by adam mathes
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IP Based Semistalking

One of the things that’s kind of difficult to explain to people who don’t have web sites is the bizarre and personally impersonal nature of server access logs. That is, we know who is reading the site and when they read it and what they read. Except not really.

Logs are filled with IP addresses, not people’s names. An IP address correlates to a resolved host name which correlates to a computer somewhere which correlates to a computer user, but, unless you are John Ashcroft or have a court order, an IP address is an IP address (or a semi-meaningless host name, but that’s not important.)

Unless, of course, you have a cheat sheet, like I did in college.

When I was in college one of the more obsessive-compulsive paranoid type things I did was to grep my referrer logs for Stanford residential computing IP addresses (they all began with 128.12, and probably still do) to keep “tabs” on who read my site. One of the magical aspects of Stanford computing is that I can type “whois IP” on a machine and it will correlate an IP address into a Real Life Stanford person’s name, and since most people list their address, email and phone number to the Stanford community, within a few keystrokes I can know which dorm room they are in.

Now, this never really mattered much to me since I usually recognized the people who were reading my site and knew them in Real Life in some capacity. But occasionally there would be a regular visitor I didn’t recognize, and I would sometimes get curious and have the urge to casually walk by someone’s dorm room and poke my head in and say “hi” inexplicably, or if nobody was around leave a little post-it note on the monitor that says “thanks for reading my site, your pal adam” and run off.

However, I never felt it was ok to “stalk” someone based on their visits to my web site, because that’s really totally creepy, so I never did.

But I probably should have at least sent awkward email.

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