I was reminded recently of the joy and hazards of following referrers.
Referrers are one of those things that, if it hadn’t already been extant at the starting gun of the world wide web, would have been decried as a privacy-killing who-sis, but which, because it existed as part of the initial technology, an awful lot of people suck up just fine.
When you browse a website, unless you specifically use technology to avoid it, any site you browse to will be told what site you came from. So if you were at, say, waxy.org and clicked on a link to me, my webserver software would log the last place you came from (waxy). This all gets shoved away in all my logs, which I generally never delete, and which are archived.
I then have two pieces of software that go through the logs and generate stuff for me to see. One is Webalizer, which is a pretty friggin’ mature project, and ASCIICHECK, which is anything but.
ASCIICHECK is a little shell script I wrote some time ago to tell me the last day or so’s worth of referring links. In a fit of loving community huggles, here is that script. You will note several things. First of all, it’s pretty simple. Second of all, it’s somewhat inefficient compared to some perl blooziz. Third, it mostly makes sense.
In case you don’t read shell script, here is some sample output.
From this, I can see trends: maybe a website spontaneously starts showing up with dozens of referrers. Maybe I see some deep weblog posting with a single hit. Maybe, and this happens a lot, the website is just spamming my referrer logs with crap. Unfortunately, even something as gentle and subtle as weblog files are not free of spam. As spam referrers show up, they end up on a kill list not handled by this script.
The result of this script is that there’s a page I have that I can browse that shows me, generally, what’s all “hot” with the ascii weblog. Normally, nothing is “hot”, but occasionally I see a URL stick out as an obvious “worth checking out” and I copy and paste the URL into the browser. Why not make it a link? Well, no need to get into OTHER referrer logs, right?
This process, as you can see, takes basically none of my time and mostly consists of checking a webpage occasionally for an interesting link or new site. Total time of my day: less than a minute.
The side-effect of this is that I often see a posting about me of the most obscure sort, where maybe a dozen regulars would normally show up, and I get right to the entry which mentions my projects or my weblog, or what have you. And then I always make the big mistake.
See, it’s one thing to declare a whole thing about a person, or a person’s work, or a site. It’s another thing for that person to spontaneously show up on your site, minutes or an hour or two after you post, and then have them respond. It’s a tad jarring, maybe a little too weird.
Occasionally, I get my favorite: “Wow! Jason Scott reads my weblog!!!!”. Hey, I made your day.
Other times, I get “wow, you have no life to be posting in my weblog”. This one makes slightly less sense. Why post something about a person and then be displeased the person would be responding? I’ve certainly experienced the situation of the subject-being-discussed showing up in the ASCII blog to tell me off or egg me on; the response you won’t see from me is “Gee, don’t you have a life?”
Can’t have it both ways, kids. Can’t post it to the world and then be indignant that the world responds.
In my newsreader, I also have this feed and this feed, but they’re not quite as helpful, although sometimes they do chum up a weblog posting that mentions me that has never been read by anyone. Responses to THOSE are even more uneven.
Is there ego involved here? Well, fuckin’ duhhhhh. But beyond that, there’s another bunch of reasons to take a little time to do this. Sometimes people complain or comment on something that could really improve my site, or my work, or my goals, and they don’t think I want to hear it. Or I won’t listen. But by reading these posts on their site, even a little “didn’t he try this” or “why doesn’t he have this”, I’ve made changes to my layout, topics of discussion, documentary descriptions/features, you name it. All because someone quietly murmured my name, somewhere. And I’m better for it.
And trust me, telling me I don’t have a life for talking to you doesn’t get shuffled into the “watertight arguments” folder all that quickly. I got a life.
It glows on my desk, in a little jar. Red if it’s angry.
Oh shit, it’s angry.
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