Where are the Reviews?

Given the increasing diversity of web based (and meat space) services it is a source of constant confusion and annoyance that there aren’t any far reaching, respected, crowd-sourced review sites out there. Places where services can be thoroughly named and shamed, that coalesce market pressure to enable consumers to actually push back against dodgy practices.

I’ve recently been shopping around for breakdown cover (I know, living the rockstar dream right now!) and found myself desperate for somewhere I could compare user experience and ratings for major services. Whilst looking for hosting I frequently found myself directed to Reevoo and Feefo when searching for reviews, so wanted to just go their directly this time. The problem is, neither website’s homepage actually lets you search for specific companies or websites, let alone reviews. Some further searching turned up the shopping microsite for Reevoo, but Feefo pages can only be reached by Googling “feefo+company name“. In other words, these services are aiming themselves squarely at companies, not consumers.

Trustpilot does a better job, but I’m not a fan of searching on URL rather than company name. It’s also clear that Trustpilot reviewers are not truly representative and often show clear bias towards negative experience. It could definitely be argued that this is due to the relative immaturity of the service, but I would expect Trustpilot themselves to be using this as a marketing strategy. Certainly, some breakdown services actively showoff their Trustpilot scores, whilst other (often far larger and better known) services appear not to care.

Personally, this appears to be an area that is just begging for a startup to pop up and begin making waves. Hopefully Trustpilot is just such a startup and within the next year or so it will invest heavily in promoting itself, both to companies and consumers, as well as refine how it works. Either way the market sorely needs some form of people powered leverage.

theAdhocracy Mark II: The Rehosting

CSS? Fonts? Italics? Sidebars? What witchcraft is this? Is this not theAdhocracy, the home of plain HTML and nothing more (despite the clear problems associated with that)? Well: yes! But at the same time: No! Technicalities! Either way, welcome to theAdhocracy Mark II (no purchase required)!

There’s nothing too fancy about this change. Updated visuals are provided courtesy of the 2016 default WordPress theme, not my own endeavours. And yes, that means the backend remains WordPress (for now). The host, however is entirely new! I haven’t had the best experience with iPage, what with the multiple outages, lacklustre support, terrible interface and the many, many other headaches I’ve had over the past year. So when I received a frankly extortionate renewal invoice edging towards £200, the the final nail was struck into the coffin.

Since that email I’ve been steadily shopping around and I have to say: woah! The hosting market in the UK has really stepped it up a notch. Prices have plummeted, monthly contracts (rather than annual) are now far more common and generally high quality, well trusted hosting has become affordable. Last year’s runner up was 123-Reg, which would be a simple switch for me as I already host all of my domains with them. However, in the end (and this still amazes me), despite some great offers they just weren’t competitive enough.

Instead, I’ve thrown in my lot with SmartHosting (.co.uk, not .com, there appears to be a difference). It was a close call between several new options, but SmartHosting’s immensely positive reviews and clear web design swayed me; their price wasn’t too big of a problem either! So far the switch has been wonderful. It is such a pleasure to be using a modern, up to date version of cPanel again (I really don’t think I can stress that enough)! Installing WordPress was quick and easy and allowed me to simply Export/Import my databases. Domain pointing is much simpler and I can already tell that it will be less of a headache to host several websites (i.e. possible) than with iPage.

It hasn’t all been butterflies and rainbows, though largely due to my own errors. I had become “used” to iPage’s archaic folder structure, so just assumed all web content had to reside in the “public_html” folder. As a result, I tried installing two separate websites there and pointed my various domains at the relevant subfolders. Unfortunately, because my “main domain” (this one) seemingly had to be pointed at “public_html” rather than a subfolder, a little bit of URL manipulation allowed you to navigate from this site to any of my others. I was confused and a little frustrated, even if this behaviour made sense to me, because I couldn’t “repoint” this domain.

In the end I opened a support ticket. The reply was disheartening, but frighteningly prompt (I’m used to iPage response times, measured in hours or days) arriving in less than five minutes. Unfortunately, I couldn’t change where the “main” domain pointed; however, I could point my other domains at folders outside of “public_html”. That’s right, the support staff actually offered a constructive solution that served my needs far better than the one I had proposed! This is how support tickets should work and definitely reinforced the smug feeling that I’d made the right decision.

iPage, on the other hand, have had a hit’n’miss final few days. Initial efforts to disable “auto renewal” were rendered moot as the system refused to save/update my preferences. Irritating, but by that point I had already migrated and was happy to just cancel my account. Searching how to cancel, however, requested that I disable auto renewal… a dead end. Instead I attempted to “chat” with their support and was greeted by a five minute count down. It was the weekend, so this seemed fair, but after 10 minutes of “We’ll answer any moment now!” I caved, refreshed and started the count down again. Three attempts (and almost an hour) later I gave up completely and just rang them.

To their credit, this part of the process was swift and painless. I had feared a nightmarish entanglement of prompts and options followed by a fight and multiple offers. Luckily, I received a clear option path to the cancellation team followed by a courteous staff member who only offered his deepest regrets (rather than discount vouchers etc.). The whole process took less than ten minutes and two days later the account (and all my details, web files etc.) are deleted, as I had requested.

To be clear, iPage are not an awful company. They have never seriously screwed me over and the few times I have asked for help, I’ve received it (albeit slowly), but they’re also not great. Their software could be better, their website could be better and their support could be better. At the moment, everything is just about passable, but that means they’re increasingly being left behind by the competition. It also means I wouldn’t recommend them.
Currently, SmartHosting are doing a lot better. Only time will tell if that initial warm glow fades away and, if so, by how much.

Micropubawhoozits! Am I right?!

I’d really love to get micropublishing up and running on theAdhocracy. I’ve recently started dabbling in Flickr and it would be great to upload here and automatically have my photo’s fired over there; I’d also definitely get way more out of Twitter if I felt like small “thoughts” thrown up here could just get flung out as a tweet. I love the core concept as well, keeping control of your content and protecting against potential future service outages or (god forbid) full on closures.

So every time I read about the an Indiewebcamp or someone like Jeremy Keith throws up another interesting insight into their own methodologies and progress, I get excited. I want to start trying stuff out, so I start Googling. I pretty much always end up back here, at the main site for Indiewebcamp itself. And then I hit a wall.

Reading through the wiki page regarding Micropub is equivalent to reading through the pilots manual for the Millenium Falcon. I understand that the ultimate end result of my grasping this knowledge can only lead to awesome future adventures, but honestly it may as well be written in Xhosa. I get a headache, I close the tab and I go do something else, defeated once again.

One day I will actually spend a weekend getting my head around this. Much like learning to fly the Falcon (I wish), this is something I will continue to get excited for and, ultimately, that excitement will result in learning actually happening. But I do feel my frustration is warranted, and I feel that’s a great shame. The idea of the indie web is, to use Jeremy Keith’s own words:

about having your own place on the web so that you have control over what you put out in the world.

It’s just a shame that understanding the how is quite so buried under a whole raft of new terminology, much of which is needlessly obfuscated in its naming (I mean, what exactly is an h-card? What does that actually mean?). Maybe, in the future, once I’ve bent my own understanding around all the h-names, microgizmos and selfdogtreats out there I’ll find the time to right down some plainer, simpler instructions for others in the same situation. Then again, maybe there is some internal logic and once it “clicks” I’ll never think twice about it again. Only time will tell.