legs and is continuing today.
More than a decade ago, the site became my full-time job and, between it and my consulting duties, I’ve made a humble but rewarding living for myself.
But that doesn’t mean there hasn’t been a lot of surprises along the way. While most of these surprises have been very good, such as the wonderful travel opportunities I’ve had, the amazing people I’ve met, the more than 250 citations I’ve gotten on Google Scholar, there’s a great deal of general weirdness too.
Some of these come with just running any site of a certain popularity, but a lot of it comes with this unusual territory I and this site travels.
So, in a bit of a break from the usual content on this site, here’s a look at some of the strange things that have become surprisingly normal while running this site.
1: The Guest Post Requests
It’s a fact of life with running even a modestly popular website that you’re going to get inundated with guest post requests… just not useful ones.
To be clear, I love and welcome guest posts. Some of my all-time favorite posts on this site are guest posts including Kathryn Goldman’s great post about the Copyright Office and Susan Godwin’s post about when you can show the NFL in a church. I love getting great content from experts in the field that provide a unique viewpoint and some information that’s out of my usual scope.
However, that’s not what we’re talking about. Just in the past week, I’ve gotten spam guest post offerings for everything from furniture, prescription drugs, VPNs (so many VPNs) and much more.
The thing is this. Guest posts actually make more work for me. While I don’t have to write the post, communicating with the author, editing the post and formatting it to match the rest of the site often takes longer than just writing from scratch. That’s fine whenever we’re bringing on an expert that’s adding something I can’t, but it means I’m not about to go through that for a spam post.
But that doesn’t stop the emails from coming, by the dozen.
2: The VPN Spam
Speaking of VPNs, did you know I did a few articles on VPNs in previous years? I have an explainer on the technology, looking at whether your site should block them and even one on my experience using one.
You probably didn’t know that, but the VPN salespeople certainly do. I get inundated with requests to add affiliate links to those and other articles that just mention the term. I’ve even been offered some decent sums of money just to add the links.
I’ve always refused (there are no affiliate links on this site or paid advertising on this site). Furthermore, if I did do it, I would do it transparently, as I do with all my disclosures. Plagiarism Today doesn’t earn me any revenue other than how it helps me promote my consulting practice.
On YouTube, Louis Rossman recent posted a video about how his office was spammed by one VPN provider in particular. It’s a video I can definitely relate to and also agree with his reasons for not doing it. I’ll keep doing things the way I have and hope that it motivates enough people to hire me so that I can keep turning down the VPN money.
3: The Conspiracy Theorists
I knew from my personal experience that plagiarism was an emotional topic. My first plagiarism battle points that out. However, this site has definitely attracted a contingent of people that are outright irrational about it.
The number of long, rambling emails I receive (often in all caps) is insanely high. If I believed every plagiarism accusation I’ve gotten, there would be literally no major creative person or organization untouched.
It would be easy to dismiss these emails as coming from mentally ill people that need help I can’t provide. But, as we showed last year, it’s insanely easy to build a plagiarism argument where none exists. This is why cases like the Star Trek: Discovery lawsuit happen, not because people are crazy or bad guys, they’re just seeing a pattern that isn’t there.
Still, it doesn’t make life in my inbox any easier to parse. If someone seems serious about wanting an analysis, I quote my usual rate for performing one. If they are just wanting someone to “expose” the plagiarism (and do all of the legwork along the way), I let them know that’s not really what I do on the site. That is if I respond to the email at all.
Often times, it just isn’t worth it.
4: The Scammers
It’s a fact of life that if you have an email address you’re going to get sent scams. But Plagiarism Today has attracted a very different breed of scammers. Not people that (just) want to scam me, but want my help scamming others.
One particularly memorable exchange involved a person who wanted to be my literary “agent” for a new book but was going to use a scheme to inflate sales and get the book on top of Amazon’s charts. I declined.
I’ve had several others that wanted me to promote a service that didn’t do what it was supposed to do (content detection is relatively common but there’s a lot of variety here) and I’ve even gotten multiple offers to become a c-level executive at a company that was clearly aiming to use my name to scam investors.
So far I’ve avoided these and I’ve only aligned myself with companies and organizations I’m proud to work with. But that doesn’t stop them from trying.
5: Hosting Challenges
On the surface, this seems like a simple site to run. It’s WordPress-based with no dynamic elements and though it gets decent traffic, it’s not so high that it should melt a server.
Unfortunately, hosting has proved one of the most vexing problems in running the site. Whether it’s the “epic fail” crash of 2008 or ongoing issues I have with server stability, it’s been a constant source of frustration.
Part of the problem is just how big the site is. With more than 4,500 posts, 7,000 tags and 6,400 media items, the site is not small. It has more than 14 years of history behind it and that’s a lot of content.
In 2015 I published a technical guide for running the site. However, nearly everything in that guide has changed. I still use Distil, but I have a different host, theme, search function, backup system and anti-spam approach. Of the five plugins I couldn’t “fathom” living without in 2015, I’m using zero just four years later (though TablePress is still active for older posts).
Instead, I had to get rid of the site’s comments, they were negatively impacting server load and site loading speed (they also weren’t super useful for most visitors). I also picked up a new theme and a new host after my previous one closed down and started providing inferior service.
Currently, I pay about $70 per month for my hosting but I’m not fully satisfied with the speed or the stability. It works well enough day-to-day but I am looking to jump to a WordPress hosting platform to improve the site further (and maybe lower costs).
6: The Politics
In 2008 I wrote an article about the then-new plagiarism scandal for then-Senator Barack Obama. Though I was rather tepid about the scandal, I became a darling for his political opponents and received a ton of traffic from right-leaning websites. Eight years later I did the same for the Melania Trump plagiarism scandal and the opposite happened.
I haven’t gotten the worst of the hate and anger that we see online. I’ve only received a handful of threats for my coverage of political candidates. However, no matter how hard I try to keep politics out of these analyses, it’s amazing how quickly people politicize them.
But what is striking is how wrong this politicization gets it. What’s important to those sharing the story isn’t the detailed analysis of the alleged plagiarism, but that there were allegations of plagiarism at all. The article could have been nothing but gibberish, it’s the headline people wanted.
This is deeply disappointing and one of the reasons I’m loathed to talk about political plagiarism stories. I do because they ARE important, but I know in advance I’m going to get a lot of love or hate based not on the content of my analysis, but on the fact I did one at all.
7: The Time Factor
Not every post on this site takes the same amount of time. Some posts are fairly straightforward and take only a couple of hours to write. Others required days, weeks or even months of research to pull together.
The thing is, when every post goes live, it has roughly the same chance of getting a large amount of attention. Posts that were done quickly and hastily often do very well while posts that took countless hours to pull together do next to nothing.
I actually covered this in a 2018 post on some of my favorite pieces that almost no one read.
This may not be very “strange” in that almost every creator has observed this but it’s very interesting when looking at this site’s history. For example, the most popular post in this site’s history is one on how to write a copyright notice. It’s a basic post on how to do something very simple that isn’t even legally necessary. In fact, according to Wordpress.com stats, that post has seen more traffic than the home page.
Though frustrating this has also been encouraging as it’s motivated me to try ideas and go into topics I might not have otherwise, this post among them.
All in all, running Plagiarism Today has been and continues to be a wonderful and rewarding experience. I’m looking forward to keeping this going for a long time to come.
But yes, when you run a site that occupies a strange niche, it’s not going to be a normal ride.
Then again, being an independent blogger and consultant is far from a normal life path in its own right and many of these things are just inherent in that choice, not the topic. Still, they’re all things that no one warned me about (not that I would have listened if they had).
Still, I wouldn’t give this job up for anything and I’m grateful not just to those around me who have provided me support and encouragement, but to all of you who have read it, shared it and, in some cases, become my beloved clients. Thank you all for your support.