Web Hosting: The Nightmare, Site5 versus BlueHost

For the longest time, I’ve spouted much love and support for my web host of over a decade, Site5.

The year was something like 2007, or even earlier. I recall they had a super sweet deal called “The Plan to End All Plans” for which they offered an unbelievable price for an unbelievable amount of web space. It was great. They even had a referral program for which I got a discount off each person I convinced to sign on with them.

I had no problem doing this, and most of my clients know that I’ve always been up front about this referral program. Their support staff were always, always, 100% helpful. I never had any issues with getting set up, and for all the dumb questions I’d throw their way, there was a patiently explained and understandable answer. To say that I was a fan of Site5 is fair. Or an understatement.

Then they switched their Backstage to a different platform. This took out the referral program, which was fine. Things seemed okay for the most part, and I didn’t think too much about it.

Fast-forward to early this year, where I had recently recommended Site5 again to a client. Perhaps I had gotten so used to living in the smaller pond, but when this client started outgrowing their hosting, I spent a bit more time talking to support.

I had also started experiencing some website downtime. It didn’t matter too much for me, because nobody visits my website. And I’m seriously okay with that. I use the space to put up baloney experiments like collecting menu preferences for my wedding and a Sausage Toss Simulator for my friends.

But this is not good for my clients. And I’m very protective of most of them. Others, not so much. But the ones I love, I really love. So I went on a bit of a journey here, and I started asking some more questions.

Then I started to notice that nobody from Site5 seemed to ever know what the fuck was going on anymore. I would ask one question and get three different answers. Gone were the support people who knew what they were doing, and each message from them now either started or ended with, “Please be on hold for 3-4 minutes while I check on this.”

Most times, they would answer my question with something completely unrelated. It was like watching a terribly-edited episode of Jeopardy! and nobody was winning.

So out of curiosity, I started searching for other options. We all know that it’s a good thing to look outside of our windows once in a while, because when we get too comfortable, we miss out on the rest of the world as it turns.

One afternoon, I ended up in a support chat with someone from BlueHost. Days of, “Sorry, let me check on this. Please hold!” from Site5 may have taken its toll on me, because as soon as I realized that I was talking to someone who actually knew what the fuck was going on, it felt like waking up from a terrible never-ending nightmare.

It was all a blur at that point, but I know I entered the conversation with pre-sales questions for my clients. I came out signing up for a Prime account with them and this exciting feeling of starting something new. I still remember my support guy’s name. It was Vincente. And I told him how awesome he was. And he told me, “If you don’t need the space, don’t waste the money.”

And then I asked him to marry me.

No, I didn’t.

But I wanted to.

Full disclaimer again, but I’m not getting paid for posting this or even talking about BlueHost. Just as I was pretty jazzed about Lunapads, I gotta say that I’m equally jazzed about BlueHost. I’m using the word, “jazzed”. That means something, guys.

Their Shared Hosting Prime offering was much better and cheaper, for way more things:

  • Unlimited websites
  • SSL installation for WordPress sites
  • 1 free domain
  • Domain privacy
  • Back-up services

What the actual fuck. And while I was looking at VPS options for another project, their very similar options were at very different price points.

Site5’s VPS starts at $62/mo
BlueHost’s VPS starting at $20/mo

Friends, I can’t even.

I know I’m no expert at any of this, and cheap web hosting is hardly something worth talking about at fancy dinner parties or when you’re trying to impress colleagues. But I just felt like sharing this experience because for one thing, it kind of woke me up to how I had lulled myself into complacency with Site5.

It might still be the honeymoon stage with BlueHost at the moment, and I’m already discovering a few annoying things there and there, but at the moment, they are miles ahead and way better than what I was previously dealing with.

Maybe in another 10 years, I’ll change my mind again, but for now, my bottom line is:

Yes, I would recommend BlueHost!

Can ads exist peacefully within websites?

Some more general website things, but I’ve started experimenting with Google Adsense. I’ve been curious about this for a while now. I’ve added a couple of them on the sidebar and the footer.

Experimenting with Adsense

It might be counter-intuitive as well, but I admit that I do have ad blockers installed on Safari. I tend to do more blog reading and surfing on Safari, while I use Chrome more for work on debugging and dev tools.

I notice that there are dramatic reactions from some designers against ads, as if they are little bugs that infiltrate your pantry. The purists all condemn it, which is understandable. But if there’s one thing I’ve learned from hanging out with non-designers, it’s that people really don’t give a shit about what young, tough, and gritty designers think.

For here, I’ve put them in designated places. I have a feeling that they might not be super effective, but I will let time tell. Let’s make no assumptions… yet.

Although, I absolutely hate ads within content, like when they disrupt reading. It’s like someone cutting in line at the hot dog stand. Very rude. So I was very cognizant of keeping those bad boys out of the way.

The top example of a website I find rather frustrating is Forbes. I think they have good content, for the most part, but there are just a few too many obstacles in my way to get to it. I’ve since felt more and more disengaged with their website, and usually never get past their obnoxious splash page after I click their links on Facebook.

 

 

Ugh, Jesus Christ, Forbes. Tone it down a little.

Another love-hate relationship I’ve fostered is with The New York Times. Particularly on mobile, the way that the content loads first, and then jumps around as the ads generate. This is taking the notion of “content first” a little too literally, guys. Grrr!

 

 

However, I will note that I like the content and do still engage with the website, even though it loads with the same way a drunk fun uncle stumbles into the bar for your birthday.

The interesting thing for me I guess is comparing blog and news sites to how Facebook places their ads. The sidebar is a nice common ground for me, actually, as it is less obtrusive but not completely hidden.

 

 

The way I’m approaching it is that I don’t have too much chaos in my life (deliberately planned and executed with extreme discipline) and I don’t want my layout to reflect that. I imagine people I want to talk to are those who aren’t in a hurry or juggling ten different things at once.

Facebook also inserts them into their feed, but thankfully, they aren’t inside the posts or anything like that. I don’t want the calls coming from inside the house. 

With the way that the News Feed is set up, this makes a lot of sense because users are free to ignore them as they flow through. This is different from when a user is actually inside a piece of content, such as reading a full article. They have already chosen to engage with the content. I don’t think an ad should burst into the room every five minutes to see if things are okay, or if you want to partake in Amazon’s Deal of the Day.

 

 

I myself have clicked on these Facebook ads (for magic mops and Tubshrooms) because of this thoughtfulness. The News Feed is more like a shopping experience, where the user can take the time to pick and choose what links or posts to open. An ad behaving this way is appropriate, in my opinion.

The key moment for me is between this display of options (the News Feed), before any commitment is made, and the actual choice to engage (clicking the link itself because clickbait–FFS…).

It’s a delicate balance, and I’m keen on digging into this some more.

I like to think that I might have some control over these things (and my life), so I’ve decided on several “musts” within this whole thing:

  • The ads must not be rude. I think they are okay to be a little lively or do whatever ads are set out to do, but above all, it shouldn’t come between the audience and the content.
  • Advertising should not take over the whole site. One of the things that bother me is when I visit a website and there’s 90% ads and 10% content. Most of the time, the content isn’t even very good.
  • I must reflect: When visiting a website, what are the things that I don’t want my friends to suffer through?

All in all, I don’t think advertising is a bad thing, nor is it the root of all evil. But it’s definitely one of those torture tools that may end up killing me if I’m not careful.

Curious to know your thoughts and impressions.

 

#AEASea: “Faster Decisions With Style Tiles” by Samantha Warren

Samantha Warren. What a cutie-pie. Anybody who starts a talk with a story about bananas and monkeys is a gold star in my books.

Design tiles are her way of building a pattern library for clients.

In her talk, “Faster Design Decisions with Style Tiles,” Samantha brought up a really big shift in how we handle websites today. I don’t know exactly when this thing exploded, but D-I-Y has stretched itself from handymen and Martha Stewart floral arrangements to how we all manage ourselves online. Whether it’s a personal blog, portfolio, or a giant conglomerate’s website, we all want control over our content.

It’s not enough to have a static HTML page that you set and forget like a Ronco Rotisserie anymore. And with good reason. We’re all realizing what we’re capable of, and long gone are the little lines of text that say, “Questions? Contact the webmaster.”

We’re all fucking webmasters now! (I mean “fucking” in the descriptive sense, not as a verb.)

In her talk, Samantha points out that we aren’t just putting together mock-ups for people, but systems for them to work with.

Websites aren’t just store-fronts to display our wares. They’ve now become actual platforms for communication, and that’s what’s so exciting about it. I love this idea because it’s a focus on exchanging information and growing together, rather than just throwing your hat in the ring and hoping for the best.

There is push and pull content, not just push alone.

It’s easy to fall back on blaming the client for their lack of creativity or imagination. And I know there are tough discussions about that. But the more I think about it, the more I think it a poor excuse for doing a bad job.

In most cases, projects can go to hell because everyone is looking out for their own best interests. And of course if something is always someone else’s fault, then everyone ends up sucking monkey balls on a hot day.

Her suggestions about abstracting a website’s look and feel goes much further than avoiding “franken-comps” and fights with the client. Style tiles and other such methods give value to the designer-client relationship, in my opinion. It becomes less about giving someone a product, and more about engaging them in an actual conversation.

We then allow ourselves to reflect and consider different options, rethink certain decisions, and maybe get to better solutions than what we first pitched.

I like the notion of working with your clients as people who have their own thoughts and ideas, and giving them the platform to share this—not just giving them a product in a box. It makes the job sound less stupid and a little more meaningful.

Just as we are realizing that the web is fluid and alive and organic, I think we should be transferring that idea into how we treat the people we work with, too.

The client shouldn’t be some kind of cartoon in a suit talking to a car-phone. The same way designers shouldn’t be thought of as pixel-pushers and drones in black turtlenecks.

How much confidence and good will can you foster with this approach? I think a lot. The same way you have charities and organizations empowering women, kids, minorities that change social perspectives; giving anyone a great set of tools and the opportunity can set so many things in motion.

While design can ultimately seen as a service, I think it also helps to see it as a relationship. There is trust needed and guidance involved from both parties. It isn’t one person pushing their expertise on another, but equals with each something to offer.

And if we start with that common ground, instead of “I am here to fix things for you,” then we all get to have a nice time at the party. Nobody wants to talk to that asshole who thinks they know everything. And nobody wants to be said asshole, either.