Constructive suggestion re: constant outages


#1

Hi everyone,

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 :slight_smile: 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 :slight_smile:

why ‘quality control’? Because ‘publicaccountabilityhelps’ - both users and dreamhost - was too long for a username :slight_smile:


#2

the directory is not empty << usually means there is a file, like an .htaccess file. You cannot see it, unless you use a ftp program that can see those types of files.


#3

Just so you know, this behavior is not generally caused by Dreamhost being “down”; it is an infrequently experienced phenomenon generally related to cookies/cache/ and browsers which has been discussed at great length on this forum. I know that Dreamhost would love to get to the bottom of it and get it resolved in every instance, but the fix for everyone has proven to be illusive. That said, should you experience this situation, an easy workaround that will get you into the panel in almost every circusmstance is to simply reload the page, or, depending upon your browser, hit the “go” icon on your browser’s toolbar.

As a previous poster already pointed out, receiving an error message indicating that a directory is not empty, when attempting to delete such a directory that appears to be empty, is invariably the indication that there actually is a file in the directory.

“Hidden” files , which are often “.files” such as .htaccess, are often not normally visible within an ftp client unless you set your particular client to display them. The process varies from client to client, and you should review your client’s documentation or help file to see how this is done in your case. You can also confirm this behavior by visiting the directory in the shell via an ssh client and using the command, “ls -la”, which will show you the “hidden files”. You can delete them, as well as the whole directory, from within the shell if you desire.

You have obviously given this idea a good bit of thought, and I do not want you to think that I have not read your post thoroughly (I have, a couple of times in fact!) or given it careful consideration. I recognize what you are tyring to accomplish, but I do not believe that what you propose would be of any benefit. Between the ability to comment on blog posts on both the blog.dreamhost.com and the dreamhoststatus.com blogs, and these forums, users have a myriad of ways to post their “outages”, complaints, whines, suggestions, etc. ad nauseum.

Frankly, I’ve gotten to where I hardly read the blog comments anymore as the “noise to signal” ratio is so badly skewed by clueless sniveling that is irrelevant to the post in question that there is little real information to be had in the comments. I don’t have any confidence that an additional blog, whatever it’s stated purpose, would be any different or decrease the pollution of the other blogs by any appreciable degree. :wink:

I think a better suggestion is to turn off comments completely on the Dreamhost blogs, forcing all those types of comments into these forums or to other venues. Dreamhost appears to believe that enabling comments on the blogs is a good thing for transparency, and has at least a therapeutic value in that they provide a “stress relief mechanism” for those simple souls that can’t rest till they have “vented”. That’s fair enough and so be it; there is certainly nothing that requires a visitior to wade through these comments - they can “just say no” and not read them (which is what I generally do).

In summary, I believe there are plenty of places for users to publicly post their experiences with Dreamhost for the concept of “public accountability” to be adequately served. I think, in fact, that Dreamhost is very rare in that they not only host such resources, but also allow them to run essentially unmoderated in the interests of “freedom of expression” and “transparency”. It is frustrating to me that this policy has proven to bring with it the reality that often “disgruntled users” ( and possibly competitors?) posts are ignorant, ill-informed, incorrect, an on occasion just mean-spirited, but I recognize, and appreciate, that Dreamhost would rather “suffer” such indignities than be accused of “policing” complaints. I’ve also found that the “worst” of such “drive-by bashings” that appear on these forums, and increasingly on the blogs as well, generally result in a “counter” response from more balanced Dreamhost users. :wink:

I appreciate the spirit behind what you propose, but mark me down for a “No thank you” to your suggestion; I believe we have enough venues for such stuff already :slight_smile:

–rlparker