Perhaps most unexpected was that the unexpected something was not a top 10 list, unsolicited erotica, or cat pictures, all of which lurk along the entrance and exit ramps of the information superhighway like enterprising vagrants, redirecting unwary travelers to the latest gambling site, work from home opportunity, or computer virus. Also surprising was that I didn’t arrive at this unexpected something via Google’s somewhat randomized buttons “I’m Feeling Lucky!” or “I’m Feeling Curious!”, either of which would make decent titles for entries in the aforementioned “unsolicited erotica” genre.
Instead of “Google,” I had typed “goole”—but where I expected an error message and a momentary delay as I retyped the mammoth search engine’s address, I passed, like Alice through the looking glass, into a world that seemed not quite real. It was the land of Goole, or more accurately, the Town and Port of Goole, England—population 20,000 or so Goolians, or as I now like to think of them, Groovie Goolies.
The website described the town of Goole, including links and information about the Goole Museum, Shipping of Goole, and the Ancient Parish of Snaith. It was all beginning to sound like a lost chapter from Harry Potter, until I clicked on the link for the Goole Museum Volunteers, whose inspiring rallying cry is “Goole isn’t Google!” Their website offers a rhetorical complaint, without a trace of intended irony: “How many times have you been searching for Goole on the internet and received the message, ‘Did you mean Google?’?” In response to this problem, the ingenious volunteers have set up a search engine that returns only results having some sort of connection to Goole.
Goole’s response to having a similar name to a major internet draw is genuine, inventive, and (perhaps unintentionally) funny, but many more commercial operations intentionally buy and use website domains that are only a letter or two off from the intended site, a practice called “typosquatting.” Like lampreys or remoras leeching off the big fish, they survive by associating themselves with the giants of the internet and feeding on a tiny fraction of the larger website’s “prey.”
Experimenting with a few easy-to-make typing errors, I found lots of ads and offers, but also a few diamonds in the rough. One site, doogle.com, contains an e-mail from a man named Andy to his friend Tom, laying out his philosophy of God in a very British way, with lines like: “When we were at the pub, I think I remember using a pint glass to draw a Venn diagram [..]”.
Visiting joogle.com revealed a sparse website with the not-uncommon message, ” We are under construction! Please check back soon :).” More intriguingly, it followed that with “In the meantime, check out our Park Avenue South location.” An online search (through Google) failed to shed any light on this, which left me wondering what kind of business Joogle could be: a juggling supply store?
I tried other sites, too, each a keystroke away from eBay, Snapchat, Amazon, or YouTube. For those who find other websites dedicated to Alexandria Bay, New York too tame, aBay.com is “The Alexandria Bay Web Site With Attitude”—according to its founder, Johnny Truesdell. Napchat.com is for sale, and currently features a half-hearted bunch of content while it awaits a buyer; I’d hoped for a site dedicated to people who talk in their sleep.
Amazin.com redirects to Amazon, whereas I had expected a site devoted to the 1969 Mets or maybe an “Amazin’” cleaning product of some kind. Despite big companies buying up these “near-miss” sites, there are still opportunities to be had—for example, an enterprising plumber might make productive use of youtub.com.
One of my favorite “typo” websites is witter.com, property of the fortuitously named Glen Witter, an artist from Wisconsin whose work has probably been viewed more than 90 percent of the artists in the world today, just from people touching the “T” key too gently. It’s one of those old-looking websites where every square inch isn’t utilized. It contains a picture of Glen, his address, and 16 paintings. That’s all.
There’s an overwhelming amount of information on the internet, which is why search engines like Google have become such an indispensible tool. But my favorite internet sites are the hard-to-find homemade ones, like Glen Witter’s; just like homemade food, they’re satisfying in a way that mass-produced, homogenized websites just aren’t. Full of quirks that would never make it past the first draft of a professional template, home to singular voices and controversial opinions, these one-person sites are seen less with each passing year, as new pages and paid placements push the low-budget antiques, with their often limited graphics, further back into the search results.
Writing this column, I was inspired to revisit two sites that exemplified the unique charm I’m describing. One is Peter Farey’s Christopher Marlowe page (www.rey.prestel.co.uk). I first found it by chance, over a decade ago, while researching the Elizabethan-era writer. Farey has long made the case for Marlowe as the true author of many of Shakespeare’s works (remarkably, Oxford University Press recently announced that they will be crediting Marlowe as co-author of Henry VI). Farey is an amateur with no official literary qualifications, but whether or not you believe his theories of spycraft and faked deaths, they make for fascinating reading.
The other website was called “John’s Book Page,” and in the early days of internet commerce, it was a place for objective book reviews, from a person who seemed to share many of my interests and opinions. I don’t remember how I found it back then, but now a search for “John’s Book Page” produced it as the second result. Pleasantly surprised, I clicked on it, and found to my disappointment that the once-large array of titles was now much more limited, and reviews had been eliminated in favor of book links to Amazon.
John’s Book Page may be one of many casualties of progress, but despite its loss, these lesser-known corners of the internet still have much to offer, whether it’s goole.com, Farey’s Marlowe page, or another randomly or mistakenly encountered site. “The Accidental Internet”—though fast-disappearing—is a lot more interesting than the intentional one.
Peter Dabbene’s website is peterdabbene.com. His non-fiction pieces “Suburban Complaint #1232: The Basketball Hoop” and “Suburban Complaint #1076: SQUIRRELS!” can be read at scarletleafreview.com, and his poem “Backseat World” is viewable online here. His latest book, The End of Spamming the Spammers (with Dieter P. Bieny) is available at amazin.com (or amazon.com).