Tag Archives: website

My Hosting Frustrations

frustration photo
Photo by e-magic

If you have tried to visit this site or any of the other sites I run over the last few days, you may have come across a notice from my host that my site was suspended. I received an email from Bluehost with the following information:

Dear Dana:

Your web hosting account for huffenglish.com has been deactivated, as of 08/09/2016. (reason: site causing performance problems)

This deactivation was due to a Terms of Service violation associated with your account. At sign-up, all users state that they have read through, understand, and agree to our terms. These terms are legal and binding.

Please contact our Terms of Service team immediately to resolve the violation; your account will remain deactivated until you contact us and the issue is resolved.

Contact us if you feel the deactivation was a mistake. You must contact us to regain access to your account. Please call and speak with our Terms of Service Compliance department as soon as possible at 888-401-4678 (ext. 3).
Please read the following, derived from our Terms of Service agreement, for additional information regarding the matter.

Engaging in any activity that, in Bluehost’s sole and absolute discretion, disrupts, interferes with, or is harmful to (or threatens to disrupt, interfere with, or be harmful to) Bluehost’s services, Bluehost’s business, operations, reputation, goodwill, subscribers and/or subscriber relations, or the ability of Bluehost’s subscribers to effectively use Bluehost’s services is prohibited.

Please review the current copy of our Terms of Service here:

Thank you,
Bluehost Technical Support
For support go to http://bluehost.com/help

I called Bluehost, and they couldn’t tell me why all of a sudden my site was causing performance problems or even what those problems were. I was given a list of about four things I could check, and I should add that the average person using a hosting service wouldn’t really know how to do any of them. First, I was told to check my access logs to see if I was being attacked. I could then blacklist that IP. I was also told to check if I was getting bot spam. To do this, I was told to take a look at my databases and see if any of them had over 100K rows. I was told I could try getting a CDN. I could also check error logs and slow queries on my database. I was offered tech support to “optimize” my website for $300. I declined and decided I’d try to see what I could do. The only assistance I would be given for free was links to Bluehost’s knowledge base articles. I got through the first two and could find nothing wrong—and in fact, I’m inclined to believe there was nothing wrong—so I stopped checking and asked my host via chat if they could reactivate my site so I could check on some things. I was told they were working on the server on which my site was hosted, so they couldn’t do anything until the work was finished. Check back in a couple of hours, tech support said.

I have been with Bluehost for around ten years. I have not had any real issues with them until the last couple of years. Recently, my entire site went down twice and I had to restore it from a backup. How does that even happen? Or worse, how does it happen and the host cannot tell you why or how it happened? Twice in about a week. They have never been very helpful when I contact their tech support. I basically just have to be able to figure out how to fix things on my own. I have found this to be the case in almost all of my dealings with them. However, I stayed because changing hosts is painful, and the last time I did it was so long ago, I wasn’t sure if I could figure out everything I needed to do and get everything set up correctly. I was willing to put up with what I saw as lackluster support in exchange for making things easier in the short run. I should have bolted the first time my site went down several months ago. I am beyond frustrated that keeping me as a customer had so little value for Bluehost. I took my frustration to Twitter.

This was their reply.

That is not customer service. I signed up with a new host the same day. I am still in the process of moving everything I need to move. My sites are not yet resolved to my new host completely, so some people are likely seeing my old site still, which has a warning about my site being deactivated. It took me over 24 hours just to download all the files from my host, and it took me another 8 or so to upload them to my new one. I was finally able to see one of my sites last night, and I was able to see this one today.

In the next few days, after I am sure my new sites are all up and running they way they should be, I will be closing my account with Bluehost entirely. They are currently running promos for really cheap hosting. It is too bad they are working so hard to get new customers and not attempting to retain the ones they already have. I walked away from this experience with the distinct impression that Bluehost didn’t care a thing about me or my sites. Or at least the money I have been paying them to host my site and register my domains. I couldn’t believe the lack of support I was given, which was abysmal even by the standards I’m used to from Bluehost. And as you can see from the tweet above, I am not their only customer whose site was deactivated this week. A quick search of Twitter, and I was able to find plenty of disgruntled customers. Many of them had been long-time customers like me. Despite many issues encountered by WordPress users, WordPress continues to endorse Bluehost as a good host for WordPress (a quick Google search is all you need, but I found this article articulated the problem well).

All I really have left to do at this point is figure out whether or not to get my emails off Bluehost. I never really liked the amount of spam I was getting on those accounts, so I am considering just giving them up. It looks nice to have email go to your domain, but it also complicates things to have a bunch of email addresses. I’m tempted to just call it day and route those emails to my Gmail account. Here is hoping I have much better luck with my new host. I’m already finding their knowledge base articles more helpful. I was actually able to get everything up and running again without contacting tech support. Once I see that my domain name servers are propagated (meaning when I search to see who hosts my domain, it’s my new host’s servers that show up instead of Bluehost’s), I will completely deactivate my account with Bluehost. I will warn anyone who asks me about starting a blog away from them. Honestly, the easiest thing to do is get a blog hosted by Blogger, WordPress.com, Weebly, or similar. I have been using self-hosted WordPress for so long and have so much invested in my sites at this point that I don’t think I can just ditch them and use a hosted blog. If you want a self-hosted blog, my personal recommendation is to steer clear of Bluehost—for engaging in activity that in my sole and absolute discretion, disrupts, interferes with, or is harmful to (or threatens to disrupt, interfere with, or be harmful to) running a website. You don’t have to take my word for it, though.

UPDATE 8/16/2016: I have opted to keep my email addresses, and I have them set up on my new host, but I did not retain emails, so if you contacted me recently and didn’t hear back (and you weren’t asking me if you could do a guest blog or place an ad, because I have made it very clear that I ignore those emails), you can try to contact me again. Also, I canceled my account at Bluehost, and things should be up and running properly with my new host.

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Why Are Public School Websites so Bad?

While Randall Munroe’s XKCD cartoon above is mocking university websites for deficiencies in design, the same could be said of many public school websites. A few years ago, my kids’ school website only worked in Internet Explorer. It was the most terrible design you can imagine, done in Front Page I think, with all the most important information buried or even out of date. The reason for that was that the media specialist, who had a full time job running the library, teaching classes that visited the library, and working with teachers, was also tasked with running the school website, and she didn’t have the time or the expertise to do so. The school now has a technology specialist who runs the website, and it is much better than it was. However, it’s still not close to being a slick-looking as some of the private school websites I’ve visited. I think several factors may influence a school’s website design, and the deck is stacked against public schools:

  • Private schools have to market themselves. They’re competing against every other private school in their area, and they have to allocate funds to attracting students. Part of their marketing is a good website. The first step in exploring a school is most often taking a look at their website, and if it’s bad, the family might never even move forward with an application. Information needs to be easy to find, and the site itself must be easy to navigate. It should look professional and give visitors a sense of what they might see in the school.
  • Private schools often hire outside web designers. Public schools tend to assign the task to employees or students, with mixed results. Sometimes you get someone really good who knows what they’re doing, but designing and running a website is a big job, and employees are often stretched too thin to do a good job. A variety of designers cater to private schools. Contrary to popular belief, private schools are not necessarily swimming in money, but they do need to spend money on good websites because of marketing.
  • Public schools seem to communicate more via email, telephone, signage, paper, and snail mail. They probably don’t have a real reason to duplicate all of that information on a website, although I would argue that they should if they want someone outside the community to find the site useful. For instance, we’re moving to Massachusetts this summer, and my husband complained that the public schools’ website in the area we’re moving to was quite difficult to navigate. I tried it out, and he’s right. The district website attaches a frame around the website for the one school I looked at, and navigation was impossible. I never could find a faculty directory.
  • Sometimes the appropriate staff (a technology director, specialist, etc.) floats among several schools or even a whole district. Because private schools are independent, they have to hire faculty and staff to cover these areas (or outsource some of it). Otherwise, they won’t have it. If they don’t have technology faculty, they run the risk of being behind the times and therefore losing potential students to schools that spend more on up-to-date technology.

Asking technology faculty to float is a horrible idea. Each school should have a dedicated member of the faculty who works with teachers to integrate technology. I don’t say that because it’s my job, and I need job security. I say it because I think it’s true. Otherwise, you’re going to have more difficulty getting faculty to integrate technology. You will always have the dedicated teachers who spend their own time learning how to use technology on their own, but if you are trying to make a real school-wide shift, it’s not going to happen if your faculty doesn’t have someone to help them. It’s no wonder public schools can’t dedicate more time to making their websites attractive and user-friendly. They don’t have the personnel, and the personnel they do have don’t have the time.  However, websites are an important communication tool, and in the year 2012, it is not asking too much to have a website that visitors can enjoy using to learn more about a school. Many free and cheap CMS’s exist to help schools (which doesn’t solve the time issue). A good website should be something to which schools dedicate time.

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