News – 04/30/03
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
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.
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.
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,
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.
- 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
- More of Your Freedom Chipped Away: As if
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
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.
Alert SNS Reader Andrew Hargreave for the ping.