IMHO Welcome to the second installment of IMHO, a weekly column written by the staff members of Internet Underground. Every Tuesday, we'll be bringing you fresh commentary and presenting our own personal takes on the Net.

A Girl's Guide to Snooping
(Snooping. Just snooping. Not to be confused with "stalking.")

By Sarah Ellerman   March 11, 1997

So, some lovely has caught your eye out there in cyberspace. Maybe you met him in Maybe you randomly talk-requested him because you liked his alias. Maybe he e-mailed you to tell you that your poem about Eddie Vedder rocked his world. Whatever. The point is that you have very little to go on here. You need to find out if he's a dreamboat or a psycho, and fast.

Here's our humble guide to finding out all you can about your new honey.

1. Study his e-mail address.

Is he an AOL kind of guy?
Shades of meaning can be derived from his age. Is he young? The sad truth is, he's probably a dork. AOL addresses are really only acceptable for guys who are 40 and up.

Has he shopped around for a local service provider, and if so, do you think he showed good judgment in his choice?
Be suspicious of anyone who goes with the lamest ISP in their area. The only acceptable excuse is that said ISP has the only POP in his local-calling range.

Does he talk to you through an anonymous account?
If you're very liberal-minded, people who get anon accounts through C2 and Paranoia are cool. If you're not, run away.

Uses his work address?
Another helpful entry point to snooping. What's the company? Does he work for a monolith or a start-up? More to the point: can you call them up and ask for his job title?

2. What is this man thinking when he's not thinking of me?

To find out the answer to this age-old question, head over to Deja News, the premier service that archives Usenet posts. Put his name into the search box. Read his posts. For even more info, click on your man's name. You'll get an author profile. Paydirt! You'll find a breakdown, in percentages, of where your beloved made his voice heard. Is he speaking out against animal testing? Rhapsodizing over Gillian Anderson? Saying that his favorite Simpsons character is Ralph Wiggum? Deja News will give you a feel for his politics, his wit, and his taste in starlets. If you're really lucky, you'll find an old personals ad.

3. Find out if he has a home page.

This can barely even be called snooping, because he published it himself. However, it's an essential step in the snoop. It can be easily accomplished by searching through the directories at his ISP. Try heading to the ISP's home page. They'll probably have a link to user pages, and from there you can find your guy and his window to the world. Is there poetry there? A picture of a pet? A résumé? Study up.

4. Who are his friends?

OK, this is why you really found his home page. Reverse-link it through AltaVista. To find out which pages on the Web point at his site, use this formula:

link: -host:

Now visit everybody who thought his page was worth linking to. These are his friends and admirers. This should say something about him.

5. Learn to finger.

(No, this doesn't mean anything dirty, and we are thoroughly appalled that you let that thought cross your mind.) We want you to learn to use the "finger" command in Unix. The serious snooper needs a shell account, because fingering a user is just like pointing a finger at them and demanding that the computer tell you everything it knows. This information varies widely, but you could find out an address, a phone number, the last time he signed on, where he signed on from, and if he has any unread mail.

While you're at it, "whois" can be a useful tool in the shell account. If the domain name in his e-mail doesn't ring a bell with you, type "whois" and you'll learn who registered the name, and where they're located.

6. Set a boobytrap.

Borrow a friend's account and hang around wherever it was that you met him in the first place. Set up a boobytrap to verify his consistency. M-or-F him. Confirm his age. Ask if he's married. Most importantly, try to find out if he has any secret kinks. (Always good to know about those handcuffs in advance...)

These are the main tools of investigation on the Net, and we urge you to use them wisely. (Most importantly, remember that HE could be using them on YOU, too.) And please, kids, stop short of stalking. There's a world of difference between finding out that someone likes Lou Reed and sitting outside their house all night. One is preparation for a date. One is preparation for a restraining order.

Behave, and may all your dates be good ones!

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