I recently decided to cancel the web hosting package I've been using for the last few years. I was partly prompted by the fact that because I'd not logged into my account for a long while the company had decided to shut off my control panel. This was in spite of the fact I'd regularly paid upfront for two years at a time and been a customer for the best part of a decade. But more relevant to the hosting world, were the online reviews I'd found of this particular outfit. These didn't just suggest that I'd chosen a bad hoster but that I'd unfortunately managed to sign up with the worst company currently in business.

So I decided to not renew my contract which was due at the April. I got in touch with their tech support to make sure that they wouldn't renew me, after which they promptly killed my hosting, again despite the fact I was paid up until the end of the month. Maybe these online reviews had a point. I'd only been happy with the firm as along as I hadn't needed anything that wasn't automated. And there-in lies the problem, customer support seems to be the Achiles heels of the hosting universe. But the worst was yet to come.

Rubbish is as rubbish does

My next step was to find myself a replacement package. I was in fact willing to spend more to get a small business package rather than rely on a 'hobby-level' product. However, once I started researching hosting companies online I came to the conclusion that they are ALL rubbish. Every time I thought I'd found a reliable firm with a good product I'd then run into a review site which would recount many tales of woe about how hard it was to get problems sorted and how awful the technical support was. Big names, small names, old favourites, and new start-ups would all soon be the subject of a stream of vitriolic reviews.

Now the world wide web is full of negative reviews for products, or more often inappropriate reviews that complain about things that are nothing to really do with the product, along with an unfairly harsh one star. One classic example was a coffee machine for sale on Amazon where customers had written negative reviews about how the machine would spray hot water when in use. Sadly this all came down to them not bothering to read the manual and insert the included plastic piece whose sole aim was to prevent such a thing happening. Idiots misusing a product are something that any purchaser needs to be able to vet out of any reviews page. The big problem is when trust in the whole review system is compromised.

Lost trust

The pattern I started to see is that not only did most of the negative reviews seem well written and eloquent at describing the technical pains that they'd gone through but sooner or later someone would call into question the validity of the positive reviews. "Ignore all the previous positive reviews. They are fake. These guys are the worst hosters ever." That's a typical example of the kind of comment I'd run into. This would now leave me feeling like that there was nowhere to turn.

Of course every company would have dissatisfied customers, that's to be expected in any industry, but hadn't we reached the cloud nirvana of computing as a service. You can buy data centres which turn up pre-configured in a cargo container and all you need to do is flick the switch. Hardware really shouldn't be a problem for a hosting firm, so surely they can concentrate on keeping their customers happy by providing good support?

Not so. It appears more like an industry where there are now so many players, offering essentially similar products for similar prices, that maybe they just accept that there's an element of churn. Yes, some customers will get frustrated and move on, but there are plenty more fish in the sea.

PR problems?

Or perhaps there's the issue of poor PR. Maybe the problems encountered could be exaggerated and the poor hosting firms haven't successfully mounted a comeback of their own to refute the steadily increasing pile of allegations. A negative review in cyberspace will live forever and if people aren't passionate to write positive ones then a very skewed world appears. It's like trying to work out whether it's safe to go shopping having only ever been allowed to watch Crimewatch on TV. You'd never leave the house again.

I reckon that there ARE good, reliable hosting firms out there, but until I can figure out a way of ascertaining which ones are good and which are best to steer clear of then I guess I'll have to stick to borrowing space on a friend's website. I wonder, how many other people are suffering the same level of indecision? Can the hosting companies please help?

Have you suffered with your web hoster? Have you been left feeling like there's nowhere left to turn? Or maybe you believe I've been too hard on the industry? Don't be shy, get in touch. Email me here: jon@orangemouse.co.uk