Category Archives: Data

The Case for Regulatory Capture at ICANN

ICANN, which regulates the domain name system, is reviewing the renewal of the .ORG registry contract with Public Interest Registry (PIR). It's also running an identical process for .BIZ/INFO/ASIA, but they are of less concern to most people and don't have the long history of existing pre-ICANN that .org does. The proposal was already discussed between PIR and ICANN staff before being put out for comment from stakeholders. This alone is worrisome that the contract is negotiated behind closed doors and without input beforehand.

ICANN's stated goal is bringing the .ORG contract in alignment with the new gTLD base contract; the contract which is used for the hundreds of new extensions released over the past few years. The justification for this is that it's simply easier to manage administratively ("better conform with the base registry agreement") and to treat registry operators equitably between new and legacy gTLDs.

For review, they stated there are 6 material differences from the original contract. The ones that caused the most concern were

  • Removing the price cap provisions
  • Adding Uniform Rapid Suspension (URS) system, the Trademark Post-Delegation Dispute Resolution Procedure (PDDRP), and the Registration Restrictions Dispute Resolution Procedure (RRDRP).
  • The Registry Operator has adopted the public interest commitments and applicability of the Public Interest Commitment Dispute Resolution Process (PICDRP)

I will focus on the biggest issue, removing price caps. The other two issues are well addressed in a statement from the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) and Domain Name Rights Coalition (DNRC) here. To summarize the EFF/DNRC position, URS was designed for new gTLDs and it's not conclusive that it has even been effective. It shouldn't be applied to legacy TLDs like .org for no apparent reason beyond contract standardization. The public interest commitments are turning registries into censorship organizations which goes against ICANN's mission.

ICANN's Russ Weinstein released their own summary report. It picks out some influential and known groups' comments. The EFF/DNRC, along with multiple ICANN groups (Business Constituency, At-Large Advisory Committee, Non-Commercial Stakeholders Group, Intellectual Property Constituency, Registrar Stakeholder Group), National Council of Non Profits, Internet Commerce Association, and a few others.

One of the biggest comments missing is the joint comment against removing price caps from NPR, YMCA, C-SPAN, National Geographic Society, AARP, The Conversation Fund, Oceana and National Trust for Historic Preservation.

What is also missing is a deeper look into the comments made. They say over 3,200 comments were received. They picked two comments in favor of removing price caps. There were ten comments mentioned that were in against it for various reasons. It appears clear that more people were against it for a variety of reasons.

But is the ratio really 2:10 in favor:against?

I collected all the comments and analyzed them for discussion about the price caps/protection. I used Mechanical Turk to categorize the vast majority, investigating when the multiple readers couldn't make sense. Full details about how I collected this data will be available in a separate article soon. Long story short, each comment was read by two different individual users in either US/UK/Australia/Canada with over 100 jobs completed and 95% accuracy on the Mechanical Turk platform to make sure they were experienced and based in countries with a native understanding of English.

The outcome was 3252 (98.1%) of people were against removing price caps or giving .ORG the ability to increase pricing. 57 (1.72%) Comments weren't processed for one reason or another (empty emails, foreign languages, unclear what position was being taken, no position on price, comments were attached PDFs, etc). I could only find six (0.02%) comments in favor of the proposed changes out of thousands.

It's overwhelming that nearly everyone is against these changes.

Who is in favor of removing price caps?

Since there are so few comments in favor, I can look at each of them.

"Increased competition and choice has been a major benefit for consumers in
the TLD market. Moving the .org legacy TLD to a new TLD contractual
agreement is also an opportunity to move to more market-based pricing in the domain name space and away from arbitrary price caps. As Makan
Delrahim, head of the Department of Justice’s Antitrust Division, recently
stated, antitrust is there to “support reducing regulation, by encouraging
competitive markets that, as a result, require less government
intervention.” While ICANN is not a regulator, it has had its contracts
reviewed by the DOJ’s antitrust division, which concluded that only .com
had market power in the domain space.

Allowing .org and future domain names to move to market-based pricing makes
sense with today’s healthy TLD market, which is populated with many choices
for consumers to choose from. The .org domain name is well known as one of
the first TLDs in the market available for public registration, but it
still only holds 5.5 percent market share, with just over 10 million names
in the .org space compared to almost 140 million domain names and 75
percent market share for .com."

- Shane Tews / Logan Circle Strategies / American Enterprise Institute

Who is Shane Tews? According to her LinkedIn. Shane was formerly Vice President of Global Public Policy and Government Relations for Verisign, Inc. Her job was to: "Represent Verisign’s interest before United States and International government officials in the Information Communications and Technology Sector. Responsible for the strategic planning and daily management of the Policy and Government Relations efforts for VeriSign globally. Participate in the development of e-commerce policies with International governing bodies, National and State Legislators, International, National and Regional trade associations and Information Technology coalitions. Manage Internet infrastructure, e-commerce, tax, telecommunications, privacy, content, and domain name, and Information Technology regulatory issues. Coordinate Relationship building efforts using third-party coalitions to target audiences to inform and direct interests in Verisign’s issue areas. Disseminate legislative and regulatory and international directive information to Corporate Executives and business unit managers. Direct all political activity. Oversee the daily operation of the VeriSign Political Action Committee and all political fundraising." So she used to represent VeriSign's interests and direct their political and lobby activities. She's in favor of removing price caps for a registry and allowing free market policies that VeriSign has the strongest financial incentive to push for of any registry in existence with it's .com monopoly. Shane also worked at Vrge (just a note for later).

"Given the BC’s established position that ICANN should not be a price regulator, and considering that .ORG and .INFO are adopting RPMs and other registrant provisions we favor, the BC supports broader implementation of the Base Registry Agreement, including removal of price controls.

...

We recommend that whenever price caps are removed, it is important for contracted parties to responsibly keep prices at reasonable levels, to maintain consumer trust and to ensure price predictability for their existing and prospective registrants. It would negatively affect business registrants if contracted parties were to take undue advantage of this greater flexibility by substantially increasing renewal prices for an existing registrant who has significantly committed to its domain name. We therefore urge ICANN and contract parties to ensure domain prices are predictable and within the parameters of the renewal agreement, in order to demonstrate that the removal of price caps was aprudent policy approach. "

- Steve DelBianco / ICANN Business Constituency Drafted with Mark Datysgeld, and Andrew Mack

"The Business Constituency (BC) is the voice of commercial Internet users within ICANN." according to their website. So who is Steve DelBianco? Steve represents NetChoice, a lobbying organization that counts VeriSign as a member. Digging through their 990 they work with Vrge (a strategy/lobbying group) where our friend Shane worked where they spent $255,000 in 2015 (overlapping Shane's tenure) and $150,000 in 2017. The organization lists Jonathan Zuck as a board member (remember his name). Steve DelBianco has been lobbying for VeriSign since as far back as 2007 that I found via NetChoice which pays him $400,000/year according to 2017 filings to do so.

I didn't find much about Mark Datysgeld.

Andrew Mack runs a company called AM Global which lists Public Interest Registry (PIR) as a client.

So representing all business interests at ICANN on this issue are two guys who lobby and represent for the registry operators VeriSign/PIR. If Business Constituency means Registry Businesses, they are doing a good job. It appears that constituency is captured by registry interests.

"I think this is a good idea. Something needs to be done to stop Domain name squatters siting on good names for years and demanding outrageous sums for their release and sale. vastly increasing the prices of domains would go a long way to stopping this practice."

- Martin Houlden

Martin appears to be a web developer in England and his a gripe about speculation and thinks raising prices may solve the issue.

"Proposed price hike for .org

Stop trying to regulate everything under the sun. Leave the free market of
product and services alone."

- Rac Man Radio

It seems to be a deregulation argument but the subject 'Proposed price hike for .org' phrasing hints at not appreciating increasing prices. Could very well be against removing price caps.

"I wholeheartedly agree with you, this should be taken in place."

- Timotej Leginus

Not really clear which parts of things he is agreeing with, but it was an agreement, so it was categorized in favor.

"Raise prices on .ORG!!!

Based on my research, you should raise prices on dotORG domains to $1000/yr and only allow emoji."

- Jon Roig

I think it's pretty apparent this is sarcasm.

Who is for removing price caps?

VeriSign. PIR. And one guy who thinks removing price caps will reduce speculation.

Not only is there virtually no support for this policy, the only people making any argument in favor of removing price caps have captured an ICANN constituency to do it, one that is supposed to represent business interests broadly (not registry interests).

Who Represents Us?

"The At-Large Advisory Committee (ALAC) is the primary organizational home for the voice and concerns of the individual Internet user."

So the average internet user is being represented at ICANN and they issued a statement.

It's at best a wishy-washy here are the two sides argument. The argument in favor of price caps they present:

"Price caps were deliberately instituted in recognition of such first-to-market advantage as the means to prevent foreseeable abuse in pricing of domain name registration renewals on existing registrants. It could be said that once a registrant has registered a domain name and invested resources to build a web presence around the same, the cost of switching that presence onto another domain name could well be significant. Further, in the case of the .org TLD, many registrants rely on their example.org domain names to signify their not-for-profit status, in very much the same way entities in many jurisdictions are obliged to carry suffixes in their names as the means of whether they are publicly-traded companies or privately-held ones.8 (It is also not inconceivable that newly-established not-for-profit organizations would want a .ORG domain name upon which to build their web presence, so the proposition of availability of choice to switch falters with these entities.)
Thus without price caps in place, certain registrants of domain names under these 3 TLDs may foreseeably have no reasonable recourse against their respective registrars/Registry Operators’ action in instituting immediate unrestrained price increases in domain name registrations and/or renewals (as the case may be). "

The argument against price caps:

"On the other hand, while seemly counterintuitive, price increases could be a positive development in the DNS space from the broader end-user perspective. It has been suggested that price caps suppress prices to a point that makes it difficult for new entrants to compete in the TLD space and thus removal of price caps is likely to be good for competition. Price caps also obscure the true value of a domain name and allows the perpetuation of their treatment as commodities, where artificially low prices of domain names keeps the door open to “abuse” – such as confusingly similar strings, typo squatting, phishing and fraud – in detriment to Internet end-users. Hence the removal of price caps is seen by some as a strategic move to boost prices as one way to deter bad actors, even portfolio domain investors, which in turn would increase choices in the primary market for potential registrants. So, while complex economic analysis is well beyond the scope of this comment, an increase in the median price of gTLDs could be good for competition, security and trust in the domain name space.
Also, uncapped pricing may or may not automatically translate to significant price increases, unreasonable increases, pricing beyond the current cap or for that matter any price increases across the board or in any particular TLD.
The ALAC and At-Large have a particular interest in .ORG, due to its connection to the Internet Society. As noted in ALAC’s .NET comment, a significant portion of .ORG registration fees “are returned to serve the Internet community [through] redistribution of .org funds into the community by the Internet Society, to support Internet development.” Notably, this includes support for the IETF, an “organized activity” of the Internet Society (ISOC). The IETF is a critical organization in the development, safety, security, and resiliency of the Internet and the DNS. Furthermore, ISOC’s goals and priorities, while far broader than At-Large (and even ICANN), parallel those of At-Large and the interests of end-users. Many At-Large Structures are also ISOC Chapters, further demonstrating the commonality of interests.
When considering this issue in the context of the .ORG renewal, it is important to note that Public Interest Registry (PIR) has not increased rates at all over the last three years, even though it had the right to increase prices cumulatively by more than 30% during that time period. It is our understanding that when PIR has contemplated an increase in .ORG pricing, the matter has been discussed thoroughly by the Board, which analyzed the pros and cons, taking into account the potential benefits, the impact on the market, and the impact on the image of PIR. "

The argument to get rid of price caps, opens with saying the logic is seemingly counter intuitive; this is because it doesn't make sense or hold up to any real scrutiny. .ORG operates as a monopoly for non profit organizations, there aren't new entrants. The 'competition' from new gTLDs isn't real, millions of non profits are already locked into their brands and websites. .ORG is a utility, price capped and running as a monopoly, with no reason to uncap it beyond greed. There is no evidence showing that legacy TLD prices are in any way related to abuse. In fact, there is evidence quite to the contrary that the new gTLDs are causing the most abuse (source). This is scaremongering and a meritless argument. The argument that increased prices reduce bad actors only to be followed by arguing that PIR isn't interested in raising prices is nonsensical and conflicting. Furthermore, instead of acknowledging the blatant conflict of internet that many Internet Society chapters are involved with ALAC and that the PIR's profits go to the Internet Society, they argue that this is in the best interest of everyone. This is the fox watching the hen house saying foxes watching hen houses is a good idea. Finally, they argue that PIR is a good faith actor because they haven't raised prices at every opportunity in the past three years. What this ignores is the fact they've raised prices above .com already which VeriSign charges $7.85.

Here is a table of registry prices since 2003:

.ORG Price (% Increase) .COM Price (% Increase)
2003 $6.00 $6.00
10/15/07 $6.15 (2.5%) $6.42 (7%)
03/04/08 $6.86 (7%)
11/09/08 $6.75 (~10%)
12/17/09 $7.34 (7%)
04/01/11 $7.21 (~7%)
01/15/12 $7.85 (7%)
07/01/12 $7.45 (~3.5%)
07/01/13 $8.00 (~7%)
07/31/15 $8.80 (10%)
08/01/16 $9.68 (10%)
Current $9.68 $7.85

" there is no particular reason to believe that PIR will engage in excessive price increases; rather, there are substantial reasons to believe that PIR will consider the public interest and act in a measured and prudent fashion when it considers possible price increases."

PIR has raised prices on non profits higher than VeriSign has on .COM because it was allowed to. VeriSign has had price caps built into the contract and raised them the maximum 7% at every opportunity. PIR raised prices more than VeriSign because their price cap constraints allowed them to. Just because they haven't raised them in the past couple years doesn't change history and facts. Based on the pricing above .COM, it says PIR see's an opportunity to make more profit by raising prices on non profits who are locked in and won't switch to .COM or other gTLDs. They did this before the rush of new gTLDs, which means they understand their monopoly power over non profits and have continued to grow despite .com being cheaper.

If we read further down the statement we reach this:

"Contrastingly, the .BIZ and .INFO TLDs are operated by for-profit registries (i.e. Registry Services, LLC and Afilias Limited, respectively). It is not entirely clear how often and how much the Registry Operators for the .BIZ and .INFO TLDs have raised their prices in the past, and it is unknown how often or how much they will do so in the future. (If the price caps were to be removed for .ORG, .BIZ and .INFO under the call for “standardization”, then it is foreseeable that the .com and .net TLDs (both run by Verisign as registry operator) would also lose their price caps at some point, and there is no way to tell whether Verisign would then increase prices significantly or how often it would do so, even with the knowledge of them having instituted the full 10% annual price increase each year for .NET since at least 2005)."

First off, the people representing ALAC cannot figure out how often prices have been increased before making a statement on price caps? That alone is an embarrassing lack of knowledge when writing about the impact of price caps and talking about actions of registry operators.

The end game is written here though, price cap removal on com/net for VeriSign. Let's be clear, this is the ultimate goal.

The ALAC statement concludes,

"So, we are essentially grappling with competing considerations and uncertainties. After balancing the same, we do not find support for a particular position regarding the removal of price caps."

Given that the statement was written primarily by Internet Society members whose organization would stand to benefit most from removed price caps, it's suspect at best that they cannot pick a side.

Who is behind the statement?

Written originally by Greg Shatan, later with help from Justine Chew and Judith Hellerstein. Some sort of involvement from the Chair of the ALAC Committee, Maureen Hilyard.

Greg Shatan is the President of the Internet Society NY Chapter. Judith Hellerstein is the Director of the Washington DC chapter of the Internet Society. Maureen Hilyard is a board member and used to Chair the board of the Pacific Islands Chapter of the Internet Society.

Here is what Greg Shatan wrote about the thousands of email comments submitted,

"I would not place much weight on the slew of comments sent in on .ORG (and
others). Many of these are “cut-and-paste” comments with identical text.
Others are one-liners. Some are quite ill-informed (one commenter thought
they would have to pay the RO quarterly fee, others have thought that PIR
is a for-profit organization, etc., etc.).

I assume that some commenters sincerely felt threatened. But was this a
credible, well-founded or well-informed fear, or just a trip through a
fun-house designed to get a rise out of the commenters? A great number of
these comments are the direct result of a well-orchestrated campaign, rife
with overblown statements and catastrophic worst-case scenarios. In the
absence of other information, such campaigns can be quite effective in
fomenting fear and then harnessing that fear in order to flood a comments
period. We’ve seen this before. If you wind people up, you can get a lot
of them to go in the direction you want.

It might be too generous to say that “some lobby groups” are behind this.
It appears to be one. A Google search revealed the “engine” used to
generate all of those identical comments, complete with four pre-loaded
variations, and cleverly engineered so that the comment will come from the
sender’s own email account and not from the “engine.” The page is here:
https://www.internetcommerce.org/comment-org/. There are multiple links
from other pages, blogs, social media accounts, etc., to this resource.

These campaigns can reach out in many directions, in different places and
in different guises. It can take a great deal of discernment to recognize
them for what they are and to resist them. I hope that the CPWG
collectively can be discerning." - Greg Shatan

Greg Shatan disregards at a minimum 98% of all the opinions expressed and thinks it's best to represent the PIR and VeriSign connected lobbyists and organizations. Discerning means ignoring the public internet and serving the interests of the registries and those who profit from them (Internet Society, of which he is a member).

This person represented ALAC on the matter as pen holder, which is supposed to represent the concerns and voices of the individual internet user. He has openly said he doesn't believe what internet users are saying and wants to resist them.

What happened when you claim an organization is captured?

Apparently it's insulting and a violation of ICANN code of conduct. The person who found this most offensive was Jonathan Zuck, a (former?) board member at NetChoice, the same organization Steve DelBianco operates which is a VeriSign lobby group. Jonathan was heavily involved in the discussion about the ALAC statement. Jonathan has a long history of lobbying and was described in Wikileaks for,

"This file is an edited version of the EU OSS Strategy draft with the input of Jonathan Zuck, President of the Association for Competitive Technology, an organisation that has strong ties with Microsoft.

The file is a draft for an expert panel formed by the European Commission. This panel is divided into workgroup (IPR, Open Source, digital life, etc.) ACT and Comptia have been infiltrating every workgroup, even the one on Open Source (WG 7). They are doing the best they can to drown any initiative that would not only promote OSS in Europe but also that could help Europe create a sucessful European software sector." (source)

Does this sound familiar? Infiltrating every working group to push the interests of an organization. Jonathan is Co-chair, At-large Consolidated Policy Working Group, so he worked closely in writing the ALAC statement. He has strong ties to VeriSign which are disclosed.

Conclusion

The public interest is at best being represented, in majority, by people tied up in potential conflicts of interest in the given matter. At worst, it looks like special interest groups for VeriSign and The Internet Society(ISOC)/Public Interest Registry have captured multiple groups at ICANN and are trying to use it to line their organizations' pockets.

This appears to be a case study in regulatory capture. Beyond public outcry, there appears to be very little stopping ICANN from simply pushing through these contracts despite overwhelming evidence that the average internet user isn't in favor of these changes. There is virtually no meaningful argument in favor of removing price caps, unless you accept that it would be administratively easier for an organization with hundreds of millions of dollars in the bank. There is a bizarre free market argument that falls apart when you realize the cost of lock-ins for using a domain name and creating a web presence on any domain. .ORG is a thirty million dollar subsidy to the Internet Society (via PIR) which outsources, via competitive bid, the actual registry services. And they want the ability to charge more, at the expense of every other non profit. Their interests strongly align with VeriSign, who most likely see .ORG as the last hurdle before getting .COM and .NET to have price caps removed and increase their bottom line even more in their non competitive monopoly contract.

The only step left before these changes go into effect, that I am aware of, is board approval. I think it probably will go through unless there is a tremendous amount of attention brought to the issue. I'm not only concerned about price caps on .ORG, but structurally the only people who can invest so much time and money participating in ICANN are the organizations which stand to financially gain the most. Who is representing the public interest? Registry groups appear to have a strong voice within the ICANN community. Finally, I also worry about potential conflicts of interest at the board level, which has twenty members. Five ICANN board members were or are connected to ISOC (1,2,3,4,5). One is a former board member of PIR as well. I hope they recognize their responsibility to do what is right for everyone and not the select few registry operators in this instance.

Ethics and One Tweet’s Impact on Digital Ocean

I am speaking at HostCamp (side event to WordCamp Europe) in a couple weeks on the topic of Ethics in WordPress Hosting. I'm not really sure WordPress hosting has any specific differences from web hosting in general when talking about ethics. But ethical behavior in the web hosting space is something I talk about a lot. I also aggressively call out people/companies behaving unethically on this blog in the web hosting space. [1] [2] [3] [4]

As I was writing a response to a short interview to introduce the topic, I tried to think about a relevant example of why ethics matter in web hosting. A very recent event jumped to mind, someone tweeting that Digital Ocean [Reviews] shut down their company.

This tweet was sent by @w3Nicolas.

The stats are staggering:

That's only in the communities I participate in, I was sent the link by multiple people in other groups as well. I'm sure tens of thousands of people, if not more, read about this incident.

 

This is a view into what that tweet did to Digital Ocean's data here on Review Signal (I track Twitter data and sentiment about web hosting companies for the unfamiliar). I pulled the past 30 days of Digital Ocean information.

The tweet was sent on May 31, the 4th data point. We see an enormous jump in tweet volume. The preceding days had an average of 248 tweets per day. May 31 had 2000 and June 1 had 2489 tweets, nearly 10X the normal volume for two days. By June 4, we're down to 274 tweets, a normal volume. The internet outrage machine was out in force and spreading the word.

Digital Ocean responded on Twitter with Moisey Uretsky, a cofounder, intervening to escalate and resolve the issue. Digital Ocean also released a post-mortem on June 4 about what happened as promised (Nice to see a company keep their word and admit mistakes).

What does this have to do with Ethics?

Why did I even write this story and what does it have to do with ethics? The question I was trying to answer when I started thinking about this incident and digging into the data is "Why should hosting companies and those who do business with them care about ethics?"

A lot of developers and entrepreneurs read a story about a guy who was shutdown without warning, and then locked out seemingly permanently without being treated fairly. It strikes a chord with people when someone is being treated wrongly/badly with no explanation, especially when it's their livelihood that is impacted. It violates a fundamental moral code of fairness and trust.

The impact for a perceived ethical violation in this case was tens of thousands of people reading a negative story. It generated heated discussions and some very negative comments.

My data showed a tremendous increase in negative messages with the ratio dropping to 34% (Digital Ocean has historically over 70% positive messages).

They were quick to jump into some of the communities and address the issue. The post-mortem on Twitter received 225 Likes and 62 Retweets. That's 2.4% the amount of retweets and 4.9% the Likes. The impact of addressing the issue and trying to improve made a tiny fraction of the impact.

I will be clear here, I don't think Digital Ocean acted maliciously or unethically (intentionally). It sounds like a combination of automated system and a couple human mistakes lead to a very bad outcome for a customer that attracted a lot of attention. The way it was portrayed evoked feelings of an ethical violation of fairness and trust.

Digital Ocean's post-mortem's conclusion:

We wanted to share the specific details around this incident as accurately and quickly as possible to give the community insight into what happened and how we handled it. We recognize the impact this had on a customer, and how this represented a breach of trust for the community, and for that we are deeply sorry. We have a number of takeaways to improve the technical, process, and people missteps that led to this failure. The entire team at DigitalOcean values and remains committed to the global community of developers.

So when companies think about how they should behave, I want to use this example as an argument that people do care about companies behaving ethically and awareness of their behavior can quickly be amplified when a person's story resonates.

The Sinking of Site5 – Tracking EIG Brands Post Acquisition

"You'll notice their ratings, in general, are not very good with Site5 (their most recent acquisition) being the exception. iPage was acquired before I started tracking data. BlueHost/HostMonster also had a decline, although the data doesn't start pre-acquisition. JustHost collapses post acquisition. NetFirms has remained consistently mediocre. HostGator collapses with a major outage a year after acquisition. Arvixe collapses a year after being acquired. Site5 is still very recent and hasn't shown any signs of decline yet." - The Rise and Fall of A Small Orange, January 2016

Review Signal Rating Calculated Pos/(Pos+Neg), without duplicate filtering

Review Signal Rating Calculated Pos/(Pos+Neg), without duplicate filtering (January 2016)

That's what I wrote at the beginning of 2016 as I watched A Small Orange's rating collapse in a pretty popular post called The Rise and Fall of A Small Orange, which documented ASO's Rise and Fall, but also the fall of many EIG brands. One thing I mentioned was the recent acquisition of Site5 (and Verio) which had a fairly good rating on Review Signal at the time of acquisition. The trend seemed to be roughly a year to see the drop in rating, post acquisition.

Site5 ~ 1 Year Later

The acquisition of Site5 was announced August 2015. Here's the updated EIG brand tracking graph. One thing to note, this now uses the new rating algorithm which has a built in decay function to weight older reviews less. So the new graph uses the new algorithm but calculating each point in time as if it always used it. There will be some differences between it and the original graph (which prompted the change in algorithm). It's minimal for most brands, only when there is a major change in sentiment, it shows a change more quickly. Full details about the change can be read on Review Signal Ranking Algorithm Update.

eig_brand_review_signal_ratings_2016

What you can see is the reputation remained relatively stable until about April 2016 and then started a slow but steady decline where it has dipped below 50% for the first time recently. As with nearly every brand, except A Small Orange, the decline happened within a year.

Since the original post there also hasn't been much movement in any other brands beyond Site5 crashing and A Small Orange continuing to slide downward. Verio didn't see a dip post-acquisition, but it had a pretty low rating to start with that put it in the bottom half of EIG brand ratings already.

Why Do EIG Brands Go Down Post Acquisition?

The longer I am in this industry, the more stories I hear. A Small Orange was such an interesting exception and I've heard a lot about it from a lot of people. It's relative independence and keeping the staff seemed to be the key to maintaining a good brand even within the EIG conglomerate.

Site5 offers what I imagine is more business-as-usual in the EIG world. Cut staff, migrate to EIG  and maximize profit (in the short term). Site5's founder, Ben, reached out to a competitor, SiteGround, and arranged for them to hire a large number of Site5 staff that EIG had no plans on keeping according to SiteGround's blog. A very classy move from the former CEO and a seeming win for SiteGround, one of EIG's larger hosting competitors. I also saw similar behavior of long time staff all leaving when A Small Orange started to go downhill and staff from other EIG brands showed up.

Beyond simply trying to cut costs, you have to wonder why would you spend all that money acquiring these brands that have lots of customers, good reputations and talented staff that obviously are keeping the operation running successfully only to get rid of nearly all of that except the customers. But once you gut the staff, it seems like the customers notice, because it certainly shows up in the data I track.

Conveniently, EIG just published their Q3 2016 10-Q.

We have certain hosting and other brands to which we no longer allocate significant marketing or other funds. These brands generally have healthy free cash flow, but we do not consider them strategic or growth priorities. Subscriber counts for these non-strategic brands are decreasing. While our more strategic brands, in the aggregate, showed net subscriber adds during the quarter ended September 30, 2016, the net subscriber losses in non-strategic brands and certain gateway brands contributed to a decrease in our total subscribers of approximately 42,000 during the quarter. We expect that total subscribers will continue to decrease in the near term.

Overall, our core hosting and web presence business showed relatively slow revenue and subscriber growth during the first nine months of 2016. We believe that this is due to flat marketing expenditures relative to 2015 levels on this business in the first half of 2016 as a result of our focus on gateway products during that period, and to trends in the competitive landscape, including greater competition for referral sources and an increasing trend among consumers to search for web presence and marketing solutions using brand-related search terms rather than generic search terms such as “shared hosting” or “website builder”. We believe this trend assists competitors who have focused more heavily than we have on building consumer awareness of their brand, and that it has made it more challenging and more expensive for us to attract new subscribers. In order to address this trend, during the third quarter of 2016, we began to allocate additional marketing investment to a subset of our hosting brands, including our largest brands, Bluehost.com, HostGator and iPage. We plan to continue this increased level of marketing investment in the near term, and are evaluating different marketing strategies aimed at increasing brand awareness.

So the result of their current strategy this past quarter has been a net loss of 42,000 customers. They say their strategic brands on aggregate had a net subscriber increase and named the largest ones (BlueHost, HostGator, iPage) and they are going to focus on a subset of brands going forward. But the phrasing would seem to imply that some of the strategic brands experienced losses as well. It also means that the non-strategic brands lost more than 42,000 customers and pulled down the net subscribers to -42,000 customers last quarter.

The cap it all off, I got one of the most surprising emails from Site5 a couple days ago.

We wanted to let you know that we’ve decided to terminate the Site5 Affiliate program as of November 30th, 2016.

We want to thank you for your support of Site5, especially during our most recent move into Impact Radius, and we hope that you’ll consider promoting another one of Endurance’s other programs.

I guess Site5 isn't being considered a strategic brand if they are killing off the affiliate channel on it entirely, right after a big migration from Site5's custom affiliate program to Impact Radius. They also asked that affiliates promote HostGator now, which certainly fits in the strategic brand category.

It's extremely disappointing to see this trend continue of brands collapsing after a year in EIG's hands. What will be interesting going forward is that EIG hasn't acquired any new hosting brands for a while. They seem to be focused on their existing brands for now. I wonder if that will mean we will see any noticeable positive change or improvements in existing brands (or at least some of the strategic brands).

The Rise and Fall of A Small Orange

If you're an unhappy A Small Orange customer looking to find a better web host and don't want to read why the quality went down, simply head over to our Web Hosting Reviews and find a better hosting company. 

How did a small web hosting company have such a huge impact on Review Signal?

The Early Days

This story begins in October 2011, a year before Review Signal launched. Review Signal had been collecting data for months and early ratings data was starting to become meaningful. A tiny company was at the top of the rankings. A Small Orange.

The most worrisome part of this revelation was that A Small Orange did not have an affiliate program. Which isn't a requirement at all for a listing on Review Signal.

However, after investing years of work, if the top rated company ended up not having an affiliate program, the business was likely sunk before it even started. So I inquired early and heard back from the CEO at the time, “we don't have an affiliate program and at the moment, we have no plans for one.” This was a potential death knell because the entire business model relies on making at least some money, even though I assumed it would be much lower than my competitors who simply sell their rankings to the highest bidder. But as any entrepreneur knows, almost everything is negotiable if you understand what the other person really wants and why. After talking further with the CEO, he explained his issue with web hosting review websites, “they typically have a pay for ranking sort of model and do it either through set rates or affiliate payouts. It varies. The economics at ASO don't really work out for a standard affiliate program.” A Small Orange didn't want to play the game that every other review site out there did. Pay to play, quality be damned.

This CEO hated the games being played as much as I did.

That was all the opportunity I needed. Review Signal's mission has been to fight against that very same model and I knew I had an early ally who could make this work. We ended up working out a deal to pay three months of whatever plan someone purchased and he put a cap on my potential earnings at $250 before he would review the performance. Considering the most popular plans were $25/year and $5/month, this wasn't going to earn a lot, but at least it might start covering some of the very basic costs. The first month I earned $52.38 on 6 sales for an average of $8.73 per sale with A Small Orange.
At least it was something. And a foot in the door was all I needed to prove this crazy idea called Review Signal might have some legs. A Small Orange opened that door and for that our histories will forever be intertwined.

The Good Times

The next few years were very good. I was their first affiliate. I was their biggest affiliate for many years, bringing in over a thousand new customers. I got to know many of the staff and would consider some of them friends. And A Small Orange continued to be the best rated shared hosting company through 2014. Everyone was happy - their customers, the company and Review Signal. I was happy to recommend them based on the data showing they had incredibly satisfied customers. I had people tell me personally they were very happy with them after signing up because of the data I publish here at Review Signal.

2014-01-20 13.34.07

Free Swag and Annual Thank You Card from ASO

The EIG Acquisition

A Small Orange was quietly acquired in 2012. They were acquired by a behemoth in the hosting industry called Endurance International Group (NASDAQ: EIGI) which owns dozens of brands including some of the largest and most well known hosting companies: Blue Host, Host Gator, Host Monster, Just Host, Site5, iPage, Arvixe and more.

EIG has a very bad reputation in the web hosting world. If you ask most industry veterans they will tell you to run to the hills when it comes to EIG. The oft-repeated story is EIG acquires a hosting company, migrates them to their platform and the quality of service falls off a cliff. The best example of this is perhaps their migration to their Provo, UT data-center which had a catastrophic outage in 2013. This outage was huge. The impact dropped four of EIG's largest brands many percentage points in the Review Signal rankings in a single day.  But these major outages continue to happen as recently as November 2015.

In a recent earnings call with share holders, EIG CEO Hari Ravichandran talked about two recent acquisitions and their plans for them. “We expect to manage these businesses at breakeven to marginally profitable for the rest of the year as we migrate their subscriber bases onto our back-end platform. Once on platform, we expect to reach favorable economics and adjusted EBITDA contribution consistent with our previous framework for realizing synergies from acquisitions.”

The EIG Playbook

EIG's playbook has been to acquire web hosting brands, migrate them to their platform and 'reach favorable economics.' They've been doing it for years and it seems to be working well enough for investors to continue to put money into the company. M&A to grow subscriber bases and economies of scale to lower costs. It's a very simple and straightforward business plan. It doesn't speak to anything beyond spreadsheet math though, such as brand value and customer loyalty. And those are certainly lowered and lost post-EIG acquisition according to all the data we've collected over years and multiple acquired brands. It's calloused business accounting, but it makes perfect sense in the race to the bottom industry that is commodity shared hosting.

Review Signal Rating Calculated Pos/(Pos+Neg), without duplicate filtering

Review Signal Rating Calculated Pos/(Pos+Neg), without duplicate filtering

You can see all the EIG brands tracked here on Review Signal in the chart above and their acquisition dates below:

iPage - 2009. BlueHost/HostMonster - 2010. JustHost - Feb 2011. NetFirms - March 2011. HostGator - June 2012. A Small Orange  - July 2012. Arvixe - November 2014. Site5 - August 2015.

You'll notice their ratings, in general, are not very good with Site5 (their most recent acquisition) being the exception. iPage was acquired before I started tracking data. BlueHost/HostMonster also had a decline, although the data doesn't start pre-acquisition. JustHost collapses post acquisition. NetFirms has remained consistently mediocre. HostGator collapses with a major outage a year after acquisition. Arvixe collapses a year after being acquired. Site5 is still very recent and hasn't shown any signs of decline yet.

The Expected Decline of A Small Orange

So nearly every industry veteran I talked to expected A Small Orange to collapse. Immediately after acquisition. Except me. I was, am and will continue to be willing to give the benefit of the doubt to a company until I am shown evidence.

For years, post acquisition people were saying ASO's demise was right around the corner. For years, I still waited for that evidence and the prophecy to become true. But it didn't happen.

It often took EIG less than a year to ruin a brand. We don't have to look further than Arvixe for an example of this, which was acquired in November 2014. Today, Arvixe has one of the lowest ratings of any company on Review Signal at a shockingly low 27%.

But A Small Orange continued to chug along. It didn't hear the naysayers or believe itself to be a victim of the EIG curse. Instead, ASO was the best shared host for years post-acquisition. It seemed to have a fair level of autonomy from the EIG conglomerate. The staff I knew there, remained there, and all indications showed they were still the same company.

Until it wasn't.

The Fall of A Small Orange

A Small Orange Historical Rating

A Small Orange Historical Rating

The chart above shows Review Signal's rating of A Small Orange. The Blue line is the rating as calculated by [Positive Reviews / (Positive Reviews + Negative Reviews)]. The Red line only calculates the rating from the past 12 months of data. It's slightly different than Review Signal's actual calculation because I am not filtering out duplicates for quick analysis. The difference for A Small Orange is that when you remove the duplicates, the year 2015 had a 43% rating indicating there was quite a few people writing multiple negative things about A Small Orange.

Sometime in 2015, the A Small Orange that thousands of people trusted and raved about became another EIG brand. I tried to get the inside story. I reached out to the former CEO who sold the company to EIG and became an executive there for a couple years post acquisition. He reached out on my behalf to EIG's PR team to see if they would participate in this story. Both declined to participate.

So, I'm left to speculate on what happened at A Small Orange based on what's been publicly stated by their CEO and watching their strategy unfold for years across many companies/brands. My best guess is EIG finally got involved with A Small Orange. They used to be a distributed/remote team, now all positions they are hiring for are listed as in Texas (their headquarters). I saw a HostGator representative get moved over to ASO's team, so the internal staff was changing and people were being moved from brands with less than stellar reputations to ASO. The former CEO left mid-2014, which likely left a leadership and responsibility gap. ASO could probably run on auto pilot through the end of 2014, but over time having no champion for your brand in upper management eventually will come back to hurt the brand when decisions get made based on simple economics.

Once 2015 rolled around, the service had noticeably declined. The overall rating for A Small Orange in 2015 was 43% (only using 2015 data). For years, they had been in the 70's. It also ended the year with a massive outage for most, if not all, of their VPS customers which has been going on since Christmas. I personally received multiple messages from users of this site asking about what was happening and alerting me to this decline in service quality.

ASO was also responsible for the Arvixe migration that went very poorly and caused the Arvixe brand to tank. I'm not sure why EIG doesn't have a dedicated migration team to handle these type of moves considering how many acquisitions they go through and how large a role it plays in their growth strategy. But that's a whole separate issue.
It's with great disappointment that I have to admit, the A Small Orange that played such a huge role in the founding and success of Review Signal and provided a great service to many thousands of customers is dead. It's become another hollow EIG brand where the quality has gone down to mediocre levels. And that seems perfectly ok to them, because it's probably more profitable for their bottom line.

Going Forward

This story has had a profound impact on Review Signal. One thing that it made painfully obvious is that the ranking algorithm needs its first update since inception. The current ranking treats every review equally. Which was great when this site launched, because time didn't have any opportunity to be a factor yet. But as this site continues to move forward, I need to acknowledge that a significant amount of time has passed since launch and today. A review from the beginning of Review Signal isn't as relevant as one from this past week in determining the current quality of a web hosting company. A Small Orange right now shows up around 64% which is artificially high because of their long history of good service and it hasn't been brought down yet by the marginally small (by time scale) decline of the past year. But it's painfully clear that it's not a 64% rating company anymore.

Another thing to note is the graphs here all used a simpler calculation [Pos / (Pos + Neg)] to calculate rating without duplicate filtering. What this means is the difference between the rating here and the actual rating on the live site is a measure of the degree people are being positive or negative about a company. If the rating here is higher than the published, it means people are saying on average, more than one good thing about the same company. If the rating is below (as is in most if not all cases here), it means people are are saying more than one negative thing about the company. I'm not sure if this will factor into a new algorithm, but it is something to consider. My intuition says you would see it hinge around 50%, those companies above would likely have more positive supporters, and those below would have detractors.

In the coming months I will try to figure out a better way to generate the ranking number that more fairly represents the current state of a company. My initial thought is to use some sort of time discounting, so that the older the review, the less weight it would carry in the rankings. If anyone has experience working with this or wants to propose/discuss ideas, please reach out - comment here, email me, or tweet @ReviewSignal.

WPPerformanceTester – A WordPress Plugin to Benchmark Server Performance

Everyone who read our most popular blog post, WordPress Hosting Performance Benchmarks may have noticed a new test this year (2015) called WPPerformanceTester. It was something I built during the tests to add a new benchmark to see what the underlying performance of the server the test websites were hosted on. It wasn't hugely meaningful because I had no real basis to compare from except the benchmarks I had just generated. So it really played no role in the actual rankings and outcomes of the testing.

But the vision for it and value has slowly become more apparent. In my testing, Pagely had an unusually slow WordPress benchmark (testing WordPress database functions). It was acknowledged by their team and they have since announced a migration to a newer Amazon technology called Aurora which gave Pagely a 3-4x performance increase.

So without further ado, I'd like to announce WPPerformanceTester is now live on GitHub and licensed under the GPLv3. All problems, errors and issues should be submitted on GitHub.

What Tests Does WPPerformanceTester Run?

  • Math - 100,000 math function tests
  • String Manipulation - 100,000 string manipulation tests
  • Loops - 1,000,000 loop iterations
  • Conditionals - 1,000,000 conditional logic checks
  • MySql (connect, select, version, encode) - basic mysql functions and 1,000,000 ENCODE() iterations
  • $wpdb - 250 insert, select, update and delete operations through $wpdb

Industry Benchmarks

WPPerformanceTester also allows you to see how your server's performance stacks up against our industry benchmark. Our industry benchmark is the average of all submitted test results. After you run WPPerformanceTester, you will have the option to submit the benchmark with or without writing a review of your web host. Please consider submitting without a review so that our benchmark improves. If you feel inclined to write a review, please feel free. They will be published in an upcoming project that ties together many of the projects I've been working on here at Review Signal.

Please Note

WPPerformanceTester is a single node testing tool (if you're running a distributed/clustered system it will not give a complete picture, but only of the servers that execution touches.

Furthermore, WPPerformanceTester is not the be-all and end-all of performance testing or web host quality. Our WordPress Hosting Performance Benchmarks performs a variety of tests and that only gives insight into performance. It doesn't look at customer service quality, pricing, and other important dimensions of a good web hosting service.

WPPerformanceTester should be used as one tool in a performance toolbox. I hope it's valuable and helpful, but please keep in mind the larger picture as well. If you care about service quality, we also maintain the largest web hosting review database. My goal is to cover every aspect, and WPPerformanceTester marks a small step in that direction of being able to give consumers a complete picture of web hosting quality in the WordPress space.

Amazon Giveaway Marketing Results and Advice

Amazon Launched Amazon Giveaway platform one week ago. I immediately thought it would be interesting to try out as a marketing channel. I've never done a giveaway. Although multiple hosting companies have offered to give free plans if I advertise their services; which didn't seem ethical given what we do.

Here's what I learned.

What to Give Away?

The first question is what product would correlate well with the service I'm offering (web hosting reviews). I looked at web hosting books and that was about the only thing related on web hosting on Amazon. But they looked terrible and I wouldn't want one, so why would my audience? So I had to get creative. I decided the easiest thing for me would be flash drives, a very common promotional item. Maybe I could spin a message about backing up your data (I honestly don't think the product selection and message was that good). I think the more tailored the giveaway is to your company the better. If you can giveaway your own product that would be the best.

How Amazon Giveaway Works

Basically, you just browse around Amazon looking for a product that says

setup-amazon-giveaway

Then you choose how you want to run it. There are currently two options. One gives away X items to the first N people who click. The second option gives away X items to the Nth person to click. I think you would be crazy to use option 1 and I'm not sure why it's even an option. So I will pretend everyone is selecting to giveaway an item for every Nth person.

The second setting is whether it's free or you a visitor to follow you on Twitter. I think a Twitter follow should be the default setting. Otherwise you get nothing for your giveaway beyond people looking at the landing page. You have no idea who they are and have no means to contact them again otherwise.

Then you pay for the X items you are giving away (plus shipping).

The giveaway lasts for one week and you get a refund at the end of any unspent money.

The Marketing

How you market your giveaway probably has the biggest impact on how well it does. There's also probably a correlation with the quality of the giveaway and the targeting of it towards the audience you're after.

Our giveaway did the minimal marketing effort. It was posted on our Facebook page once. I also posted it on Twitter with the #AmazonGiveaway hashtag a few times. It was also posted to Reddit /r/AmazonGiveaways. I didn't use any targeted distribution for my audience, so it was the lowest common denominator of marketing.

However, I got really lucky and @Amazon retweeted me.

AmazonReviewSignal

Which caused this:

amazonRTeffect

And this:

amazonRTanalytics

So lots of followers, but definitely no conversions.

 

The Results

reviewsignal-giveaway

I configured my giveaway to be every 500 people wins and I was willing to give 20 of them away. I only gave away 3 and was refunded $244.76.

Amazon also emailed me some basic analytics (which I can't find on the dashboard)

giveaway-analytics

So the net result was I spent $40.24 to get 1854 followers. Of which, 444 unfollowed me within that week. I started with 357 followers, and now have 1767. So roughly 24% of the followers I bought were worthless and I only really got 1410 real new followers. So the total cost per new follower was 2.8 cents.

I was hoping to get in early on a new product and had to guess about a lot of things without anything to go on. Marketing basics still should apply if you're doing a giveaway. You need to market it towards your audience and giveaway something that they are most likely to care about. You also can't expect great results just by doing the bare minimum. I think I got lucky because Amazon retweeted me (which was one of the hopes of jumping in early, getting early press). But it's nothing to bank on.

If I were going to do it again, I would do it very differently. I wouldn't bother with #AmazonGiveaway hashtag and create a landing page specifically for the purpose. I would highlight what I am giving away and also highlight what Review Signal does. I would probably try to capture an email address before giving someone a link to the giveaway. It's more of a barrier, but also would hopefully filter people most interested in my giveaway (which hopefully would be very targeted towards my audience).

TL;DR Lessons:

  • Choose a product relevant to your company/business
  • Market the giveaway in places where your audience/customers are (not just tweeting #AmazonGiveaway)
  • Capturing Twitter followers is a mediocre reward, you should probably build some type of landing page to convert more users before they get the link to the giveaway

 

For the curious, some more analytics screenshots are below

The full analytics from the Tweet Amazon RT'd.

amazonRTfullanalytics

What the whole engagement/analytics looked like over the period from Twitter Analytics:reviewsignaltwitteranalytics

Amazon VS normal tweets with #AmazonGiveaway hashtagreviewsignaltwitteranalyticsamazontweet

What a normal non-giveaway tweet looked like:reviewsignaltwitteranalyticsnonamazon

Post Mortem of the EIG Outage (August 2, 2013) That Affected BlueHost, HostGator, JustHost and HostMonster

I first wrote about EIG's major outage as it was occurring and had to speculate on a few things before I had the data to support those guesses. This post is a more complete picture of what happened.

Recap

EIG had a major outage on August 2, 2013 that lasted for many hours because core switches in their Provo, Utah datacenter failed. This failure caused customers of BlueHost, HostGator, JustHost and HostMonster to be taken offline.

I speculated as to what would occur after the outage. How would the brands of the affected companies be perceived after such a catastrophic failure? I looked for a comparable event: the GoDaddy DNS outage in September 2012. What I observed from that event was a very quick return to normal volumes of messages and sentiment. GoDaddy regressed to the mean. 

GoDaddy

The charts I used in my original post were lacking. I didn't have time to really collect and analyze all the data, especially sentiment. I could eyeball the historical data and see the ratings bounced back to their original levels but it wasn't a granular look.

godaddy_dns_outage_full

This chart shows the actual outage, tweet volume and sentiment. It's immediately clear that negative sentiment has a huge spike. I also suspect that a lot of the positive messages are actually mis-categorized; Review Signal isn't perfect and things like sarcasm are one of the hardest things for the sentiment analysis algorithms to categorize. The unusual volume lasts three days and then quickly drops back to a normal looking pattern with perhaps a slightly higher baseline volume. The actual rating goes back to hovering around 50%, which GoDaddy's long-term graph hovers around as well.godaddy_chart

Let's get back to the EIG outage and the affected brands. I am only going to talk about two of the brands, BlueHost and HostGator, in this post because on a granular level, the other two, HostMonster and JustHost, didn't have enough data. The brands without enough data will take more time to develop a clear picture about the effects of the outage.

BlueHost

bluehost_sentiment

I was wrong. So far at least. BlueHost had an overall rating of 57% before August 2. It hasn't broken 50% since the outage. BlueHost did not, or has not yet, regressed back to the mean. What's interesting is that the volume of tweets about BlueHost's outage was more than double in quantity to the similar GoDaddy outage, but they both quickly dropped back to normal volume within days of the event.

I will explore this a bit more, but to do that I need to show you the other brand.

 HostGator

hostgator_sentiment

HostGator's outage looks almost identical to GoDaddy's outage. Around 1000 negative messages on the day of the outage and back to normal within days. HostGator appears to have regressed to the mean as quickly as GoDaddy, its rating has been over 60% two days, which are pre-crash levels, where its average rating was 62%.  HostGator behaved exactly as I predicted.

Weird Conclusions and Speculations

Why hasn't BlueHost regress to the mean? One explanation, which I was alerted to by a kind reader (Thanks Linda!), is that not all of HostGator's customers were in the Provo, UT data center. So the outage may have disproportionately affected BlueHost customers compared to HostGator customers. BlueHost is also the larger hosting company by number of customers, although not domain count.

That explanation may explain the volume difference, but I don't think it explains the regression to the mean for one brand and not the other. Presumably the affected customers of both brands should be equally upset. Those lingering feelings should last equally long for both groups of customers.

I can't explain why we haven't seen BlueHost regress, but I can point out a few differences between this outage and the GoDaddy comparison which may be factors. One important factor is duration. GoDaddy's outage lasted 4-5 hours according to reports. The EIG outage lasted from the morning of August 2 until 9 PM. They were reporting 'intermittent instability' into August 3 according to their official website.

I could speculate that the combination of severity, duration and size of the affected brand has caused some sort of more permanent brand damage to BlueHost, but I think that's premature. BlueHost hasn't regressed yet, but I still think it will eventually. A company that large, with such a huge brand and marketing infrastructure will probably recover. I will be watching BlueHost carefully for the next few weeks or months along with the smaller brands to see if it happens. If it doesn't, this will be an interesting case study in branding, communication and perhaps social media.

 

Thank you for reading and if you have any ideas, feedback or suggestions please leave them in the comments below.

Service Interrupted: A Look at the EIG (BlueHost, HostGator, HostMonster, JustHost) Outage through Twitter

I woke up today and quickly found out that one of the major players in the hosting space was having a massive outage.  According to their own blog:

During the morning of August 2, 2013, Endurance International Group’s data center in Provo, UT experienced unexpected issues that impacted customers of bluehost, HostGator, HostMonster and JustHost. Company websites and some phone services were affected as well.

That sounds bad. Really bad. But how bad? Let's take a look at the data:

tweets_per_day_by_company

 

It's pretty clear that today was an outlier. A major outlier for all the affected companies.

Our data collection system here at Review Signal collected over 35,000 tweets today alone about these four companies. That is roughly 14 times the normal amount.

Interestingly enough, there are some very understanding customers out there too, it wasn't all negative.

hostgator_positive

 

How has it affected their rankings?

I must first note that most messages don't make it through our spam filtering systems for a variety of reasons. So despite there being over 35,000 tweets, we did not get 35,000 new reviews. Many of the messages were not up to our quality standards, eg. retweets, spam, duplicate messages and news. If you are interested in learning more about how we calculate scores and what kinds of messages count see our How It Works section.

 

BlueHost

I am not sure why, but BlueHost was impacted a lot more than it's bigger brother HostGator. BlueHost has 1.9 million domains on their server. They also received over 15,000 tweets about them today (50% more than HostGator).

BlueHost was rated at 57% (Overall Rating) from over two years worth of data collected. Today they dropped 8% to 49%. There were over 1,500 negative reviews today (Note: Our data was calculated early to write this article, the day isn't fully over yet).

HostGator

HostGator is the largest of the bunch and has 2.15 million domains under management. They seemed to have fared the storm better than their brothers with less tweets about them in absolute number and relative to their size.

HostGator was rated at 62% (Overall Rating) and dropped 5% to 57%. HostGator received approximately 700 negative reviews today.

HostMonster and JustHost

These are the babies of the bunch, HostMonster has 'only' 700,000 domainso and JustHost has barely over 350,000.

HostMonster went from a 56% (Overall Rating) to 48%, which is a 8% decline. JustHost dropped from 46% to 41%, a total of 5%.

Conclusion

Today was a pretty awful day for all the companies above but some were affected more than others. I don't have any answer as to why that might be. There are many plausible theories such as perhaps there were more BlueHost customers in the Provo, UT data center than the other companies. But without further information, it's only speculation. UPDATE: I was told BlueHost actually has more customers than HostGator, even if HostGator customers have more domainers. A simple explanation as to why BlueHost was impacted more.

What I can say is a major screw up definitely impacts a company's reputation. But large companies seem to regress to the mean.

GoDaddy is a good comparison. They had a major DNS outage around September 11-12. It left a noticeable dip on the overall rating but it seemed to bounce back. February's dip is the super bowl effect that brings a lot of attention to them (more negative than positive, but attention nonetheless). The long-term volume of tweets also doesn't appear to be affected after a few days.

godaddy_chart

godaddy_dns_outage

If we use GoDaddy as a benchmark, these companies will probably be back to their usual levels of service within a week, but today and the next couple days will leave a very long term impact on their rating at Review Signal.

What did people say about GoDaddy’s 2013 Super Bowl Ad?

Many of us watched the Super Bowl last night. Some of us even watched only to see the commercials. GoDaddy made a tremendous impact this year. They received 290,000 tweets from the Super Bowl. We here at Review Signal got curious, what did people say about GoDaddy?

(Click to View in Full Size)

image

Where did this data come from?

We used our sample of ~27,000 tweets and found the most popular words used when talking about GoDaddy. The bigger the word(s) the more commonly used they were to describe.

Watch The Commercial

Hurricane in the Cloud: How Hurricane Sandy Impacted Web Hosting Companies

I thought it would be really fun to create an infographic about the effects of Hurricane Sandy on the web hosting companies we track. I learned my infographic skills are optimistically rated: very poor.

So here's the interesting stats and trends we saw occur during Hurricane Sandy:

418 People Tweeted about Sandy and a web hosting company.

119 of those Tweets were talking about Intel's Sandy Bridge technology

15 People were concerned about their web hosting

7 (/15) of those people were worried about Amazon

23 People Claimed to have issues related to Sandy

8 (/23) of those complaints were directed at BlueHost

The Most Popular Sandy Tweets:

"Unsure why Heroku is prepping for Sandy. I thought hurricanes were the strongest kind of cloud." - @tenderlove (42 RTs)

"Linode HQ weathered #sandy only to lose power hours later, late last night. It runs our VoIP phones so no calls until we can work around." -  @linode (15 RTs)

"Laughing Squid founder @ScottBeale is live tweeting post #Sandy recovery from Manhattan. Follow him updates: https://twitter.com/ScottBeale" - @LaughingSquid (9 RTs)

Some Angry/Happy Tweets:

"@GoDaddy UMADBRO?????? UMAD?!?!?!?!?!? I HOPE SANDY COMES AND DESTROYS ALL YOUR SERVERS." - @djdarrenmallett

"With Gawker, HuffPo and others experiencing outages, Sandy is IRL the equivalent of GoDaddy hosting." - @spydergrrl

"wow how in the hell did @linode have 100% uptime in Newark during #Sandy? that's some badass hosting right there." - @procdaddy

"Wow, so Jersey is getting HAMMERED by Hurricane Sandy right now, and yet my @linode in Newark is still up. THAT'S service right there!" - @bill_clark

Other stories we found in the data:

Heroku released regions to help deal with customers who might potentially be affected by Sandy.

We saw BlueHost decided to offer flexible payments to those affected by Sandy.

Finally.

For your entertainment.

You can see my first ever attempt at creating an infographic (in the future, I will hire someone else to design these!)

image

Loading...

Interested in seeing which web hosting companies people love (and hate!)? Click here and find out how your web host stacks up.