Gambolin’ Man sent me an e-mail the other day on behalf of a woman who is hoping to develop a “hiking hub” online community. I received an e-mail from the same woman a couple weeks back but never got around to replying to it.

Here’s the deal as I see it: This woman works for an Internet-marketing firm that sets up sites around certain topics that get good search engine traffic. The firm creates a template that makes it easy to use the same design and structure for each topic-driven site, which keeps costs low: basically $100 a year for domain registration and web hosting after the Web site format is developed.

Ah, you ask, but where do they get the content that gives Web surfers an excuse to use these sites? That’s where we come in. As bloggers, we provide oodles of free, original content about a subject dear to our hearts. Aforementioned Internet marketers approach us and say “we want to create a community around hiking,” with a pitch that their “hub” will provide exposure to our blogs and and a central location for content we’re interested in.

All we have to do is give them permission to scrape the first few sentences of our posts, available automatically via RSS feeds, and voila: they have an instant content portal with zero content costs. They also keep all the revenue from clicks on Google ads and other contextual advertising.

But before you scream “I’ll die before I’ll them cash in on my free content,” you have to keep in mind how this set-up works. The creators of the envisioned “hiking hub” won’t generate much revenue on this individual site. You could demand a cut (which would be refused; free content is the business model) of the revenue your content generates, but the slice would be so small as to be not really worth the trouble.

That’s because our Internet marketers presumably plan to develop hundreds of these sites, so that each one’s nickels and dimes add up to dollars returned to the company. And frankly, they could do this without seeking our permission. Right now they’re asking some of us to participate because it’s wiser (and cheaper) to be up-front and avoid exposure to copyright infringement liability.

The original e-mail I received pointed to a pair of sites centered on E-learning and non-profits. Both looked like cookie-cutter-Internet-marketing-schemes-of-the-week at first glance, so I made a snap judgment that the proposal wasn’t worth delving into any further.

Now it occurs to me it would be sorta handy to have the latest hiking blog content aggregated at a central site. The current sample sites all link right back to the originating blogs, so it seems like any Web surfer who finds the quickie intros at this site is far more likely to click on our content than to click on the site’s ads. Also, all those links would help our Google rankings and get us more traffic (theoretically).

Unfortunately, the business model for this “hub” requires requires a stripped-down, cookie-cutter site format with nothing visually conveying “we really built this site with hikers in mind.” It can’t be Twitter for Hikers or Facebook for Backpackers.

And frankly, we might be just as well advised to look up Wade at and ask him to build us the same site in his spare time. I’m thinking he could do it an afternoon, and at least we’d know a real hiker was handling the Web development.

Bottom line: if you’re approached to participate in this “hub,” it probably wouldn’t hurt anything and could help your Google rankings a bit. Just go in with eyes wide open and know what you’re signing up for. You have no obligation to donate your content to a profit-making venture, but the fact that somebody might earn some nickels and dimes on your content might not be reason enough to rule it out.