Related posts, Offbeat Empire's girth, and the next two sites we're launching

July 11 2011 | arielmstallings

It's time for another round of reader questions. Not wedding advice, just questions about Offbeat Bride and the Offbeat Empire.

What's up with the related links at the end of each post? I saw one about gout and was like WTF?!

HA! Yes, sometimes the concept of "related" feels a little tenuous, doesn't it? Those posts are served up by a service called Outbrain. The thumbnails include three Offbeat Bride posts and one related-ish post from another blog. The links beneath are all to other blogs that use the Outbrain service. Each link includes a parenthetical notation of which blog it's coming from, so it's easy to see which are native Offbeat content and which are links to other sites.

We just added the module a couple months ago, and I spent the first few weeks doing a TON of tweaks to the blacklist of URLs and post titles that weren't allowed. The Offbeat Empire has a pretty clear voice, and of course I can't expect all other websites to adhere to that, so I had to see if I could find trigger words to screen out shady shit. I've got things pretty well set, but every now and then something weird will slip in — like that gout post. I also see a lot of posts that I really like down there — uncommon wedding cakes, couture wedding gown inspiration, interesting newsy bits. For the most party, I'm super happy with Outbrain.

That said, if you ever see anything in the Related Posts or Elsewhere links that strike you as offensive, email us right away with the title of the linked post and the website (ie "Battle of the bulge: you look fat in your tacky wedding dress (StyleCaster)"). We'll get the offended link off the site immediately, and update our blacklist accordingly. Please do not leave a comment on the post where you saw the link.

Speaking of which, wanna see the current blacklist? It's kind of hilarious. If one of these words appears in the post link, the post will not appear on any Offbeat Empire site: aging, arthritis, bikini, body, boobs, calories, carat, cheat, cheating, credit, deaths, debt, diet, divorce, fat, fail, genocide, gout, homicide, Kardashian, killing, males, middleton, royal, Schwarzenegger, sex, skinnier, tacky, teeth, thin, thinner, too old, tummy, weight, will kate, workout.

UPDATED TO ADD: Thanks to everyone who's been emailing. I realize that I should be more clear about the kinds of links I'm looking to block. Not every link is going to be a perfect fit, which is ok with me. The one's I'm looking to block are the links stand in stark contrast to Offbeat Bride's values. We're talking stuff like really negative body image posts, disturbing gender stereotypes, snarky/bitchy anti-feminist posts, etc. I'm ok with not every related link feeling like it could have been written by an Offbeat Bride editor — what I'm not ok with is perpetrating hateful, body-hating, anti-woman garbage.

How big is the Offbeat Empire?

Don't be fooled by the tongue-in-cheek name. In terms of regularly paid staff, the Empire is me and a few other women who work part-time (usually in their homes, usually in their pajamas). I've got three editors and a developer, copyeditor, community manager, and ad sales rep. There are a couple other folks who do project-based work or internships, but that's pretty much it. (Reminder: you can see for yourself just how tiny the Empire is if you join us this fall at the Geek Girl Con!)

A staff this small means two things:

  1. A real person (often me) reads every single email we receive.
  2. We don't always have time to respond to all those emails.

I'm always baffled when I reply to an email and people are like, "OMG, YOU WROTE ME BACK." Dudes: I am a nerd sitting on my butt reading emails all day, just like you. I once heard about someone saying "I got a message from Ariel — or someone monitoring her email," and my brain almost exploded. In some people's minds, apparently I have a staff of grape-peeling pool boys who fan me with palm fronds and also answer email for me! It's sort of flattering, but also sort of baffling. Bloggers: we're just like you. Only nerdier.

What's the next Offbeat Empire site?

We have two we're working on, and they might not be what you'd expect (or even want! HA!). No Offbeat Work. No Offbeat Travel. Nope, the next one will just be a behind-the-scenes Offbeat Empire business blog, where I can dork out on marketing, content strategies, management, business communications, etc.

The one after that is a total departure from the Empire format. To be perfectly honest, we're all a little beaten down by the heavy topics, heavy editing, and intensive comment moderation. The next site will feature stupid internet memes that are making me and my editors laugh — we're talking crap like lolcats, dancing baby videos, stupid dog pictures, and the like. It's like if the Offbeat Empire had a totally consensual digital gang-bang with The Daily What, BuzzFeed, Laughing Squid, and Best Week Ever. There won't be comments — you'll have three options: LIKE, SHARE, CLOSE YOUR BROWSER WINDOW. The primary goal for the site will be the entertainment of myself and the other Empire editors, and we'd love it if you came along for a laugh with us.

In terms of timeline? No timeline. It's summer! Despite being a devoted web nerd, I'm trying to spend a little more time outdoors until the Seattle rains return. Ask me in September about timelines. 🙂

Any burning questions I missed? Ask away in the comments!

  1. Ha, well there's two links on this very post that seem a bit odd – one about Natalie Portman and other about Vivienne Jolie-Pitt…

    • Without knowing the text of the links you're mentioning (the related section is catered to your browser, so I don't see the same links you do — that's why in the post I mention reporting both full link text and source site), I will say that celeb links aren't bothersome to me. As someone who spent several years writing celebrity gossip, I don't see gossip as contradicting offbeat values — I blocked the words Kardashian and the royal wedding because they were being repeatedly being tied to icky stuff like ring size discussions and weigh loss posts.

      • "icky stuff like ring size"

        Oh jeez! Why did my brain just make the leap to a COMPLETELY different type of "ring" then? Gah! Please pass the mind bleach!

    • I got one that said "How to tell if a professional contact is interested in you sexually!" That's fun!

  2. Oooooooh exciting.

    The ban-list is quite amusing – though sad to see how many weight refrences have had to be blacklisted, but then again – it is weddings we're talking about here!

    Can't wait to see what you come up with for the gigglesite 🙂

  3. YES! Business blog please!!!! There are tons out there but not a lot of them that cater to who I am as a person and the weirdness of being not your average business.

    If I could I would high five the shit out of you right now!

  4. Love the idea of Offbeat Business; my clientele tends to be from the more unique and original end of the pool, so it'll be great to have a place to send them that doesn't feel too "uptight" for their business sensibilities.

    • I should to clarify: it'll be more Offbeat Empire behind the scenes newsy type stuff, not as much "here's how to run YOUR offbeat business." This will basically just be a blog about my business, not a service blog about general business topics.

  5. "aging, arthritis, bikini, body, boobs, calories, carat, cheat, cheating, credit, deaths, debt, diet, divorce, fat, fail, genocide, gout, homicide, Kardashian, killing, males, middleton, royal, Schwarzenegger, sex, skinnier, tacky, teeth, thin, thinner, too old, tummy, weight, will kate, workout"

    Can I please have this list in the form of those teeny little refrigerator magnets you use to form messages and poems? That would be awesome. Thanks!

  6. Genocide? I must have misread that it can't possibly…no, it does, it really does.

    In what world is genocide connected to anything ever discussed on OBB? All I can imagine is someone mentioned a place name and it threw out an article on "Recent killings in Place 'border on genocide' says Some Guy".

    Also is it wrong that this makes me more likely to pay attention to the links? I love seeing the crazy things computers think are related. (I'm waiting for someone to top Amazon's genius with 'you bought Green Day, you might like…Star Wars'.)

    Also that funny stuff site sounds awesome. The only downside is sites like that eat up too much of my time already, the last thing I need is another one.

    • Yep, there were some heavy news links that started popping up, talking about accusations of genocide against a foreign general, etc etc. I was like "Dude, that's interesting and not offensive, but sooooo not a good match with our content." Part of how Outbrain does related links is based on "people who've read content like X, have also read content about Y." This means it's not always based on content matches, but on behavior matches. That said, just because I read both Offbeat Bride and CNN doesn't mean I want genocide mixed up in my wedding porn.

  7. Okay, I've got one. What happened to Offbeat store? I'm sorry if this drudges up unpleasent thoughts. I really liked perusing it at… well… work!

    • The Store was launched in Spring of 2010, and we invested a year into heavily promoting and developing it. Unfortunately, despite the efforts of several staffers, the Store never performed all that well business-wise, and it caused some confusion with readers (people were always asking us if we actually sold the stuff in the Store) so I made the decision to retire it in May. The retirement wasn't something I wanted to do — we'd all invested a lot of time and effort into the project — but when after a year, we weren't seeing a return on the investment? It was time to cut our losses.

      Although the Store is no longer linked from the main Offbeat Bride page, it lives on at I hate linkrot and didn't want to delete anything, so it's totally still there. I can't promise that any of the products linked are still available from their respective sellers, nor are we adding any new products, but it's all still there.

  8. 1. Funny site, will be bookmarked for daily entertainment!
    2. Business blog sounds genius! Suggestion: Make some posts for noobs too? At least so that while I am not a blog nerd, I can still totally understand what is going on (and maybe be inspired?)
    3. Offbeat work/career would be awesome. So many employers don't want employees to have unnatural hair, or more than one piercing per ear, and no visible tattoos. Everything has to be muted and dull. blah…

    • Again, business blog wouldn't be a "how to," ie, tips for noobs or not noobs. It'd be a "here's what's up with the Offbeat Empire's business."

      • Looks like you might want to consider adding articles about other Offbeat businesses, from the comments you're receiving. I know I'd be interested, and not just because I'm already well-past the wedding and childbearing portions of my life and running headlong into opening a brick and mortar store. ^_^

  9. Hey Ariel, you are apparently a friend of my beau's friend on Google+. He got all excited about the phrase Offbeat Empire and was disappointed that it wasn't a site for offbeat evildoers. 😀

  10. "aging, arthritis, bikini, body, boobs, calories, carat, cheat, cheating, credit, deaths, debt, diet, divorce, fat, fail, genocide, gout, homicide, Kardashian, killing, males, middleton, royal, Schwarzenegger, sex, skinnier, tacky, teeth, thin, thinner, too old, tummy, weight, will kate, workout"

    Some of these are confusing, notably gout and arthritis. How did these even come up? On the other hand: getting rid of terms like workout? I'm sure I'm not the only tribe member who is a fitness buff, and I'm sure aging could have relevance on the Offbeat Mama site. The exclusion of 'males' confuses me as well. Same for 'fail' which is a common word, and 'divorce'. It kinda strikes me as being like a little kid putting fingers in their ears and making noise at the things they don't want to hear, and it makes it hard to have an open dialogue on these topics.

    • "…it makes it hard to have an open dialogue on these topics."

      How is my filtering related links from other websites akin to blocking "open dialogue"? Since when does anyone talk on Offbeat Bride about the content of posts in the Related Posts section? Even if they did (which simply isn't the case), I contend Offbeat Bride wouldn't be the best space for discussions about gout and arthritis — both of which popped up in related links because, well, content algorithms aren't perfect. Hence the filtering.

      As for your questions about specific words:
      * "males" and "fail": both words were being consistently used in the titles of posts that were super negative — "How to tell when males don't want to date you" and "20 wedding fails."
      * "workout": how dearly I wish the links associate with the word "workout" were body-positive and awesome. Unfortunately, they were all "Wedding workouts to battle the bridal bulge" and "3 workouts to make up for that ice cream you ate yesterday." We've got a longstanding policy against negative body image stuff on Offbeat Bride, and unfortunately every single workout-related link was framed negatively.

      I fully recognize that Outbrain's filtering system ain't perfect — weird links are going to slip through, and legitimately interesting links may not appear. But remember: we're talking about a "Related Posts" module on a wedding blog. I'm not Google, acting sinister by filtering out search results. I'm not blocking your ability access information about gout, arthritis, or workouts and have all the open dialog you want. I'm not saying we delete comments that reference gout. I'm just saying I won't be linking them the "Related Posts" section of Offbeat Bride.

  11. Ah I'm so glad to see this! I was worried when I wrote in to report a potentially offensive link that I was wasting your time, but I feel much better knowing it was something you guys were working on ^_^
    I suspect the '20 wedding fails' may actually be the one I mentioned…

  12. "the next one will just be a behind-the-scenes Offbeat Empire business blog"…

    Wait… wha…

    I knew about the "fun" site but had no idea about this one. But I can totally see you diving into this: website statistics + social anthropology + business? Bring it on!

    In fact.. now that I think about it… now I'm more interested in *this* site than the "fun" one!

  13. haha this also made me pay more attention to the links!
    This one seems a little off-topicy to me though?
    •Bringing Up Baby: Dear Emmett—You Are NOT Allowed To Have A Baby In High School. Got It? (
    Or maybe its just the title of it thats off-putting?

  14. So when I get to check OBB I tab all the new stories, and the tab I closed just before reading this post had a news story about ring etiquette. I don't remember the title (so I know there's nothing to be done about it) but it struck me as hilarious that a huge blog post was dedicated to how to appropriately wear a class/promise/friendship/engagement ring. It actually had the line "Never wear a promise ring on your left ring finger or you could be sending the wrong signal to prospective suitors," or something along those lines. I went all 0.0 and wondered if the blog post was made in the early 1900s.

  15. Can I ask about the empire site?

    See a few months back you posted about the reader survey results and you explained how some of the things we want just aren't viable in terms of cost and return. How would the empire and funny blog earn money? Would it still be advertising based just with different vendors? In my mind the empire site would only really attract the same readers therefore the same vendors will advertise. Will they generate enough revenue?

    Sorry for being nosy, just intrigued as to how it fits in with the business model

    • Great question! The Empire blog wouldn't be about making money from ads — it would be about sharing news about my business, so the value would be in networking/marketing opportunities, not in advertiser dollars.

      As for the funny blog, because there would be no text-heavy editorial content to clean up, no comments to moderate, and all editors would contribute at-will, overhead would be pretty low. It would be monetized with CPM ads.

  16. haha. I can't tell you how glad I am that Offbeat Bride will be at least one Kardashian free zone on the net!!

  17. RE: Business Blog
    GREAT! Looking forward to that!

    RE: Funny/Fun/Digital Gang-Bang
    on a scale of one to pancakes, pancakes being the ultimate in awesome, this is TOTALLY pancakes.

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