Search referral hacks, then and now

Now that the power search and metadata explorer have been stable for a while on the InfoWorld site, I've been looking into ways to expand their use. Swapping the new search mechanism for the existing one is the obvious next step, but that's going to require some politicking. Meanwhile I realized we could fry a much bigger fish while remaining under the radar. External search services send a ton more people to our pages than our existing service does. Why not recruit them to spread the word about our new-and-improved service?

I've done this kind of thing before, and it's a nifty hack. You set up your web server to detect referrals from search engines, you capture the query, and then you offer to do something further with it in the context of your page. I proposed this to Baldwin Louie, one of our in-house developers, and he took care of it lickety-split. To see the prototype in action, search Google for 'Virtuozzo' and locate Paul Venezia's review of that product -- it's currently on page 2 of the results. Then click through to the article. You should see this:

Explore 'virtuozzo' in InfoWorld Power Search

Cool, huh? It's not rolled out sitewide yet, so for now you can only see it on that test page, but I love the effect. Thanks Baldwin!

Here's the difference between 2006 and whenever was the last time I used this technique. Five or more years ago, JavaScript was frowned upon, you felt obliged to do the whole thing server-side, and you ended up worrying whether your server could handle per-page script logic. This time around, Baldwin felt free to do the minimum amount of SSI (server-side include) -- i.e., just echo the referrer string into the page -- and delegate the regular-expression and page-rewriting work to client-side JavaScript. It's a nice example of a key Web 2.0 theme: collaborative partnership between smart servers and smart clients.

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