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Wednesday, August 22, 2012

AOL: still providing insanity after all these years

Having a live display of referrer data can be pretty interesting at times. I usually use it to find out when someone's submitted one of my posts to Hacker News or has tweeted about it, but sometimes I discover other things. Once in a while they are strange and mysterious.

Here's one which popped up on my display not too long ago:

http://search.aol.com/aol/news?q=Aol+mail+login&...

Just looking at that and taking a guess on "q" being the CGI argument they use for query terms, it seemed that someone searched for "Aol mail login"... and they wound up here?

Now I was really curious. Exactly what did they wind up seeing here? I dug into the regular logs to see, and here it is:

a.b.c.d - - [22/Aug/2012:08:11:09 -0700] "GET /w/2012/08/21/auth/tivo.jpg HTTP/1.1" 200 79505 "(same referrer)" "Mozilla/5.0 (iPad; CPU OS 5_1_1 like Mac OS X) AppleWebKit/534.46 (KHTML, like Gecko) Version/5.1 Mobile/9B206 Safari/7534.48.3" "rachelbythebay.com" "-"

They wound up directly on my decade-old screenshot of Tivo's data-over-video transmission scheme from yesterday's post? Not even the post itself, but just the image? What the...

Obviously, since this person did a web search for something like that, we're probably not talking about a power user. Still, I wanted to know exactly what they saw when they did that search, so I loaded it up myself. I figured it would be bad, but this was really something.

Crazy search results

This situation is nuts. The user is on an AOL site at an aol.com domain, and they're looking for a way to log into their AOL mail. What do they get in return? A bunch of ads which are everything but AOL mail! You know these will rope in people who don't know any better, because, again, who does this kind of search in the first place?

After those ads, it starts showing news entries, apparently, and they don't seem to have any connection to the search terms. So, where does my image come in? That's easy. It's way down the page here:

Attributed to YC?

It's a link to my post, and it uses my image directly (scaled down in the browser, too) but it's attributed to YC presumably because they snagged it from a Hacker News submission? Huh? They need to put down the crack pipe.

The clue meter is reading zero.