Secrets In Websites

When a you browses the web, a fair amount of code is transfered from a server sitting in a cold lonely datacenter to your computer. It’s mostly serious business, but sometimes developers like to embed small jokes, and traditions.

A lot can be told by just a quick glance at a website’s design and it’s underlying data. From Infrastructure, design methodologies, CMS (content management system), among other things.

Here are some of amusing, interesting, and [in some cases] strange things I’ve seen on websites. Everything in this post is valid as of the time of the post. Keep in mind websites constantly change so anything seen here may be invalid as time goes on.

Yahoo! News

All pages served off of news.yahoo.com feature a comment towards the bottom that says:

<!– This page is brought to you by the letter W, the number 1 and fe57.news.sp1.yahoo.com –>

Obvious homage to Sesame Street’s “sponsor”.

Digg

Digg as served up a very elusive riddle in the comment:

<!– digg is up 959595–>

Some explanation can be found here. The best explanation is 9-5, 9-5, 9-5 or 3 days of work. Likely related to the $200 that it cost to develop Digg.

Apple

Apple to this day still serves up the copyright on its website as follows:

<p class="sosumi">Copyright &#169; 2007 Apple Inc. All rights reserved.</p>

The joke here is the class name for the paragraph (which is the copyright). Sosumi is known by Mac users as the System 7 sound. It’s name is actually a joke because of the Apple Corp. vs. Apple Computer case. It’s pronounced “So Sue Me”. A nice little tribute to Apple history, and poking fun at lawyers.

Amazon

Amazon has a peculular last few bits on it’s homepage:

<!– MEOW –>

No idea what to attribute that to other than someone who likes cats.

Slashdot

Tech site Slashdot has used http headers as a way of telling a nerdy joke:

X-Leela: He opened up relations with China. He doesn't want to hear about your ding-dong.

Leela, being a reference to Leela Turanga of Futurama. It’s random. Here’s another:

X-Bender: Try this, kids at home!

Bender was the robot on Futurama.

FAA

The FAA is running on:

X-Powered-By: Microsoft-IIS/6.0

Think they should run something that isn’t known for crashing quite as often? Same goes for the NTSB.

FBI/NSA

The FBI has a curious chunk of code:

<!– START OF Data Collection Server TAG –>
<script LANGUAGE="JavaScript">
</script>
<noscript>
<img BORDER="0" NAME="DCSIMG" WIDTH="1" HEIGHT="1" SRC="//209.235.0.153/njs.gif?dcsuri=/nojavascript&WT.js=No"/>
</noscript>
<!– END OF Data Collection Server TAG –>

“Data collection” eh? The NSA suprisingly has no such data collection. But perhaps that’s because they have no need? I would of thought by now information sharing between government agencies would have improved.

This is just a html bug just like virtually every other site on the web, just funny because of who it is…. so take off your tin foil hat

IBM

IBM invented a new version of HTML for itself. It’s been somewhat replaced at this point, but is still visible on some pages including IBM Research as of this post in early 2007.

The doctype reads:

< !DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD XHTML 1.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.ibm.com/data/dtd/v11/ibmxhtml1-transitional.dtd">

The differences are explained as:

  IBM XHTML 1.0 Transitional DTD
   This modified DTD module is based on the W3C XHTML 1.0 Transitional DTD
   and is identified by the SYSTEM identifier:
   "http://www.ibm.com/data/dtd/v11/ibmxhtml1-transitional.dtd"

   The following updates have been included to support 4.x browsers:
	- <noscript> tag is allowed to be placed between the <head></head> tags
	- Border, width and height attributes are allowed within the <input /> tag
	- <form> and <input /> tags are allowed to be placed between the <table>,<tr> or <td> tags
	- Marginheight, marginwidth, topmargin and leftmargin attributes are allowed within the <body> tag

Think this is completely meaningless and nobody even looks at doctypes? Well checkout what the Gecko (the rendering engine for Firefox) does:

// Special hack for IBM’s custom DOCTYPE.
if (!(resultFlags & PARSE_DTD_HAVE_INTERNAL_SUBSET) &&
    sysIDUCS2 == NS_LITERAL_STRING(
           "http://www.ibm.com/data/dtd/v11/ibmxhtml1-transitional.dtd")) {
  aParseMode = eDTDMode_quirks;
  aDocType = eHTML_Quirks;
}

Democratic Party / Republican National Committee

The Democratic party website uses XHTML 1.0 Transitional, CSS based layout, and runs Apache 2.x/PHP 5

The Republican National Committee website uses HTML 4.01 Transitional (though some xhtml-like self-closing <img/> and <input/> appear), table based layout, and runs Microsoft IIS 6.0/ASP.NET 1.1.4322. Source on the homepage indicates:

<meta content="Microsoft Visual Studio .NET 7.1" name="GENERATOR" />
<meta content="C#" name="CODE_LANGUAGE" />

Note: Self closing added by myself due to technical limitations here. They appear as “>” rather than “/>”

Perhaps all the above alludes to the idea of Democrats being more progressive, such as using open source php and Apache, xhtml (since xhtml was supposed to be easier to parse due to it’s relationship to xml… though that’s debatable), and the newer css based layout technique.

The GOP on the other hand stuck with more traditional html4 and table based layouts. Not sure what to make of the Microsoft use, but I guess some could link it to the United States decision to no longer seek breaking up the company during a Republican administration.

Ironically despite the contrasts here, the Democrats website is still showing 2006 as the copyright year, while Republicans updated to 2007.

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