Article only free with google referrer March 16, 2006 2:27 PM   Subscribe

This is strange. Click on this link (it's Forbes magazine on the Playstation 3 chip). Chances are you'll be redirected here, to a Keepmedia page asking you to pay $2.00 to read it. Find exactly the same url using Google and you get in, without the payment demand. What's going on?
posted by grahamwell to Bugs at 2:27 PM (22 comments total)

Apologies if this is something well known and understood. I was just amazed, I'd taken such care with my links and then bam! - straight to a payment demand.

The strange thing is that, for a while, once you get in to the Forbes site, presumably there's a cookie that means the next time you try, from anywhere, you'll get in as well, so you won't know there's a problem until you post it, try from another machine and ouch!
posted by grahamwell at 2:30 PM on March 16, 2006

I'm guessing this is posted as a semi-warning to people that links they scan fine when clicking from Google may not work fine when directly linked? I knew about hotlinking images, but this one is, admittedly, news to me. I wouldn't worry too much as long as it's restricted to Forbes, but I should keep it in mind before I go ripping someone a new asshole for linking something in the Blue that jumps to a "pay to read the article" page.
posted by Bugbread at 2:44 PM on March 16, 2006

Forbes is probably serving different content based on the value in your browser's "referer" variable. This is an optional, untrusted field, but since it isn't easy to change for most browsers, it probably works for their purposes.

The business reasons for why they're doing it, I'm not so sure.
posted by justkevin at 2:55 PM on March 16, 2006

Bugbread, you are correct. I agree with justkevin, that's probably how it works - but why allow visitors from Google if you're directly after revenue? Only to specifically catch out sites like Metafilter (at a guess).

It's not just Forbes, here's a CNET article about Keepmedia
"...magazines such as Business Week, U.S. News and World Report and Esquire."

Clever stuff, but it seems like a direct attack on the philosophy behind this site. Posters link, lurkers pay.
posted by grahamwell at 3:01 PM on March 16, 2006

Yes, I just checked and it indeed is checking the HTTP "Referer:" header. It doesn't redirect to keepmedia if the referer is google.

I imagine they are doing this because search engine traffic represents X percent of their total (where X is likely large, perhaps 75%) and they want to try milking that remaining minority for more cash. Or in other words they still want people to be able to find their back archives through a search engine, but if they go to the home page and click on an article they want them to pay.
posted by Rhomboid at 3:09 PM on March 16, 2006

There must be a cookie as well, one that doesn't last very long. As I say, if you get in with Google, then try accessing from Metafilter, it works and you're fooled into thinking that it's fine. So the thing is cloaking itself.
posted by grahamwell at 3:12 PM on March 16, 2006

Wouldn't this be better on AxMe?
posted by blue_beetle at 3:26 PM on March 16, 2006

I think it's not so much a question as a...warning? Dunno how to phrase it, but a notification to posters that the links they get from Google may not work if put in an FPP, and a notification to readers that, if they get one of these "pay to read" pages, it isn't necessarily because the poster is a jackass.
posted by Bugbread at 3:30 PM on March 16, 2006

My understanding was that google frowns mightily upon content that fully indexes for them but doesn't open when someone clicks on the link. Understandable - if the results you get aren't the results you want you're not going to have a high opinion of Google. They even address it in their info for webmasters

Make pages for users, not for search engines. Don't deceive your users or present different content to search engines than you display to users, which is commonly referred to as "cloaking."
If you believe that another site is abusing Google's quality guidelines, please report that site at

Go report them.
posted by phearlez at 3:59 PM on March 16, 2006

They're not cloaking. If you click through from Google you get the exact thing Google indexed. In fact, by sniffing the referrer header, they are explicitly avoiding Google's wrath over cloaking.
posted by kindall at 4:19 PM on March 16, 2006

> if they go to the home page and click on an article they want them to pay.

How many people go through a site's front door for anything any more? I can count the sites where I go to just plain on one hand's worth of fingers (metafilter, slashdot, aldaily) and have two fingers left over for making rude gestures at for-pay sites.

posted by jfuller at 5:33 PM on March 16, 2006

Oh wait, I forgot fark. Still have that indispensible one finger free, though.

posted by jfuller at 5:35 PM on March 16, 2006

If I'm not mistaken, quite a few news sites let you through their moneywalls when the referrer is Google news. I assume Google arranged deals with them individually.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 5:47 PM on March 16, 2006

jfuller, the problem isn't just going through the front door. If you check the links in the top post, and click on them, you'll find the word "Google" links to:

The first hit on that search is the URL "". If you click on that link, you get the article.

However, if someone posts that exact same URL on metafilter (as grahamwell did with the word "this"), you get sent to a pay page instead.

The exact same URL provides two different results, based on whether that URL is clicked from Google, or if it's clicked from elsewhere.

Again, nothing we can do about it, but it is an interesting thing to note and a possible thing to watch out for if you're a conscientious poster.
posted by Bugbread at 6:47 PM on March 16, 2006

Thanks for helping me out bugbread, I obviously wasn't clear. Given that it doesn't seem to be a well known issue then yes, it is a warning.

Warning: You can find a great link, compose a post carefully, check it meticulously and still look a complete jerk.

Worse, there isn't any way you can know, there doesn't seem to be any check you can do. If you clicked the initial link through Google, you're helpless. The only thing you can do is to avoid these sources altogether. This isn't a bug, nor is it an AskMe question, but if there's a fix, we should try and find it.
posted by grahamwell at 2:26 AM on March 17, 2006

Worse, there isn't any way you can know, there doesn't seem to be any check you can do.
Sure there is -- click on the links in the preview. That will set the referer to be from this site instead of google. Or copy and paste the link into the address bar, which will give an empty referer.

Regarding cookies you can check and see if any are set on the page and if so, delete them and recheck the link.

Admittedly this is a lot of work, but it's far from impossible.
posted by Rhomboid at 2:31 AM on March 17, 2006

No. Clicking the links in preview will not help you. You have a cookie which hides this subscription wall from you, but not from anyone else - (this assumes you've managed to get to the article, otherwise why would you be posting it?).

Deleting the cookies and then clicking the link will work, so I take back the 'nothing you can do' statement. It does seem rather radical though.

Do you delete your all your cookies before you check a post? It seems that you should. In this case all that needs to be done is to delete the site-specific cookies, ie: - so it's not too bad. Still a royal PIA.

How do you 'check and see if any are set on the page'? - in Firefox I only know how to see cookies globally.
posted by grahamwell at 4:18 AM on March 17, 2006

Here is the list of affected publications. Household names included are
PC Magazine
USA Today
The Atlantic Monthly
Fast Company
Mother Jones
.. and so on
From my experience with Forbes, you can't tell (if you go through Google) which articles will be affected. Of the two I linked to, the older one was actually ok, it was the more recent one which had been 'archived' in this way. If you link to these sites, delete your cookies and try again.
posted by grahamwell at 4:33 AM on March 17, 2006

grahamwell: I don't know how to check from Firefox natively, but if you happen to already have All-In-One-Gestures installed, then you can just draw a "C" with your mouse, and it will show all the cookies you have set for the current site. If you don't have All-In-One-Gestures, I'm fairly certain there is an extension out there just for checking cookies, but I don't happen to know which.
posted by Bugbread at 4:48 AM on March 17, 2006

This why I use two browsers daily: Firefox and Safari. I use Firefox for my daily browsing (and thus it has loads of cookies), but when I want to send a link to a friend, I check it in Safari to make sure it's not dependant on some cookie I have that they would not.
posted by todbot at 10:11 AM on March 17, 2006

this breaks idempotence. it is a Bad Thing.

hmmm. another Bad Thing connected with google. who'd a thunk it?
posted by andrew cooke at 8:32 AM on March 18, 2006

In what twisted stretch of the imagination is google even remotely responsible for this? The forbes site is 100% accountable.

That's like blaming cell phone manufacturers when you are interrupted at the movie theater by someone who didn't turn off their ringer.
posted by Rhomboid at 2:24 PM on March 18, 2006

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