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Hosting Discussion > Operating a Web Hosting Business > Web Hosting Business and Legal Issues > Toying with the idea of a hosting validation organization
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  Post #1 (permalink)   01-19-2009, 10:08 PM
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Something that has been on my mind for a very long time, and once again I just want see how feasible the idea actually is. The idea of an organization that will separate hosting companies into good and bad. Sure it sounds primitive, but when it comes to consumers - that's usually the first question that pops into their head when they come across a hosting company: Is it good or is it bad?

So, perhaps the industry has finally matured for a hosting organization that will support good businesses and protect (or at least watch out for) customers?

If you were to look at a hosting company - what kind of factors would you consider when it comes to validating a business? How do you see this intermediary organization to function? What do you consider as the industry standard (as surely this "standard" will serve as a focal point for any assessment of performance).

Association functioning:

- industry support is a must;
- application process and membership has a fee;
- a seal is issued which can be displayed on websites;

What does the seal offer? It will show that a hosting company is compliant with tough regulations, it will also create support for hosting customers in trouble. They will be able to register a complain which the company HAS to address - the issue will be resolved and the company has to publish a public statement of resolution.
Some sort of rating will be formed based on customer feedback and number of registered complaints/resolution outcomes.
A total grade can be given.

Comments: I find that without industry support little can be accomplished. On top of that, to receive the "seal" (something like a patent companies can be proud of), it has to cost money - means to sustain the organization.


Validation points:

(something I've used for one of the earliest hosting directories I wanted to start)

Every company will go through the evaluation process (requirements):

1. A satisfying record with the Better Business Bureau (BBB)
2. Detailed contact information has to be listed
3. Clear statement on resource limitations, hidden fees and overcharges (although with the amount of unlimited hosting providers this can be a trouble to figure out!)
4. Entitlement for free and unlimited access to technical and customer support departments
5. Test-file for download
6. Existence of either monetary or time money-back guarantee for products or services (free trials, 30-day money back, etc).
7. Appealing and professionally designed web site, with no external advertising
8. Free hosting services are not allowed to join
9. While its hard to check, has to be in business for at least 1 year (domain age might not necessary equal active business term, which creates another problem)
10. All scheduled maintenance/downtime has to be registered in the system at least X days/hours in advance


What's your take on this?
 
 
 


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  Post #2 (permalink)   01-20-2009, 06:34 AM
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Well I have a couple of concerns on this; I do like the idea however.

The rating with the BBB is a nice touch, but given how slow the BBB operates, a business can have an unsatisfactory rating for WEEKS while they attempt to resolve issues. Personally, our company doesn't register with BBB, however we are contacted monthly from BBB's in various states asking to register and pay them. They provide no help to our specific business, so we don't register.

Asking a host to pay to be part of the program will be tough when just starting. There's no reputation built up yet, so it'll be hard to raise capital that way.

A strict NO PAID HOST ADVERTISING must be maintained in the listings, however it should be possible to have PAID advertising as a banner or button graphic on the right or left as long as it's clearly stated that it's advertising, not endorcement.

The ability for a host to log in to change plans, update information, respond to customer complaints (and positive reviews) is a necessary thing.

The checking of how long a business has been around can be accomplished through the faxing (or emailing) of a business licence. This shouldn't be a problem for any legit business.

The registration of the downtime or maintenance I'm not fond of myself. We have hundreds of servers with various events that happen on a regular basis. While we update in our system to our users, reporting this out for ALL users on the web is not something that we'd be fond of. We used to disclose ALL server information to our clients, however we'd often face questions from users asking "why does server X get the upgrade today and we have to wait 5 days", or "my server is as old as X, why don't we get new memory". You can see quickly how much of a nightmare this can become.


Again, I do like the idea, however without reputation, charging off the bat will be hard.
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  Post #3 (permalink)   01-20-2009, 10:17 AM
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As a web host, I'd have to ask what value this would bring my business. I advertise largely through word of mouth and customer referrals (no non-customer affiliates, but large payouts), so people are getting recommendations from a source that uses the service and knows the support levels. That personal trusted recommendation is worth more, to the average consumer, than any badge. I've been "validated" by FindMyHosting and a couple of other groups. The badges haven't done much for my business, and haven't gained me a single client from those referral-sources - so for me, it's not something that would be of value. Probably plenty of hosts would find it of value, though.

An organization that certifies or validates web hosts should be a group that consumers know and trust. Otherwise, it will have limited meaning. (This is probably why the Better Business Bureau is able to demand the fees that they do - name recognition. True or not, people believe that if a business is somehow certified or validated by the BBB or has a clean slate with them, that the company's okay. Conor's post shows that this is not exactly true...but it's the commonly-held belief.) You'd need to promote trust in the adjudicating body itself, turn it into the "BBB" or "Good Housekeeping" equivalent of the web services world. (Or Oprah. I cannot believe I just referenced Oprah, for cats'sake...but that's exactly the kind of mass credibility you'd need to establish and maintain.)

I would want to know who would be part of this organization, and who would be setting any regulations. Having hosts police/regulate other hosts is both a good idea and a bad one. Companies / individuals who aren't in the web services industry may not know how to set guidelines that promote quality service and guard against shady dealers (hosts who make free with the infamous "excessive CPU usage" justification for shutting down accounts on overcrowded servers, for example.) However, setting the fox to guard the chicken coop isn't 100% smart, either. Too much possibility for collusion, too much possibility that the validation seal will turn into yet another showcase for the heavyweights who have lots of money but perhaps not the best quality service. Also possible problems with government regulators worrying about price fixing or something else - at least if this was a US-based organization. (And would this be international? It would kind of have to, wouldn't it?)

And that's all I've got right now. Coffee still hasn't kicked in this morning...
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  Post #4 (permalink)   01-20-2009, 04:35 PM
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Way to bring Oprah into the mix!!!

It's hard to know what way to swing the door on this one. I think the idea is good, but it's been done before, and for whatever reason it seems to always turn into a bidding war.

Getting ratings from clients is another hard thing to do. I know most of my clients don't have time to sit and write a mini review of even our support tickets, let alone a review of our hosting as a whole. So asking customers to comment on hosting companies gets rough too.

I see exactly what you mean about the chicken coup situation. Still being in the industry and working to keep and get new clients myself, peaking in on other hosts probably wouldn't sit well with others.
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  Post #5 (permalink)   01-21-2009, 12:46 PM
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I think I am feeling the same way. Just the thought of trying to contact some of my clients when I can barely get them to answer a support ticket with a complete sentence, then have them sit down and do the review, they would answer "Its good, I gotta go". I do love the idea but the starting out might be a little hard, then again we are all in the business and we know starting out can be rough too. Keep us posted on your plans.
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  Post #6 (permalink)   01-26-2009, 08:24 PM
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My own two cents: hosting is not an industry that would lend itself to such an association and its seal. Those kinds of things work well with a local business focus, whereas hosting is often global in nature, both for clients and for hosts.
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  Post #7 (permalink)   01-27-2009, 02:05 AM
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The idea is good, but would it really make a hosting company look better? Web hosts advertise all over, and having the seal would just be another form of advertising, so many people wouldn't even look at that when considering them as a host. There are many sites that do what you listed above, but in the end take bribes. People will just assume that is how your site will be. Even if you are legit and everything you have on the site is legit, people would just assume your another site taking bribes for good reviews, or having a host in the top spot.

Also, the membership fee would be hard to cover for hosts just starting out, or having a hard time getting money. Hosts like this advertise on forums and want exposure, and if this program works the seal would help them. The membership fee is what would stop them from getting the seal.

Also, the BBB is a good thing to have, but most companies don't like to deal with the BBB. Not becuase they want to avoid them so they don't have bad reviews, but like what handsonhosting said. They just wish not to register with the BBB.

Just my 2 cents.
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  Post #8 (permalink)   04-07-2009, 10:13 AM
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I think the idea itself is commendable. I'm trying to imagine the back end support to grow and maintain this though. And while the BBB is not used by most hosts, everyone knows who they are. I think any seal portrays the perception of value, whether it realistically does or doesn't provide any value.
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  Post #9 (permalink)   04-07-2009, 11:05 AM
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I think a huge problem can be that the complaints will be truthful at best. I think we have all seen someone rant about something and how much they were 'screwed' by their provider only to find out that the story is totally false.

How would a situation like that be handled?
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  Post #10 (permalink)   04-07-2009, 01:12 PM
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Quote:
Some sort of rating will be formed based on customer feedback and number of registered complaints/resolution outcomes
This would be the hardest obstacle. I've become suspicious of most reviews until a moderator verifies the URL hosted. And even then, the content of the review is often extremely slanted, and at times completely false.
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  Post #11 (permalink)   04-07-2009, 03:37 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by SteveBloemer View Post
This would be the hardest obstacle. I've become suspicious of most reviews until a moderator verifies the URL hosted. And even then, the content of the review is often extremely slanted, and at times completely false.
I see exactly what you're saying. The thing about this is it's something that will always be around the industry. It's sad, but very true. I think forums are the best way to find out if a company is truly good or not. The thing about it is, you can't satisfy everyone, so sure there may be a few bad reviews out of a lot of good reviews in the mix.
 
 
 


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  Post #12 (permalink)   04-07-2009, 05:05 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ayksolutions View Post
I think a huge problem can be that the complaints will be truthful at best. I think we have all seen someone rant about something and how much they were 'screwed' by their provider only to find out that the story is totally false.

How would a situation like that be handled?
That's a tough one. I'd like to know the answer as well.

I would pay to be listed and receive a seal. I'd be totally ok with a monthly subscription that funds an operation who forces standards.
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