I recently purchased a year’s hosting from Dreamhost, having been recommended to Dreamhost by someone I like and respect, and before addressing the quality control (service level) issue it really does look a great deal. I also get the impression from the homepage webcam pics and newsletters that like a lot of hosting companies, Dreamcast are a young, dynamic company (sorry, sounds like a job advert, doesn’t it?) with a fun atmosphere, the kind of place most people would like to work. I guess the combination of energy and their killer pricing plans have got them into the top ten hosts league.
And before I make my constructive suggestion, I will just say that before coming here I registered quite a few domains with the largest hosting company at what also seemed like an unbeatable price for .com domain registration. I only discovered subsequently that unlike other domain registrars I use they charge a fee equal to a years registration if you want to move your domain registrations away from them. So I guess you do tend to get what you pay for, and it pays to do a bit of research and ‘read the small print’ (if you can find it before registering a load of domains and then finding the hidden costs like I did, or getting a ‘killer deal’ on hosting but finding you suffer intermittent outages which make it difficult for you to administer your site effectively.
So, having said all that, and believing (really) that Dreamhost as a company and a team show every indication of wanting to provide both a friendly and effective service, I will get to my suggestion. I worked for a time in project management on a UK government project, so I guess that is where my take on this comes from.
Firstly, I too, as a new user, am getting intermittent outages, which in my case are preventing me logging in to my dreamhost control panel - after entering username and password on the dreamhost.com home page I just get a blank page. My server is not and has not recently (in the last month) been listed as one of those being relocated, or as having any downtime or problems. Obviously I have checked for problems my end, we have tried logging in with two different computers, using up-to-date versions of IE 6 and Mozilla Firefox in the last hour with the same result. We did successfully upload quite a few files yesterday, and the homepage is showing up on the web (I just checked). Another, possibly related problem is that we tried to delete an unneeded directory using our reliable FTP program about two hours ago. We connected successfully, but repeated attempts to delete the directory kept giving the message ‘the directory is not empty’, whereas nothing was showing on screen in the left hand panel as being in that directory. As it was preventing our access into the site via our passworded directory, we managed to get around it by deleting it and renaming another directory with the correct name we wanted to be able to access.
Now, I wanted to register the username ‘PublicAccountabilityHelps’, because it really does, both the company and the users. Companies that grow exponentially and are not organised or don’t or can’t allocate sufficient resources to cope with the constantly increasing load on their servers can end up simply playing a ‘new users numbers game’, i.e. take the money from new customers and not worry too much about their disatisfaction with service levels. I have heard an entrepreneur in an expanding and popular niche voice this attitude in response to a complaint ‘some people leave, other people come, that’s life’.
But that attitude only works for a time. Modblog, which I registered with a while ago, was very successful, built up a huge customer base, and hosted many good blogs, including mine. I know it was a free site, and that’s maybe why they couldn’t afford to expand their servers to cope with their success, they didn’t monetize it right, I guess. They could have become successful like blogger or livejournal as they had some really good ideas and advanced customising facilities. But everytime I and many others have tried to log in in the last few months modblog.com has been down, and I’m very doubtful if it will ever recover. All that potential customer base lost - not to mention the massive amount of work people put into not only their modblogs, but their social networking on the site, too. Lesson: it pays to make a local backup of your blog, and keep a list of alternative contact emails for your blogging or other online community friends.
So how does this relate to dreamhost, and what is the answer to service problems. Both users and Dreamhost, I’m sure, want a quality hosting service without the kind of intermittent outages detailed in threads on this forum. And its really not productive for Dreamhost to do what a lot of companies do, and handle all service complaints on an individual basis. You know the kind of thing - how many times have I heard it? You make a complaint or point out a persistent, genuine problem, and its just addressed as a one off, often with the comment, ‘we’ve had no other complaints’.
But when you put dreamhost into google, and in the righthand adsense panel, you even get a company whose sales ‘hook’ is that they provide the same pricing level as Dreamhost, but ‘without the constant outages’, you know that we are dealing with a real and persistent problem here. I’m sure the Dreamhost team are perfectly aware, and the recent relocation of many of the servers (but not mine as far as I can see from their hostingstatus blog) is maybe part of constant attempts to solve the problem.
But companies sometimes benefit from extra motivation in order to keep their services up to scratch. Its like governments, there’s no question that public campaigns like that of Greenpeace do make a difference. Companies are sensitive to their public image, and do not like a constant public presence calling them to account for their failings. They tend to take one of two tacks. They either try to suppress publication of their failings, or they use them as a spur to put things right. I genuinely believe that Dreamhost will be in the latter category. As confirmed by Rich Shefren’s recent internet business manifesto, the vast majority of companies, especially internet companies, something ridiculous like 99%, fail within a few years. The exceptions - which I’m sure Dreamhost would like to be, are those that automate their systems efficiently, cataloguing all the processes that their business use and need to run, so that those they employ provide the level of service the business owners and customers would like to provide and receive.
So a clear, public accountability can really help a company who want to get and keep their services up to scratch. It is a way that users can constructively simply post, in one, easily accessible and public place - I would suggest a ‘Please Report your Dreamhost Outages’ blog, or ‘Report all Dreamhost Outages Here’ blog. Dreamhost would have to carefully monitored access, make sure only bona fide Dreamhost hosting customers could log in and post, and moderate it just in case of malicious misreporting. I’m afraid the cut-throat nature of the marketplace makes such things not impossible, and the last thing a company who takes a stand on being publicly accountable like that deserves is unjust bad publicity. And of course you have to allow for the occasional idiot. But I believe, on the basis of past experience and observation of the best companies, that where a company makes a public commitment to service accountability, essentially quality control by its customer base, it will find that it is a winning strategy. Most people are not fools, and a lot of the angry posts on this forum are reasonable people being made unreasonable by their frustration with being unable to solve the reported intermittent outages problem. If Dreamhost would set up such a ‘report all outages’ blog, they could form a strong coalition with their customers, which would not only give the company a strong motivation to invest sufficient financial and organisational resources to solve the outages problem, but earn the loyalty of an intelligent and cooperative customer base, so they do not suffer as much ‘churn’ as this kind of ongoing problem inevitably produces. For example, like a lot of people, I was attracted and paid a very modest fee for a year’s hosting. It would probably be tough to get that back, now. But in common with most reasonable people, if, as I intend to, I wish to expand my hosting to a commercial site taking paypal, clickbank and eventually merchant account payments, like most people I would be forced to ‘cut my losses’ and research and find a company with a reputation for reliable hosting, even if I have to pay a bit more.
The point I am making is that, if Dreamhost take this post seriously, which I hope they do - I will also be sending a copy with my outage report shortly - and set up a public ‘Outage Reporting Blog’ for their hosting customers, within a year I am sure they could be the low cost and reliable hosting company both they and we users would like them to be.
Any constructive comments or support from other Dreamhost clients here would help. And I recommend we simply ignore any obviously sour or ill-intentioned comments. If you ignore them, they generally go away
why ‘quality control’? Because ‘publicaccountabilityhelps’ - both users and dreamhost - was too long for a username