Learning Search

That Web Site Looks Weird: Is It Just You? Find Out In Two Steps

Quick article today on one of those little annoyances that you can run into while using the Internet: is a Web site truly not available, or is it just you?

Last week I posted a link to a story about a new resource for Ukrainian genealogy on my Facebook page. Then Cyndi Ingle — she of Cyndi’s List fame — mentioned that she could access the site, but it was showing that it was down for maintenance. It wasn’t that she couldn’t access it at all, but she was getting something entirely different from me and other people who were commenting on the post. (The rest of us were getting the Web site’s home page.)

This is always frustrating; a problem that isn’t as clean-cut as not being able to access a site at all, but with few clues as to what’s going on. But there’s a simple two-step process you can use to see if there is, in fact, a different Web site available from the one you’re getting. And you won’t have to install any software or browser extensions, either; you’ll just need to use two Web sites.

(Please note: this article will give you a way to discover what other people are seeing on a Web site you can’t access. Learning why that is happening is a whole ‘nother kettle of fish. If you find yourself in this situation and it’s clear that your ISP or IP is being treated differently than the rest of the Web, I recommend you contact your ISP’s support team.)

Step 1: Seeing What Everyone Else Is Seeing

In Cyndi’s case, while everyone else was getting the home page for Pra.In.Ua, she was getting this message:

19554162 10213777637781909 2763540408821769874 n

(This translates as “Conducted Maintenance. Check Back”.)

So the first thing to do is see if she could go somewhere online where she’s not making a direct connection with her ISP and see if she could get a different result. For that I recommend Nibbler, at http://nibbler.silktide.com/ .

screenshot 2017 07 03 at 9 01 09 am

Nibbler is a Web site tester. Enter in the URL of the site about which you’re trying to get more information (I recommend pasting in the entire URL so you don’t have to make sure you’ve specified https vs http or vice-versa) and after a few minutes you’ll get an analysis:

screenshot 2017 07 03 at 9 22 12 am

I added the big yellow circle; it’s to highlight the fact that one of the things Nibbler offers is a screenshot of the site you’re analyzing. You won’t be able to see every single detail, but it should be easy to determine if this is what you’re getting when you access this site directly. In Cyndi’s case it was not, so we could move on to step 2 and try to access the site in a different way.

Step 2: Use a Web-based Proxy

I asked Cyndi if she used a VPN and she said she didn’t, and wasn’t comfortable installing one. That’s okay; there are online proxies you can use to access Web sites.

(Please note, though, that an online proxy is not as secure as something you install and control yourself. I would think twice about using an online proxy to access something very sensitive. If you’re just testing to see if a Web site is acting oddly, I think it’s fine.)

screenshot 2017 07 03 at 9 54 12 am

Hide.me is a proxy site that works pretty fast. Just plug in the URL you want to see.  There are several options you can set, like the proxy location, but I didn’t bother with any of that.

And here’s the Web site!

screenshot 2017 07 03 at 10 00 05 am

And if you’re using Google Chrome, don’t worry: the translate feature still works fine even though you’re accessing the site through Hide.me.

To my knowledge Cyndi has not discovered why her particular ISP / IP can’t access this genealogy site; my best guess is her IP is part of an IP group that was blocked due to some previous misbehavior not of her doing. But she was able to find a workaround and access the Ukranian Web site, keeping on with that genealogy work she’s been doing so well for so long. Keep it going, Cyndi!

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