The cyber-consumer strikes back [pg. 18]

By DAVID SHAMAH
September 4, 2006 21:54

How was your weekend? Relaxing? Productive? Enjoying the last weekend of summer with the family? Well, good for you. Mine, on the other hand, was - how can I put it delicately - hell! And I owe it all to my discount Web hosting service, who apparently decided to take an end-of-summer vacation too - without leaving anyone to deal with tech problems. And the resultant experience is no less than an object lesson in what is wrong with society today! I believe in doing everything on the cheap, wherever possible - especially when it comes to computer software and services. And that philosophy, I must emphasize, works just fine 99.5 percent of the time. But then there's that 0.05% that's not covered - and that, as is often the case, is when you wish you hadn't been so cheap and tried to save money. On the other hand, though, we all know of many high-priced products and services that have also caused no end of trouble for their users, so going for the discount, whether it's on a car, Web hosting service, or supermarket, no more means that you are guaranteed problems than going for the higher-priced alternative means a trouble-free experience. Cheap or not, though, a promise is a promise. The fact that a Web hosting service is charging, say, a discount price of $25 a year is no excuse for making a customer wait for days on end for technical assistance, in clear violation of a terms of service agreed to by customers. "What do you expect when you go with a discount service?" is no excuse - that's the kind of thing we hear all too often in this country, and it makes me very, very upset. Charging a low price while promising, but not following through on, full or near-full service is nothing short of criminal. In fact, it is a crime; it's called "bait and switch." If you know in advance you can't/won't provide the service you promised, then don't promise it! Thus this story. It's a chance to vent, yes, but it's also a message: You, as a consumer, have rights. Retailers / manufacturers / service providers that make promises have to follow through on them. You must hold them to their guarantees, because otherwise they will continue in their antisocial behavior, further ruining society. The stakes here are high, folks - if we don't open our mouths when we are offended as consumers, the free market we all know and love turns into a Levantine-style bureaucracy, with all the accompanying corruption and bad behavior attendant in such societies. And a society in which people "get away" with minor infractions - criminal or consumer related - inevitably leads malefactors to commit worse crimes (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fixing-Broken-Windows). The hosting service I've been using for several Web sites I run (including digital.newzgeek.com, which has archives of these columns, as well as RSS subscriptions for updates of the latest pieces) did some kind of upgrade, which, it appears, affected my ability to update my sites. As it happened, one of my sites needed a major update (in fact, I completely redesigned it) - but I had no way to move it onto the Web server, because the ftp connection stopped working properly. I could connect with the ftp server but I couldn't get a directory listing - i.e., when I tried to list folders on the remote server in my ftp application, the connection would hang and eventually time out. I, of course, immediately posted a service ticket request, which was apparently posted properly, with the ticker server sending me an automated response to my request, with a ticket number. So I waited - for a day and a half - but to no avail. Ditto for ticket number two, three and four - all with subsequently more desperate pleas for assistance. But whoever was in charge of answering these tickets apparently went on vacation last week, or just decided s/he didn't want me as a customer anymore. There are few things more frustrating in the cyber-world than clicking on a URL and getting a "Not Found - 404" error - when it's your own site that people are expecting to be able to connect to - especially when the fault for the non-connection lies with the people you are paying to keep the site "live." But what can you do? I researched the error I was getting and spent hours last week trying to determine if there was anything I could do with the limited resources on my side of the Web. I found some tech forums that described what I was going through and steps I could take (most notably disabling my firewall and even my anti-virus program!), and even though things had worked fine just a few days before without having to take any special steps, I gave it the old college try - to no avail, as it happened. So, I was left with no choice but to switch hosting services. A subsequent search yielded a most interesting site - www.webhostingjury.com - where customers rate and rail against their Web hosting services. The hosting service I chose had pretty good reviews for customer service, but was not among the highest rated overall. However, I can pay for service one month at a time ($5 for 400 mb of space/10 GB bandwidth), so I have no long-term commitment if I want to switch to one of the top five-rated hosts. At $60 a year (if you sign up for 12 months, they'll give you 2 months free), it's actually cheaper than the low-priced hosting service I was using (which was $90 for about the same deal) - where the motto is "They [other hosting services] are here for the business, we are here for the people." Ha! If you've never had to beat a Web deadline while switching hosting services in midstream - well, it's an experience I don't recommend for the faint of heart. In essence, switching hosting "horses" in mid-race is a simple matter - you just open an account with the new service and update the DNS name servers for your sites at a domain name registrar (such as ev1servers.net). That's all there is to it - except for the waiting, which is the hardest part. The DNS system, of course, is what connects numerical Internet (IP) addresses to www-type names (www.howstuffworks.com/dns.htm), allowing your browser to "resolve" an alphanumeric .com, .org, or .net address suffix (among others) to the site's IP address/location. "Propagation" of your URL's new location by the DNS network is supposed to take about 24 to 72 hours. It was this delay that impelled me to check every 20 minutes or so last Wednesday and Thursday if my (now former) hosting service had begun working on my problem. By Friday I realized that I wasn't going to get any satisfaction, so I signed up for a new hosting service. After a Shabbat rest, I began the transition process Saturday night - and after a long night, got everything uploaded and set in place. As it turned out, the DNS propagation was more or less complete after about 12 hours, although I had some subdomain problems. All in all, I estimate I spent about 25 hours dealing with the transfer - time, of course, that I lost out on and am not going to get paid for. Note, by the way, that I haven't told you the name of the offending company - this isn't the place to pursue a vendetta, but believe me when I say that I intend to get the $50 or so owed me unused service fees back from these people. They cost me time and money and caused me hours of frustration and worry. You and I have rights as consumers, even if you are getting "a bargain." Obviously, a service is no bargain if you can't use it or if it requires you to jump hoops in order to get it to work. If you're looking for Web hosting (a useful article on the subject is at tinyurl.com/z495n), check out who you're doing business with in advance - and if you're buying a product, check out reviews by others (www.amazon.com is an excellent source of reviews of nearly everything under the sun). And, most especially, don't be afraid to complain/scream/yell when "they" - the lazy/inept service providers, retail stores, and manufacturers - fail to follow through on their promises. It's a long road, I know, but if we all join together, "they'll" learn that we mean business! Ds@newzgeek.com


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