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EarthLink Establishes Their Own "Site Finder" 241

Guppy06 writes "Last week, instead of a regular DNS error, EarthLink's DNS servers started to return a redirect to earthlink-help.net, a site that bears a close resemblance to VeriSign's much-maligned Site Finder, to their subscribers. According to their official blog at Earthling, "By presenting users with contextual help based upon the non-existent domain the user entered, we believe we are improving the EarthLink user experience with a system that will not interfere with other network processes." Most of the responses in said blog posting aren't positive."
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EarthLink Establishes Their Own "Site Finder"

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  • by eldavojohn ( 898314 ) * <eldavojohn AT gmail DOT com> on Sunday September 03, 2006 @10:49AM (#16032602) Journal
    I visited the earthlink help page and noticed that it contained four things.
    1. A box showing suggested search terms
    2. A box in which I could search (through Yahoo!) for my page.
    3. Two banner ads.
    When I enter in a term, say 'guitar' [earthlink-help.net], I get a page with yet more ads and sponsored links but still directed through earthlink help to Yahoo!

    I wasn't born yesterday, I understand the concepts of paid search, sponsored links & banner ads. They generate revenue and insult me. They waste real estate on websites and obscure my information that I would prefer to harvest un assaulted by sales pitches.

    I'm betting I'm not the first to say this, but this is insane.

    If they wanted to be 'helpful' they would provide you with some sort of new service. In this solution, they are simply deciding which search engine you will use and cashing in off of it also. If we want to search for another answer, I think we know where to go. If you doubt our abilities to select a preferred search engine, at least give us some choices. Do you know what happens in Firefox when I pull down the search engine on the upper right? I can select from a number of sites.

    "By presenting users with contextual help based upon the non-existent domain the user entered, we believe we are improving the EarthLink user experience with a system that will not interfere with other network processes."
    You're not improving anything, you're laughing all the way to the bank.
    • by whoppers ( 307299 ) on Sunday September 03, 2006 @11:29AM (#16032731)
      Agreed on all points, but it doesn't matter. Picture the average earthlink user in your head and then realize half are dumber than the person you're picturing. Maybe 5% of earthlink users will realize and give a damn, the other 95% are just happy they have something new to click that may take them somewhere that may be useful. An error page is a dead end for them that makes them think they've screwed up.

      A best friend used to work in marketing for earthlink and told me about the users they brought in to test websites, systems, etc... I was absolutely horrified and now weep for the future.
    • I've got a tip for you: change your DNS server. Then you get lower internet rates based on the money they think they are getting with this new technology, and based on the other customers falling prey to it.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday September 03, 2006 @10:51AM (#16032610)
    Earthlink subscribers can opt by not being Earthlink subscribers any longer. When Verisign did it, it affected everyone because they've been granted a monopoly on certain domain extensions.
    • Earthlink subscribers can opt by not being Earthlink subscribers any longer.

      If EarthLink is the only dial-up ISP with modems in a given local calling area, as AOL was for a lot of the United States for a long time, then most residential users are not going to want to pay per minute for long distance just to get on the Internet. Even for more affluent parts of the country, what happens when the phone company has partnered with EarthLink, and the cable company is even less competent?

      • by tchuladdiass ( 174342 ) on Sunday September 03, 2006 @11:07AM (#16032664) Homepage
        Simple. Continue to use Earthlink, but don't use their DNS. Just run your own dns server locally. Or, point to another open dns server.
        • Only terrorists would run their own DNS server.
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by westlake ( 615356 )
          Simple. Continue to use Earthlink, but don't use their DNS. Just run your own dns server locally. Or, point to another open dns server.

          how many of Earthlink's customers do you suppose heve the foggiest notion of what a DNS server is or does or knows how to set up an alternative?

          • Hey, the man said it was simple, deal with it.
            I am sure he would be happy to explain to earthlink customers how simple it is to set up
          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by valmont ( 3573 ) *
            i'll tell you exactly how many: the number of earthlink customers that have the foggiest notion of what a DNS server is, and how to setup their own bind/named or djbdns instance, is equal to the number of earthlink customers who actually care about this issue, and don't actually want to be presented with relevant ads/search results. It's that easy.
            • The customers that care about the problem don't need to know how to set up their own DNS server - they just need to know how to set their system to use some other DNS server's address. On Windows, you go into Control Panel and set up the network stuff; on Linux you set your resolv.conf file. Much easier.

        • Might I suggest

          's been my "test" DNS server for years.
      • Earthlink also provides services for Brighthouse in Florida. And there IS a choice of 3 companies there. I believe RoadRunner and AOL are the other 2. They could lose a TON of customers, if the customers cared.

        Earthlink has pissed me off before and I am seriously considering switching to roadrunner. The only thing that has stopped me is that every time I make even a small change to my account, Brighthouse (who isn't so bright) screws up the entire account and I'm out of service for 2 weeks. And I can't
        • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

          by Cygfrydd ( 957180 )
          A strong recommendation for someone who works in advanced broadband svcs @ BH Tampa Bay: insist on speaking to a Level IV rep to make account changes. Regional customer service is notorious for wrecking accounts when making changes involving internet service. We Level IV's are the ones who are called on to fix said accounts. In CS's defense, we have to deal with an unneccessarily complex billing system that isn't as straightforward as it should be.
          • by Aladrin ( 926209 )
            That's as may be, but physically disconnecting my cable the next day, and then refusing to send a guy out for 2 weeks is inexcuseable. I don't care how complicated the system is.
      • Maybe this is news to you.. but Earthlink owns VERY little of their dial-up infrastructure.. instead they lease from Qwest/UUNet/etc. There are many MANY other ISPs (like the one I work for) that have the same amount or more dial-up numbers nationwide then Earthlink does.
      • AT&T provides dialup around the world, including extremely widespread dialup in the US. I've mainly dealt with the business service rather than the consumer service, but I assume the consumer DSL still provides similar coverage to Earthlink's.
    • Earthlink subscribers can opt by not being Earthlink subscribers any longer.

      It appears you can "opt out" simply by using Firefox. If I put a nonsense domain into IE, it takes me to the Earthlink "help" page, complete with ads and "suggestions" for ringtones and used cars. If I put the same nonsense domain into FF, all I get is the standard FF "Server not found" page. YMMV.

  • 1 Cancellation (Score:3, Interesting)

    by DrunkenTerror ( 561616 ) on Sunday September 03, 2006 @10:57AM (#16032625) Homepage Journal
    I've kept an Earthlink dial-up account in case I took my notebook on a road trip. I haven't used it in a while though, and have been meaning to cancel it. I think I'll go ahead and take care of that now, and I'll make a point of telling the rep about this.
    • Be prepared for an extended phone call of them trying to get you not only not cancel but also upgrade your service package. I had to tell them three times that I was not interested in the sales pitch and I was cancelling the service. Fortunately, I had no problem with my checking account when the automatic debit was cancelled for the following month.
      • by RKBA ( 622932 ) *
        Your bank cancelled an automatic debit??? My bank said they could only do that in case of fraud. That's why I never give out my bank account number anymore. Who is your bank?
        • by mortonda ( 5175 )
          If you cancel a service, then an automatic debit *is* fruad. But in either case, what you are looking for is a "stop-payment". Every bank should have it.
        • Earthlink cancelled the automatic debit to my checking account. Although I did closed my checking account for unrelated reasons. I've heard horror stories where Earthlink and AOL kept on charging monthly fees long after the account was cancelled. Fortunately, my cancellation was fairly straight forward.
        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          Your bank is not your mother. Your agreement between you and a supplier of services is of no matter to them. If you tell them not to honour automatic debits on your account, then they should honour it. Provide this in writing.

          It is quite simply irrelevant what your contract is with this supplier - if it breaches you, so what? The bank shouldn't care - it's between you and the company. That money is yours, provided to the bank for safekeeping. You should never have to justify, to the bank, why someone shoul

      • It was mandatory when I worked for them to offer up to 3 months credit to keep customers. Wouldn't be suprised if they're still doing this. Almost glad I got fired after they took over mindspring.
  • by a_greer2005 ( 863926 ) on Sunday September 03, 2006 @10:58AM (#16032630)
    There has to be some way that this sort of crap can be banned, it breaks the internet, because the error code is now a "valid" page!
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Qzukk ( 229616 )
      Nah, in this case it doesn't break the internet, it only breaks Earthlink's net, and only then software that expects it to work "correctly" which is probably only used by 5% of their customers. If you're going to do this, you might as well do it at the ISP level, since then people can switch to the other ISP (assuming that both cable and dsl don't start doing this), and the ISPs don't have it forced on them by some higher level.
      • by Wieland ( 830777 )
        Perhaps, but it is a precedent. Unless it's made very clear to Earthlink that this is not acceptable, soon every big ISP in the world will be doing this, and DNS will be broken beyond repair.
  • by BadAnalogyGuy ( 945258 ) <BadAnalogyGuy@gmail.com> on Sunday September 03, 2006 @10:59AM (#16032632)
    Here on /. the general zeitgeist follows what is commonly called the "Unix way". Things should be kept small and only do one thing, but do it well. Developers can gain power by tying these simpler components together.

    The other way of thinking can be termed the "Microsoft way" or even better "Apple way". This viewpoint believes that integrating things into easy-to-use applications leads to greater productivity gains as well as a more pleasant user experience. Instead of giving a ton of pieces to the user and expect them to make sense of it all, this viewpoint presents a fully-formed solution to the user.

    The Unix Way zealots will tell you that undermining this dirt road area of the internet by returning useful results instead of an error message is bad. The Microsoft/Apple Way zealots will argue that something useful is always better than an inscrutable error message.

    The side you fall on is really a viewpoint issue, and not a technical one. There is no technical reason why Earthlink's move couldn't be worked around, if that is really a good solution. There's also no technical reason why Earthlink needs to go ahead with something like this when search engines are already built into most modern browsers.
    • It all depends on the task at hand, if the task is sorting or querying a 2 terebyte database, give me the unix way, if it is to send a picture of the kids to grandma, give me the apple way.
    • by marcello_dl ( 667940 ) on Sunday September 03, 2006 @11:11AM (#16032674) Homepage Journal
      This is not about the unix way or the apple way. This is about the Computer Science way: returning an error when an error occurs. Dealing with the error is an user agent, not an ISP responsibility. Earthlink should have made this opt-in (they can spare a coupe IPs for a couple more DNS servers, can't they). I run PPC linux and mac on linux over it occasionally, so I know what you probably meant, it still does not apply here.
      • This is about the Computer Science way: returning an error when an error occurs.

        DNS through an exception, EarthLink caught it. What is so not-computer-science about that?
        • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

          by Drgnkght ( 449916 )
          The problem is the browser is supposed to catch this "exception" that DNS threw. You requested a domain name lookup from DNS. DNS checked and replied that the request was invalid. On its way back to you the response was altered by Earthlink to send you somewhere you didn't request. How is this not a hijacking?
    • "The Unix Way zealots will tell you that undermining this dirt road area of the internet by returning useful results"

      Except that these results are not "useful", and are even less useful than a simple honest error message. When I type in a wrong URL, I don't want to be punished by attempts to redirect me to a useless second-rate search service. I just want enter the correct URL and go about my business. Such redirections to useless sites are like putting deep mudpits in the dirt road.

      "There's also no t
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by mdhoover ( 856288 )
      Cool, so you wont mind folks redirecting all the wonderful new mountains of spam to your server which now gets through because forged bogus sending domains now resolve. There is a reason you dont fuck with the naming service...
    • by PigleT ( 28894 )
      Ah, yet another moron thinking the internet is all about the Web. Have you ever wondered what effect this will have on your email spam-filters that do DNS lookups to check the sender domain exists, and suddenly find it does regardless?
  • So what? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by poptones ( 653660 ) on Sunday September 03, 2006 @11:00AM (#16032638) Journal
    How is this worse than all those "search engine" sites squatting on unused and misspelled dowmains? At least earthlink is trying to provide some meaningful info to their customers.

    There are plenty of freely accessible public DNS servers; let those old school "do it our way cuz that's the way it's always been done" zealots learn to drive their own machines and stop telling everyone else how to run their lives and businesses.
    • Re:So what? (Score:4, Insightful)

      by jolyonr ( 560227 ) on Sunday September 03, 2006 @11:22AM (#16032705) Homepage
      Earthlink aren't providing meaningful information to customers - they're just trying to make money.

      Of course, that's what businesses are for, so as you say, if they want to do it, they should be entirely entitled to do so. However:

      a) It's not fair on those who have paid for an existing service to have the nature of this service changed on them without warning - many people feel they are now getting a poorer service.

      b) They should at the very least have provided an opt-out system for those who prefer untainted DNS that works in the way the internet standards require it to work. Then people with firewall, anti-spam or other systems that this change breaks wouldn't be so up in arms.

      If my ISP did this, I'd leave them. Luckily my ISP is more sane.

  • Has Earthlink learnt NOTHING from VeriSign's debacle?
    Blatantly ignoring established policy (if a DNS-request does not resolve the response must be "DNS-request does not resolve" not "here it is"). Let's not forget all the privacy issues with hundreds of thousands of e-mails, normally being undeliverable because the sender made a typo in the adress, now end up in their inbox.
    Hmmm... if I were to DDOS www.this-site-does-not-exist-but-earthlink-resolv e s-it-anway.something would I act criminally? I mean, the
    • ...if I were to DDOS www.this-site-does-not-exist-but-earthlink-resolve s-it-anway.something would I act criminally?
      If you were to DDOS www.this-site-does-not-exist-but-earthlink-resolve s-it-anway.something, you would be an Earthlink subscriber violating your TOS. Your account would simply be cancelled by Earthlink.
  • by Avillia ( 871800 ) on Sunday September 03, 2006 @11:06AM (#16032663)
    Please try the related content suggestions and paid advertisements below, or try another search.
    You entered "http://www.slashdot.org/".

    Advertisements for cow steroids, cars, and free computers followed.
  • Stay In the Box (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Doc Ruby ( 173196 ) on Sunday September 03, 2006 @11:18AM (#16032691) Homepage Journal
    The place for offering "help" in the user interface is in the client software. Perhaps the DNS error needs a metadata field for offering messages, perhaps hyperlinked, for exception handling. But those must be presented by the user agent, like the browser, not tricking the browser into "passthru" to server misdirection. That violates the DNS specs. And makes that essential global system vulnerable to unpredicted failures when dependant systems get nonstandard results.

    These ISPs attract marketing people with dreams of empire and ignorance of Internet. Execs put them in power over the engineers, and just rip across the careful system designs that make the Net work. Then they cry when their stuff doesn't work, and blame the engineers.

    But they compete with each other on how well their stuff works. As long as we can switch ISPs among a pool with critical mass size, they'll exploit each others' weaknesses to grab customers. These "DNS hijacks" are going to be with us forever, avoidable only while we have a choice between independent, competing ISPs.
    • by steve_l ( 109732 )
      Yeah, this is the same mistake that verisign marketing thought -thayt there was no network traffic other than humans browsing port 80 and that when browsers got an NXDOMAIN response they displayed a bad message.

      Most browsers are called Internet Explorer, and they handle NX domain with a microsoft search page on MSN. Anyone trying to take off hostname resolution for those browsers is taking money off Microsoft. Its not 'spare cash left on the table', its 'microsofts money'. If you want to do something for en
      • Really? I just typed a nonsensical domain name into IE on my Windows computer, and I got "Cannot find server or DNS Error" with no ads or MSN search boxes. I've seen that MSN behavior in the past, but not recently.
        • Ah, never mind. The "Cannot Find Server" dialog comes up when you enter www.(gibberish).com in the address bar. If you type some random words in the address bar, you get brought to a search page.

          Of course Firefox does exactly the same thing with a Google "I'm Feeling Lucky" search by default...
  • See also: HTTP + port 80 being used for everything from chat to file sharing to video streaming to RPC. Add to that HTTP status 200 + HTML being increasingly used to represent every possible response status.
  • by MoNickels ( 1700 ) on Sunday September 03, 2006 @12:15PM (#16032905) Homepage
    I noticed the Earthlink change this week and immediately put a non-Earthlink DNS server at the top of my DNS servers list. My browser now returns the proper "can't find server" message and not Earthlink's advertising. (If you do this, please consider the ethical implications of using another provider's DNS server if you do not subscribe to that provider.)
    • The thing is, for people who dislike this Service because of what it breaks are generally smart enough to work around it.

      Earthlink is probably assuming "Well if they dont like it they can work around it, but hey, everybody else likes it!"
    • by Firehed ( 942385 )
      Okay... I'm a slashdotter and I have no idea how the hell to go about doing that (mind you, I could find out if I were bothered to do so). My (and most /.ers) knowledge of the inner workings of the internet is probably about three orders of magnitude higher than most Earthlink customers, or of any other ISP for that matter. Until something like that comes in the form of critical automatic update, there's not a snowball's chance in hell of it happening on even a small scale.
  • Set up two DNS addresses: one with the service, one without. In the setup instructions, state that to turn off the site finder service, point your DNS manually to www.xxx.yyy.zzz instead of using DHCP to configure it.


  • If they want to do something like this, and avoid getting flamed for it, then they really need to do something like the following:
    • A simple message: e.g. "This domain has not yet been registered", or "The domain was not found"
    • Suggestions for sites that the user was actually looking for (e.g. www.slashodt.org --> "were you looking for slashdot.org?"
    • _no_ banner ads, or other adverts - otherwise they would just be bulk domain squatters.
    • Maybe things like search boxes (with a choice of search engines), bu
  • Two queries, one after the other. First it does its "sitefinder," then it gives NXDOMAIN, and seems to alternate randomly...

    > host www.yahoo.coma ns3.mindspring.com
    Using domain server:
    Name: ns3.mindspring.com

    www.yahoo.coma has address
    www.yahoo.coma has address
    www.yahoo.coma has address
    www.yahoo.coma has address
    www.yahoo.coma has address
    www.yahoo.coma has address

    > host www.yahoo.coma ns3
  • by tweek ( 18111 ) on Sunday September 03, 2006 @01:14PM (#16033144) Homepage Journal
    Attempting to test VPN-related DNS lookups with a business partner.

    I IMMEDIATELY called earthlink business T1 support and the guy on the phone had no idea what I was talking about.

    Why would a company roll out something like this WITHOUT telling its support people and without letting customers know in advance? Why do they not have an opt out option?

    I'm in the process of going over the contract for our T1 to see if it's early enough to break (the service was purchased before I came on board but only by a month or so).

    I'll get a Speakeasy T1 and be done with it. Why is it so damn hard to find a provider who gives you IP with no bullshit?
    • Why would a company roll out something like this WITHOUT telling its support people and without letting customers know in advance? Why do they not have an opt out option?

      Earthlink's support has deteriorated drastically in the past couple of years, to the point where they're just another pool of shaved apes with email and phone connectivity. It would be a waste of time telling them anything.

      I don't know what's happening to the senior management of Earthlink but they really seem to have lost focus on good

  • ... but ISPs keep treating it like it is. If this kind of web-browser-error-messages-are-so-hard-to-underst a nd-whaaaa-mommmy-hold-my-hand problem is so important, it can be done using proxying. Just have everyone who doesn't know how to type or can't understand the message "the domain ww.exampel.com couldn't be found" set the proxy settings in their browser. Or if you know your user base is composed of a bunch of idiots, use transparent proxying (obviously less effective with https traffic, but then sig
  • I use Cavalier Telephone [cavtel.net] and they started this practice a few weeks ago. First I thought it was a bug in Firefox (my google search bar not working). Then I spent 2 hours checking for a virus or spyware. After that, I tried another DNS server and realized the problem. I never expected a small DSL provider to do this kinda crud.
  • If I didn't know any better, this would look like paid search routing. As in, Yahoo paid Earthlink to put a search box on this result page. Then Earthlink goes as far as to place banners and skyscrapers as well. All things considered, it smacks of financial desperation, since other posters in this discussion have pointed out just how much this behavior does not follow proper routing protocol.
  • Do they allow porn sites(with slightly misspelled names of popular websites) and phishing sites go through? If I was Earthlink I would put a "hey, maybe you mistyped this URL" website going for known sites like that.

A bug in the code is worth two in the documentation.