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Choose Your Hosting Service the Harvard Way

Update: VistaPages has been sold to Millennium Data Systems (HostMDS).

From Evil to Hell

Evil Chucky doll
Credit: luisvilla, License: by

Less than a fortnight ago, I wrote about evil. This week, I write about hell and how Harvard's insights will help you to avoid a customer hell.

But first I want to add to last week's evil story that I was informed by a reliable source that 'Google would have preferred XMPP Federation, but that AOL was only willing to agree to a multiprotocol approach'.

This is no traditional review. Information is made as generally applicable as possible so that you can perfectly read this review without having any interest in a VistaPages review or whatever web host review. Hence, you may call this a 'tutorial review' or whatever you prefer.

As a last introductory item, we want to excuse for:

  • the severe website accessibility issues you may have encountered before we switched hosting provider,
  • the long downtime the Coccinella project website suffered last summer, and
  • the fact that our communication regarding this downtime is not as instant as you may expect from us.

We also thank all worried visitors who contacted us regarding last summer's downtime.

The Short VistaPages Review

As you probably hate reading long reviews, I will try to make a very long story as short as possible. If you are not interested in the VistaPages review, you can just skip to next section.

On the 22th of July our account at VistaPages was suspended for the first time. No notification was given! Although I could persuade VistaPages to revert the suspension, this took several hours. VistaPages said we used too much resources. As we didn't want this to happen again, I asked VistaPages to provide me with sufficient information so that we could fix the issue. However, VistaPages never gave sufficient information.

Graph showing unreliable VistaPages hosting service

Thanks to the unwillingness of VistaPages to cooperate, I made the wise decision to backup the Coccinella website at my own computer. Only 1 week after the first suspension, VistaPages repeated the awful customer experience as can be seen in the above graph with visits stats. One difference though: VistaPages did not wanted to bring the Coccinella website online. They told we had to upgrade to VistaPages' not so cheap VPS service if we wanted to see our website back. So yes, the local backup really was a wise decision! B-)

Mats was thinking about just paying for the VPS as that was the only way to get the website online very fast. Even though my personal website also was plagued by the suspension, I refused Mats to accept the upgrade offer. VistaPages' held a pistol to our head and that's not the way of doing business that should be rewarded with more money. Thus, we started looking for another hosting provider and we found Florian Jensen, our new hoster. As he is a member of the XMPP Standards Foundation, we were sure the Coccinella community would not be fucked again.

We still wanted to give VistaPages a last chance. Therefore, I asked VistaPages if they were interested in cooperation. I informed them that we found another web hosting provider, that we could move within hours if necessary, that we would be indebted our community (you) to write the review you are reading now, and that we would have to inform Canadian authorities regarding our horrible experience (done). This is the reply I got from VistaPages, including all spelling errors...judge for yourself:

Hello Sander,

Your Top is showing nothing, and to bad for this that i was the one on the server in that moment suspending accounts.

Why only your account and also another one, there were two accounts when the load was up, is having problems with mysql, and the other one with spamd, i tell you why, because the other guy was spamming around big time, and your mysql databases were crashing the mysql server. from your top, you can not see anything, were are the processes that your site were running at that moment, the connections to the mysql server?

Also, stop sending replies about vistapages customers, when you should take care of your site and your problem, if there is one. Not go in front and start threating a company with whatever words, when you are not sure you are right. All this words will mean nothing if there is something to combat them, and more to it if there are facts.

So, in the end just try to focus o the issue, but if the next reply will contain a threat to the company or to one of the employees just don't reply at all, because this is not a way to do business, and more to it, it is just not good enough for 3-5$/month .

Thank you!

Florian N.
Sr. Systems Administrator
VistaPages, Inc.

Refer a friend to VistaPages and earn free months! Ask us how :)

Obviously, this 'customer friendly' email settled everything! Within hours the Coccinella website was up and running at our new hosting location. Note that we actually paid VistaPages 35$/month and not 3-5$; no refund was given for 19 other months. Remark that Florian N. is not Florian J., our new hoster. Also note the funny line at the end of the signature!

The reason why it took so long to inform you about the downtime of the Coccinella website is that I had to struggle until last week with VistaPages to get my personal website transfered to another host and registrar. Leaving VistaPages is hard, be warned!

Please do not hesitate to contact me for more information about VistaPages if you were thinking about choosing them as your hosting service. You also can contact me for 'exodus tips' if you plan to leave VistaPages.

Web Hosting Providers and the Customers Who Hate Them

Wittingly or not, many companies encourage customers to make bad purchases—with the result that their profits depend on their most dissatisfied customers. [..] Why, then, do so many companies infuriate their customers by binding them with contracts, bleeding them with fees, confounding them with fine print, and otherwise penalizing them for their business? Because, unfortunately, it pays.

'Companies and the Customers Who Hate Them' is an insightful article written by Gail McGovern and Youngme Moon, and published in the June 2007 edition of the Harvard Business Review. Even though the article is not focused at web hosting services, the insights are extremely valuable for examining web hosting providers. Therefore, I would recommend anyone who is interested to enter the hosting market to read the full article.

Deep dissatisfaction is further manifest in relentless customer churn. [..] This level of turnover requires companies to engage in endless, aggressive customer acquisition, including extravagant spending on advertising.

The above quote is very interesting. My belief is that McGovern and Moon's article is not only useful for business, but also for customers like you! To choose your hosting service the 'Harvard way', you should compare advertising of hosting providers. Forget about comparing features of hosting packages! The advertising strategy of a hosting business reveals the amplitude of the 'suck factor' of the service. If a hosting provider needs a large advertising budget to compensate for high levels of customer attrition and large amounts of bad word of mouth like this, you better avoid that hosting service. The service will never be worth whatever amounts of Yottabytes of web space and data transfer are promised. You even should be careful when the service is free. The next section will give some practical measures to detect evil web hosting providers that have a hard time acquiring new customers.

Web Hosting Checklist

This checklist can be used as a tool to detect web hosting providers you should avoid. All measures may give you an indication whether or not a hosting provider requires aggressive advertising to keep up with high customer defection rates caused by an unsatisfactory service. Don't get influenced by a cheap hosting service with lots of features, simply avoid a hosting service depending on big advertising spending to stay in business. The more positive answer you get in the following list, the more reluctant you should be.

  1. Affiliate Program - Does the hosting provider have an affiliate program? Is this program promoted on the front page on a very visible location? Is the hosting provider desperately looking for new affiliates? Did the affiliate program get better over time?
  2. Awards - Does the hosting provider prance with its awards? Can you find scandals regarding the review website which gave out the award? Can you trust the review website? (general rule: no!) Does the domain owner of the review website hide behind a proxy service? Who is the hoster and/or registrar of the review website domain, the hosting provider? When not hidden behind a proxy service, you may be able to see that the domain owner lives in the same city as the hosting provider, and furthermore, you discover the owner of the review website worked for the same hosting provider as the CEO of the hosting provider you are looking at!
  3. Headquarters - Does the hosting provider have a nice picture of its headquarters on its website? Is this really a picture of the headquarters of the hosting provider or is it a picture of a Canadian post office? Google Maps can be a very helpful tool to find Mailbox companies and thus helps you to detect how professional the hosting provider in fact is.
  4. Customer Testimonials - Does the website of the hosting provider have a separate section with customer testimonials? Did the hosting provider found it worth the money to register a separate domain to boost search engine page ranking (SEO)? Did you actually check if the testimonials are pointing to a real website? The Internet Wayback Machine is a useful tool to see what was on these websites before they went down. Do you find people telling on their own website the provider you are interested in rules, or sucks?
  5. People - Does the website of the hosting provider contain many photos of professional looking people? Does these pictures make the company look like being a trustworthy business? Does it look like these pictures did cost a lot for the hosting provider?
  6. Marketing Tricks - Are there advantages if you choose for a longer billing cycle? No subscription fee, for instance, or lower monthly fees, or something else? Such advantages may indicate that the hosting provider is unsure about themselves; they know the chance may be high you want to leave as soon as possible.

How to Earn Money From Unethical Hosting Companies

As can be deduced from the Harvard Business Review article, hosting providers who suck benefit financially by doing so. At least in the short term it pays. Nonetheless, due to huge customer attrition rates, unethical hosting providers like VistaPages have large advertising budgets. And this is exactly the weak point you can exploit to earn money!

Affiliate programs and sponsorship are of key importance for bad hosting providers to compensate for huge customer attrition and to restore reputational damage. Hence, the willingness to pay of unethical hosting providers is extremely high in this area. Bloggers and open-source communities like you and me me are worth their weight in gold for them. We have a very valuable reputation of trust! To restore their reputation, unethical hosting providers may want to pay you much more than the value of the sales you can bring in! Negotiate with the hosting provider to squeeze the money out of them. Let them pay for your reputation! Let them pay more than ethical hosters!

Of course, you may simply not want to take the risk your reputation being tarnished by accepting the unethical money. Therefore, establishing your own ethical sponsorship framework may be a good way to protect your reputation of trust. Another solution, the easiest option, is to refuse any kind of sponsorship from people outside your community, like we do.

Bonded Barbie puppet to represent VistaPages bondage
Credit: D. Gillard, License: by

Conclusion of the VistaPages Review

For God's Sake, we advise you to avoid VistaPages at any cost!

As The Consumerist already suggested to hit Kaumil Patel in the face, it is probably a good idea. Personally, I loathe violence, though VistaPages and Kaumil Patel seem to enjoy being hit in the face as is written on the VistaPages website:

We treat you the way we want to be treated by our service providers! (source)

I am really proud at the fact that VistaPages has offered customers the support and service that we have (source)

Note for the service providers who treat VistaPages: please give VistaPages and Kaumil Patel (CEO) the treatment they are begging for; get inspired by the Barbie picture!

Other VistaPages Victims we Trust

This list is meant to be an up to date list of stories of other VistaPages customers we trust. Please contact me by email or instant messaging to initiate the trust verification process in order to get listed.

Comment Rules

One of the purposes of this article is being a trustworthy review and guide for people searching a good (and maybe cheap) hosting service. Therefore, no 'flamewar review' is desired in the comments regarding web hosting companies. Hence, comments containing any of the following are not allowed:

  • Links to websites of hosting providers
  • Links to review websites including review blogs
  • Names of hosting providers or review websites/blogs
  • Unethical content with any evil purpose

Use your own blog or contact me personally instead for such comments! If I find your email useful, I may add your comment. Note that I'll be the sole and final arbiter as to what constitutes a violation of this policy.
@Kaumil Patel of VistaPages: for 1,000,000 EUR we may think about removing this article from this website. :o)


I just received an email of our new hoster which you may like to read if you are a VistaPages refugee. Note that we are no affiliates and we do not get other advantages from our new hoster, in fact the hosting package we're in costs us more for less than what they are offering in the email below. Posting this email is just our way to say thanks in helping us leaving VistaPages. Also, I believe it is on-topic as my hoster has gotten very experienced in helping people migrate away from VistaPages, unfortunately :-(

Dear Sander,

we have read your post about your bad hosting experience. That is why we said to ourselves that we want to help the customers of such bad companies. Therefore we have created an offer for the whole Coccinella Community. No hidden fees, no tricks.

We have setup a small page for this action:

Hope you like it.

Greetings from the whole Team,

Florian Jensen
Chief Development Officer / CEK Media Service