Learning Search

Bring in ‘da Noise, Bring in Defunct: Checking the Status of Unresponsive Web Sites

Recently someone contacted me on Twitter and asked about a short URL service called Snipurl; specifically if it was defunct. I went looking around to see what I could find and was able to tell the person within twenty minutes or so that yes, it did appear the service was defunct.

Looking back on it, I found the steps I took interesting enough to make into an article. So here it is: five steps to check on the status of a Web service when the Web site for that service is no longer available.

Step One: Twitter

The first thing to do was check Snipurl’s Twitter account at https://twitter.com/snipurl .

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When you look at someone’s Twitter account this way you’ll a tab for tweets and an additional tab for tweets with replies. Be sure you’re checking the tweets with replies tab because otherwise you might miss responses to other accounts with details about the service.

In this case, it wasn’t helpful; Snipurl has not tweeted in any fashion since November 2012. If it had been within the last 24 months, I might send a tweet to them asking if they were okay, but with the last tweet being over four years ago, I don’t see a point. But I’m not quite done with Twitter yet.

Twitter Hashtags

The next thing for me to do was check Twitter hashtags for mentions of Snipurl, which I did at https://twitter.com/hashtag/snipurl . What I’m looking for is evidence that other people have been trying to get in touch with Snipurl; if they’ve had success ascertaining what happened to Snipurl then I won’t have to repeat their work.

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Note that when you’re doing searches like this on Twitter, the search results default to the “Top” tab, which does filter out some results. Make sure you’re looking at the “Latest” tab next to it, which as far as I can tell includes all tweets.

In this case it didn’t matter as the most recent tweet with a #Snipurl hashtag is over two years old; outage complaints and a couple of other things. Nothing helping me here. Time to move to news stories.

(Please note that sometimes a site name doesn’t translate well to a hashtag search. If you’re trying to run down information on a site called “Fred,” searching for the #Fred hashtag is going to find a lot of noise and little useful information. In that case you might try altering the hashtag to #FredCom or employing additional keywords, but this particular search option just might not work well for you.)

Step Two: News Stories

Next stop is Google News to see if there’s been any news stories about Snipurl recently.

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Make sure you’re using Google News’ “Tools” setting to sort the news stories by date, not relevance!

In this case the most recent story is from 2015, but as it is a news source that has credibility problems, and as the headline makes it clear the story is not germane to Snipurl or even to URL-shortening technology, I’m skipping it. After that, there’s a big gap – the next newest story is from 2009.

To be thorough I also looked at Bing News but that was more confusing than anything else.

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Just as with Google News, make sure you’ve got the Bing News settings toward the top of the page to list your results as “Most Recent” instead of “Best Match”.

A result from three months ago? Yay! Then I went and looked at the page. No; there’s no mention of Snipurl anywhere. My best guess is the indexed page is an old page that had a Snipurl URL in it. And the second result, ostensibly from a year ago? An event notification from 2009. I’m not going to find anything  useful there.

To be thorough I did a Google search for Snipurl, focusing on sites indexed in the last year.

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I was enthusiastic about this when I saw the Yahoo Answers link, but when I visited the page I saw that the question had been asked a decade ago, with the site re-indexed after it received another (spamlike) answer nine months ago. Other results were equally non-helpful. This is an example of a search tool that might work better for other defunct sites you’re trying to chase down; as an URL shortener Snipurl is going to have mentions all over the web (and as far as I can tell none of them work; got that, Leola Elementary?)

No luck with Twitter, news searches, or even a time-restricted Google Web search. It’s time to dig a little deeper with the Internet Archive and its Wayback Machine.

Step Three: Internet Archive / Wayback Machine

The Internet Archive’s Wayback machine archives old versions of Web sites. It’s available at https://archive.org/web/ . The way you use it is to enter the URL of the site about which  you’re trying to get more information. If the Internet Archive has archived the URL (sometimes it hasn’t), you’ll get a calendar “mapping” the dates of the indexing, like so:

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In this case Snipurl.com has been indexed over 1800 times in the last fifteen years. Since I’m trying to find out what happened to Snipurl, I want to sample random indexing. What I’m looking for is an announcement page, a “goodbye” page, or something similar that will give me more details than I have now.

I picked a page from March and got a few more details:

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That tells me Snipurl was having problems in March, but doesn’t answer the question of its demise. A search from June 2016 finds me a 404 error. Finally I get a snapshot of a working site from February 1 of this year:

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This doesn’t give me any information about Snipurl’s current status but I have a lead, because once I’ve found this page, I can follow links as they were also archived by the Wayback Machine. Which means I can access the “Contact Us” page linked at the bottom of the page.

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What do I have now that I didn’t have before? An e-mail address: editor@snipurl.com. Since I can’t find anything useful in the Wayback Machine, I can use that address when I move to step four: E-mail.

Step Four: E-Mail

This is an easy step: e-mail the contact you have and ask if something’s going on. In my case this is what I got when I e-mailed editor@snipurl.com:

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At this point you might want to just stop and be satisfied that Snipurl was defunct. But I didn’t feel good about that. After all, editor@snipurl.com was a front-facing e-mail address on a Web site that had been active since 2002 or so. Maybe Snipurl just shut down that address because it was getting too choked with spam.

So I needed another address. And I knew where to get it: DomainTools. Now we’re at step five: domain registrations.

Step Five: Domain Registrations

DomainTools has a registration lookup at http://whois.domaintools.com/, so I used that to look up Snipurl.com:

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The registration is protected by privacy, but there are still contact e-mail addresses there. I used the owner address to take one more shot at contacting the folks at Snipurl.com. Here’s what I got.

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And THAT’S when I gave up on hunting down Snipurl.

I could have gone a little bit further – DomainTools offers a way to get the history of domain registration changes – but that appears to require a $99/month membership which is a bit rich for me. Nevertheless, at the end of my 15-20 minutes of searching I had a fairly good case for Snipurl being completely defunct. (Snipurl, if you’re out there, correct me if I’m wrong!)

Most Web services make some kind of announcement when they shut down, so you usually don’t have to do this much digging. But there are ways to find out the status of a suddenly-silent Web service — even if they don’t have an active Web site.

Categories: Learning Search

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4 replies »

  1. Beware – domaintools seems to have an issue with the privacy-protected addresses. If you look at the raw whois data (lower down the domaintools results, or via another whois lookup service), the owner contact address is actually owner-1677052@snipurl.com.whoisprivacyservice.org (and likewise for admin and tech contacts) which presumably forwards to the actual contact address. (I haven’t tried sending email to that address)

  2. Snipurl.com is based in Seattle and has a message (undated) saying they are migrating to a new server.
    Snipurl.im is based in Vietnam and appears to be working as a URL shortener. No apparent connection to snipurl.com. Virus checks say it is a clean site.

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