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  • Can You Depend on the Big Sites to Run Your Business?

    August 22nd, 2007

    Just this week, as the dust settles after that huge service interruption at Skype, we hear that the Blogger and Blogspot features at Google, where blogs are hosted for hundreds and hundreds of thousands of users, also had a service interruption, after lots of lots of lesser glitches.

    Why this happens may not be especially important in the scheme of things, but it’s worth mentioning. After first blaming Microsoft for the constant PC restarts occasioned by one of their Tuesday security updates affecting the login process, Skype attributed their problems to a “perfect storm,” where some software algorithm issue prevented millions of users connecting late last week.

    Now it’s fair to say that Blogger users are getting their service free of charge. With Skype, you only pay when you make and receive calls beyond the boundaries of its PC to PC service, and then the prices are fairly modest. But these aren’t the first nor the last problems folks have had to endure.

    Consider the stability issues with email at Hotmail — or whatever Microsoft calls it these days — and other services of that type, such as Google’s Gmail, Yahoo and others.

    Of course, if you aren’t paying for a service in the first place, perhaps you should cut them some slack and accept the situation. After all, what should you expect to get for free? But it’s not that simple, because all these services attract millions of users, some of whom use them for business purposes. More to the point, there are value-added extras, which do carry price tags.

    Add to this Apple’s .Mac, which was recently refreshed with extra storage and bandwidth, and now competes in many respect with lower-cost Web hosting services for your dollars — or whatever means of currency you use in your country. However, as many of you with mac.com addresses will tell me, you have found less than industrial-strength reliability there too, with occasional outages of varying periods.

    I dare say that a lot of the people who write me for personal and business reasons provide email address identifying the above providers. On the surface at least, it seems like a good idea, because you are not tethered to the limits of your own ISP and can send and receive mail from around the world without having to switch outgoing (SMTP) settings and so on and so forth. If you decide to go to another ISP, you don’t have to send change of address notices to your contact list.

    Indeed, I also seldom use my ISP for email, but in my case, my mailboxes are all hosted at our sites, and I have full control over spam filtering, mailbox size and access. Of course, I also pay more than you would at any of the above services for these privileges. At the same time, email is a critical part of my company’s business, and it needs to be as reliable as possible.

    To be sure, perhaps you should move your business mail to a professional email or Web host that provides professional service for these features. It’s not that the costs are high. Many of these firms charge less than $4.00 to host your custom domain, email and whatever personal or business sites you wish to create. As your business needs expand, you can upgrade to virtual or regular dedicated servers.

    It all comes down to this: Google and Yahoo and other huge Web portals want your traffic as a means to sell ads. That’s where they really earn their incomes, and even if you opt for a few paid services along the way, that’s not going to impact their bottom lines all that much. It’s somewhat different for the 1.7 million members of Apple’s .Mac, who pay $99 per year, or perhaps more for family packages and extra storage and bandwidth. That’s a pretty sizable amount of money, and it ought to be sufficient to enture superior reliability.

    Of course, when it comes to Apple, .Mac is also a value-added product that integrates its hardware and software in a simple, unified fashion that are supposed to “just work,” although some would question the accuracy of that phrase. While still a consumer-oriented tool, you have a right to expect minimal service interruptions.

    Skype also serves a business function, as part of the eBay empire, and it was purchased to provide businesses with a way to communicate with their customers as part of the auction and sales process. To be fair to Skype, service interruptions are quite rare, and the more common symptoms are sudden disconnects or perhaps distorted sound, which usually clears up when you reconnect.

    I use Skype for business as well, as a networking tool to conduct interviews for my two radio shows. I also pay to make and receive calls from regular phones, and I expect high quality.

    To be fair, even the dedicated Web host may run into network and server troubles on occasion. That’s the nature of the beast. In the end, it’s quite possible to get good service from the big companies, even if email, telephony and hosting aren’t their main businesses. But there are lots and lots of options out there, and if the company you’re using isn’t performing to your expectations, just take your business elsewhere.



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    10 Responses to “Can You Depend on the Big Sites to Run Your Business?”

    1. Dana Sutton says:

      ” if the company you’re using isn’t performing to your expectations, just take your business elsewhere.” It’s not that easy. Changing email accounts entails getting a new email address, which invites the same kind of hassles you experience when you change street addresses: you have to worry about notifying everybody, advertising your new address, etc. etc. and no matter what you do people will continue sending mail to your old address for months or even years in the future. So many folks regard it as a rather daunting thing to do, not to be done except in cases of severe necessity. And by the way, since I don’t care for the legal theory that your employer owns your email, I’ve had a .Mac account from the time I switched over to OSX and, maybe just because I’ve been lucky, the service interruptions and other technical problems I’ve experienced have been very infrequent and minor.

    2. ” if the company you’re using isn’t performing to your expectations, just take your business elsewhere.” It’s not that easy. Changing email accounts entails getting a new email address, which invites the same kind of hassles you experience when you change street addresses: you have to worry about notifying everybody, advertising your new address, etc. etc. and no matter what you do people will continue sending mail to your old address for months or even years in the future. So many folks regard it as a rather daunting thing to do, not to be done except in cases of severe necessity. And by the way, since I don’t care for the legal theory that your employer owns your email, I’ve had a .Mac account from the time I switched over to OSX and, maybe just because I’ve been lucky, the service interruptions and other technical problems I’ve experienced have been very infrequent and minor.

      I agree it’s a pain to switch your address, and any move you make you’d want to be long-term. In the end, the custom domain may be the best route, as that will survive changing Web hosts and you won’t have to worry about having to notify your contact list if your existing service doesn’t do the job for you.

      Peace,
      Gene

    3. Dave Barnes says:

      Dana wrote: “Changing email accounts entails getting a new email address”.

      What?
      That is why you have your own domain name.
      I can change ISPs at any time and no one will know.
      I happen to like my ISP (small company and 9.7 years of very good service from them), but they do not control my destiny.
      A domain costs $9/year. That is nothing.

      ,dave
      dave@barnesfamily.com

    4. George Slusher says:

      Good article, Gene. One minor quibble, though. You wrote:

      “On the surface at least, it seems like a good idea, because you are not tethered to the limits of your own ISP and can send and receive mail from around the world without having to switch outgoing (SMTP) settings and so on and so forth.”

      Think about that a moment, Gene: that would mean that the iPhone couldn’t get email except through an ATT account.

      I don’t have to switch outgoing SMTP settings for my Comcast account, anytime, anywhere, as long as I have Internet access. It’s all about password verification. This was NOT true when I had a DSL account with a local company: my Mac had to be connected physically to the DSL line to use the service at all. For traveling, I have a dialup account with themacisp.net, as I’m often in cheap motels that don’t have WiFi access. (It doesn’t take many nights in an expensive hotel to pay for the $14.95/month dialup account.)

    5. Good article, Gene. One minor quibble, though. You wrote:

      “On the surface at least, it seems like a good idea, because you are not tethered to the limits of your own ISP and can send and receive mail from around the world without having to switch outgoing (SMTP) settings and so on and so forth.”

      Think about that a moment, Gene: that would mean that the iPhone couldn’t get email except through an ATT account.

      I don’t have to switch outgoing SMTP settings for my Comcast account, anytime, anywhere, as long as I have Internet access. It’s all about password verification. This was NOT true when I had a DSL account with a local company: my Mac had to be connected physically to the DSL line to use the service at all. For traveling, I have a dialup account with themacisp.net, as I’m often in cheap motels that don’t have WiFi access. (It doesn’t take many nights in an expensive hotel to pay for the $14.95/month dialup account.)

      No, that’s not what it means, my friend. It means that you shouldn’t have to change your outgoing settings as you travel from one place to another to get mail.

      Peace,
      Gene

    6. George Slusher says:

      No, that’s not what it means, my friend. It means that you shouldn’t have to change your outgoing settings as you travel from one place to another to get mail.

      Now, you’re really confusing me. I don’t change ANY email settings on my PowerBook (or my Palm TX via WiFi, for that matter), no matter where I go or how I connect to the Internet, whether it’s at home via Ethernet or Airport, a motel via dialup, a coffeeshop via WiFi, etc. I use mail.comcast.net and smtp.comcast.net everywhere I can get Internet access.

      Now, SOME ISPs won’t let you send email from another system, though most will let you GET email. That was the case with my former DSL provider. They also had a dialup system, but, it, too, required that you be connected to their network to send email.

      However, Comcast and themacisp.net both allow me to send email while connected to any provider, without changing anything, because it uses password verification. I don’t know how I can be clearer than that.

      Again, I do NOT change ANY outgoing settings for email when I travel. If I connect via WiFi or hotel-supplied Ethernet, all I may need to do is sign onto their network. With themacisp.net, I have to get the dialup numbers for the places I’ll be, but there is no other change.

    7. OK, the issue being, of course, is that some ISPs don’t permit relaying your outgoing email.

      Peace,
      Gene

    8. Always a good idea to have a backup plan. Especially if one’s business is counting on it.

    9. Always a good idea to have a backup plan. Especially if one’s business is counting on it.

      After a few Web host switches, I actually had an escape plan too, but when we went to our current host, they took care of moving all the files and redoing our settings for us.

      Peace,
      Gene

    10. Bill says:

      Yes, have a backup plan

      And if it your business (how you make you main income), don’t go with the cheapest provider without a contingency plan.

      In the latest tech company debacle, I couldn’t believe how many people had all their business lines on Sunrocket!

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