The “Micah Cowan” Page

How weird.

I was doing a search on my name, since I was curious what pages would come up these days. I was surprised to discover this one at, which features my name as the title, in hot pink against a black background.

The content was not immediately familiar to me. However, as I checked more closely, I realized it was a reproduction from a thread in comp.lang.postscript on Usenet. About three of the articles on that lengthy page were written by me. None of the posts actually contain much indication as to who wrote them; you can find which ones are mine by seeing my name in some of the quote attributions.

As far as I can tell, the purpose of this site is to steal the publicly available content from Usenet posts, for the purpose of attracting search engine hits, so visitors will come to that site in search of useful information, and the Google Ads placed there will generate a bit of income for the site owners. Obviously, the only people who are going to enter “Micah Cowan” into a Google search are either:

  1. Friends or family of mine,
  2. Prospective employers, or
  3. Very bored individuals who have happened across my name.

However, it does happen to be the first-ranking page of, among other probable search terms, postscript “extensible lists”. With a huge amount of content (and they seem to have archived a fair bit of Usenet), this can add up to significant $$$.

Stealing content to gain advertising is becoming relatively commonplace now. I’m sure there’s a term for it, but I don’t know what it is. The trouble is that since this is Usenet, it arguably is published by the authors (including myself) with an implicit license for redistribution. These site owners could even claim to be providing a “service”, much like Google Groups, in archiving Usenet articles (though how much of a “service” it could be when they remove all headers, including indication of authorship, is debatable). So, it’s probably totally legal, if unethical.

Legal or not, I’d be willing to wager that Google wouldn’t approve. It probably violates their Terms of Service; I’ma go figure out how to report it, at least. 🙂

Still dunno why my name was chosen to title the page. Much as I’d like to claim it’s because it happens to be a popular search term ;), it seems more likely that the aggregation engine mistakenly thought my name was the title of the thread…?

One thought on “The “Micah Cowan” Page

  1. Micah Post author

    Okay, so if you actually click on the link I gave, the title is “Extensible Links”, not “Micah Cowan”.

    I’ve just reconfirmed that it is context-dependent: when I click on the link from within the search results of for “Micah Cowan” in Google, the title of that link’s page is “Micah Cowan”. But when I simply copy-and-paste the link itself into my blog, and click to it from there, I get “Extensible Lists”.

    So, basically, the web server checks the HTTP Referer header from the client, and if it parses as a hit from a search engine, the server generates a page with a title that matches the search query. Neat. And, now that I understand it, probably not at all unusual for this sort of scam.

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