hacking

Voyage Of A Domain

I think my work is insanely interesting, but I wouldn’t say people typically agree. But occasionally, I have something so random come to me that I get to do detective work and find a really interesting story.
A month ago, I got a call from Frank, who owned a domain ten years ago. On this domain was a blog about him and a crew circumnavigating the globe on a schooner. The site was originally set up to be a way for friends and family to check in on progress of the trip or for the crew to connect with people on the journey… but then it got big. When Frank told me it got millions of hits, I was really impressed… and sad to find the domain had expired.
The first question (for the actual work) was could we find his old blog posts?
But a second question showed up as we started digging: Where had this domain gone since it left Frank’s possession 5ish years ago?
The first thing to do was to go to the current website. I won’t link to the domain name because, surprise, it’s now a porn site. (If you really want to go look at it, the domain is written in the screenshots of non-porn versions of the website below. Don’t say I didn’t warn you). But what happened to this site during the time between being an innocent schooner blog and a not-so-innocent adult video website?
I decided to see what I could uncover. Knowing that a website with this traffic would have been archived by the Way Back Machine automatically, I went to web.archive.org , typed in the URL and started going back in time. Come on this fantastical journey with me…
First the domain was as schooner blog. Here is what the site looked like from 2008 to 2010:
Then it got hacked.
I know what you’re thinking: doesn’t that just look like the old website? And it does, but if we look closer at the text, we see evidence of the hack:
Further evidence of how deep this hack went happens when you click on any link on the site that isn’t the homepage:

 

Ah, remember what hacks looked like in 2013?

 

Once the domain expired and it wasn’t renewed within the 30 day grace period, it went on the market. In 2016, it was bought by someone and became a spammy looking information site about diabetes:

You may wonder why this happened. A common tactic people use to get their site ranked more quickly is to buy high traffic domains and link to their low traffic domains from them (or redirect the URLs to their websites directly) to give them a little boost. This is just my theory but it explains why 0% effort went into the design and the content seems pretty generic (i.e. like a site pretending to be a real website).
In the same year, this domain became something else even more random: a song lyric website:
I know, random! But notice the “earnings disclaimer” in the menu. Typically if you are going to put up a website that makes money off mainly display ads, it only makes real money if you are getting high traffic. And since song lyrics are a universally appealing topic and something that people frequently Google, bonus.
Then in the past year, it became a porn site. And who knows when it’ll become something else.
The great news is Frank’s blog posts are archived in the Way Back Machine and it’ll be a matter of copying and pasting to get them on his new domain. And in addition to that, now Frank and I have a fun story we didn’t expect from the experience of the domain name’s identity crisis.
The Schooner Maggie B went on an interesting journey but so did its domain name. Because the internet, like the open ocean, was built for adventure.