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Be on the wave or under it™

The News – 04/30/03

In this Issue:

Recommended Reading

I realize this is the only newsletter you’ll ever need, but if you want more in-depth detail, check out:

Stan Hustad’s
The Coaching Connection

Management Signature's
The Express Read

StratVantage Site Moves: A Cautionary Tale

The Web hosting business is tough and sometimes cutthroat. There are thousands of providers – some primary providers, and others resellers – and they’re all out chasing a pool of customers that isn’t growing as fast as it used to. So there are likely to be some casualties along the way. The StratVantage Web site, unfortunately, was hosted by one of the recent roadkill companies, FeaturePrice.

After a month of really spotty service, and after being hung up on by a FeaturePrice employee, I found out the company was going down only when I received a pitch from one of their competitors, offering me a deal to switch to them. Turns out on April 22, someone at FeaturePrice posted on their Web site a long, rambling screed about withheld money and an inability to sell the company. This manifesto was removed, but lives on here. It’s an amazing, probably heartfelt, blast at all the people who just wouldn’t let FeaturePrice serve their customers.

Well, let me tell you, their idea of customer service and mine are two completely different things. And this underscores an important differentiator for anyone looking for Web hosting.

First, a little background. I originally went with FeaturePrice in October 2000 because they offered unlimited disk space for less than $350 a year. They weren’t the cheapest overall, but they were the only ones offering unlimited disk, and so I went with them. At first, the few problems I had were taken care of relatively painlessly, albeit with much more prompting and prodding on my part than I would have liked. Several times I had to get the apparent big cheese, Fathi, involved, but I did get resolution.

I recommended FeaturePrice to others, and even steered one of my clients to the service.

Shortly after I re-upped last October – and paid a full year in advance – customer service got a lot worse. The client I had recommended called in January to say FeaturePrice had deleted their Web site with no notice and they couldn’t get anyone on the phone. Without going into it, there was fault on both sides, but the inability of my client to even get a human being to talk to them was very distressing, and made me look bad.

The support situation deteriorated until it got to the point that in March, as I tried in vain to renew my Dad’s hosting agreement with FeaturePrice, I had a FeaturePrice employee hang up on me while I was pleading with her to talk to a live human to solve my problem.

So, OK, I went cheap; I got cheap service. What did I expect? But this was the straw that broke this camel. So I resolved to move on when my contract was up in the fall. Due to FeaturePrice failing, however, I’ve had to find a new hosting company in a matter of days.

I did a lot of research to narrow the huge field, searching for comments on the newsgroups (go to Google, select the Groups tab, and enter your search term) and even on a dynamite site with a self-explanatory name called WebHostingTalk. On this site, hosting users and hosting providers post messages, complaints, offers, and advice. Postings on this site made the difference for me; I quickly abandoned my then favorite candidate because of frequent posts complaining about their customer service.

But enough about me and my hassle. In this tale is a lesson for anyone who sells anything: You can either convert your customers into evangelists, or you can die the death of a thousand posts. More and more consumers are turning to the Web, at sites such as Epinions, Productopia, or WebHostingTalk or dozens of other industry-specific forums to find out what your product or service is really like.

Rather than thinking about policing such sites to do damage control, as it seems some of the Web hosters do on WebHostingTalk, consider turning your customers into evangelists, as Ben McConnell, Jackie Huba, and Guy Kawasaki propose in their book, Creating Customer Evangelists: How Loyal Customers Become a Volunteer Sales Force. In the opening paragraphs of the book, the authors put forth their thesis:

You are an evangelist.

You tell others what movie to see, which computer to purchase, what restaurant to visit, which dentist you prefer, which cell phone to buy, which books to read, which clubs to join. Your recommendations are sincere. Passionate, perhaps.

Perhaps you didn’t realize that you are an evangelist—a bringer of glad tidings—but your sphere of influence, made up of friends, family, colleagues, and professional communities, realizes it.

Whoever slammed the phone down on me at FeaturePrice could have just been having a bad day. But she completed my transition from customer evangelist to bad-mouthing malcontent, or, as the authors term it, “a vigilante customer, one who spreads the word about your deplorable service to all who will listen.”

To get back briefly to my hosting saga, I signed up with a new provider last Friday afternoon, paid my money (for a month only, via PayPal, the same service you can use to support this newsletter, BTW), and received a welcoming message. The message promised that, within 24 hours, I’d get the details I needed to set up my site. Nothing happened all weekend. Emails to customer support bounced. They bounced! Their support forum was offline.

On Monday, a little frantic, I dug deeper and found that the name of the technical contact for my new hosting provider’s domain name was the same name and town as one of the felons convicted in the Fastlane software piracy case.  Yikes! What have I done?

Turns out my new hosting provider was hacked right about the time I signed up. The hacker deleted the all their databases (thus no support forum) and formatted their backup drive, then went from machine to machine within the network center to do the same to a few other boxes from other hosting companies.

So that’s good news and bad news. The good news is: I no longer believe my hosting company is a bunch of crooks. The bad news is: they got hacked, and I can’t be sure they’ll fix whatever let the bad guy in.

So will I be an evangelist or a vigilante? Only time will tell. In the meantime, the responsiveness of the StratVantage Web site may vary as the transition from old to new happens.

Oh yeah, one more thing. As insurance, I signed up with another hosting provider at roughly the same time. As of today, I still cannot access my account control panel or raise their customer support people. I may have to go vigilante on their butts.

Note: Ben McConnell and Jackie Huba will be speaking at the Fast Company Company of Friends meeting in Minneapolis on June 23rd, place TBA. They’re on tour, so check out their schedule for a place near you.

Briefly Noted

  • Shameless Self-Promotion Dept.: My article entitled, “Innovative Marketers Target Unwired Customers” was featured (twice!) in the recent NetSuds newsletter. It’s about using wireless LANs for marketing.

    I spoke twice recently, on “Organizational Security: When People Are Involved” and “What’s Next: Hottest Trends in Future Tech.” The full text of my PowerPoints will be available at these links for a limited time.

    I was quoted extensively on eLearning in a recent issue of the
    Minneapolis magazine, Upsize, which is aimed at growing businesses.

    A few issues ago I debuted SNS Begware, an opportunity for you, gentle reader, to express your appreciation by tipping your server via PayPal. See the sidebar for more info. Total in the kitty so far: $38.48, less than the cost of a single subscription to your local newspaper.

    I’ve reworked the TrendSpot and Opinion sections, adding a Prediction Tracking page to track the various predictions I’ve made, and also added a Stuff I Said page with some quotes of things I said a decade or so ago on the Net.

    I repurposed and adapted an article about the wireless service known as Short Messaging Service (SMS) for the Reside newsletter. It’s entitled, Wherever they go, there you are and it points out how marketers can use – carefully – this new way to contact their customers.

    I’m featured in Manyworlds’ Thought Leader Showcase, which lists a few of the white papers I’ve done. I’ve also added their fancy icon to the StratVantage site.
  • More of Your Freedom Chipped Away: As if Son of PATRIOT Act wasn’t enough, recently several states have adopted legislation designed by the motion picture industry called Super DCMA laws. Benighted denizens of the woebegone states of Colorado, Delaware, Illinois, Michigan, Oregon, Pennsylvania, and Wyoming now live under the oppressive yoke of some truly bad legislation. Among other things, the Super DCMA laws flatly ban “conceal[ing] or to assist another to conceal from any communication service provider … the existence or place of origin or destination of any communication that utilizes a communication device.”

    What the computer illiterate state legislators obviously don’t know is that one of the most popular corporate security techniques involves running a firewall that does Network Address Translation (NAT). What NAT does is assign the same IP (network) address to all users who pass through the firewall on their way to the Internet. This is done for convenience (not having to assign unique, legal addresses to all employees) as well as for security (not exposing employee’s real addresses prevents bad guys from directly attacking them.)

    So everyone behind a NAT firewall is now a criminal. That includes any home user with a cable or DSL router (like me; where do I go to surrender?).

    Now, all of you who think there’s nothing wrong with the suspension of due process that the PATRIOT act permits because “I’m not a criminal; I’ve got nothing to hide” – well, you’re now criminals. I’d wager more than 90 percent of Americans access the Internet behind some kind of NAT firewall. AOL uses one, and so do most ISPs. So now Ashcroft’s thugs can maraud into your house, seize your computer equipment, and drag you off to jail without charges, a warrant, or any recourse.

    Now you know how Arab Americans feel. When the government can willy-nilly criminalize the most commonplace actions, we all need to worry about the abridgement of the Bill of Rights. Our sons and daughters have died protecting them. Let’s not give them up because
    Hollywood wants to protect its profit margins. Please write your congresspeople. And educate your clueless state legislators.
    Thanks to Alert SNS Reader Andrew Hargreave for the ping.
    Electronic Frontier Foundation
  • A Technical Solution to the Hacker Problem? Leave it to the geeks to propose a perfect solution to cybercrime, one that fits well with our times. Geeky wags have proposed the use of an “evil bit” that will distinguish criminal communications from nice ones. Benign communication packets have this bit set to 0; those that are used for an attack will have the bit set to 1. Hackers are on their honor to set the bit appropriately. Kinda reminds me of a blonde joke my sister-in-law sent me.
    Thanks to Alert SNS Reader Andrew Hargreave for the ping.
    RFC 3514

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About The Author

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Can’t Get Enough of ME?

In the unlikely event that you want more of my opinions, I’ve started a Weblog. It’s the fashionable thing for pundits to do, and I’m doing it too. A Weblog is a datestamped collection of somewhat random thoughts and ideas assembled on a Web page. If you’d like to subject the world to your thoughts, as I do, you can create your own Weblog. You need to have a Web site that allows you FTP access, and the free software from This allows you to right click on a Web page and append your pithy thoughts to your Weblog.

I’ve dubbed my Weblog entries “Stratlets”, and they are available at Let me know what you think.

Also check out the TrendSpot for ranking of the latest emerging trends.

In Memoriam

Gerald M. Ellsworth

March 14, 1928 - July 5, 2003

In Memoriam

Jane C. Ellsworth

July 20, 1928 - July 20, 2003