Sunday, January 04, 2009

Googlification Redux

Almost a year ago WildBlue decided to give us a downgrade of many of its services without reducing our monthly cost, and to call it an upgrade. As with most ISPs, they offer the connection and a few basic services: email accounts, Usenet access, and a basic web hosting service. Their brilliant approach to downgrading us while calling it an upgrade was to simply remove those secondary services and then tell us we could use Google's free, web-based substitutes, which were already available to everyone anyway.

So where we had a nice email service with solid POP3/SMTP support, we were switched to Gmail. Gmail is pretty good; it has a nice web interface of course, and a good sized mailbox, and while it does support POP3/SMTP, it doesn't do it that well. Until recently, it had an infuriating "feature": spam filtering you couldn't turn off, which wasn't very smart spam filtering (for instance, it didn't even have a whitelist!), and which tended to cripple the spam filtering built into your email client. It also tends to get more spam. This would be an upgrade for anyone who barely knew how to use email before, and just used Outlook Express because they didn't know better. But for people who've been using email for twenty years and have a very good email client, it was a major downgrade. Now that there's a (roundabout and somewhat hidden) way to disable spam filtering, though, the Gmail solution is finally about on a par with the old solution, barely. It's still not an upgrade.

The Usenet service was replaced with "you can use Google Groups". In other words, they simply dropped the Usenet service and offered no substitute. Google Groups is good for searching against Usenet, but it's entirely impractical to use to actually read and post on Usenet on a daily basis. No client support at all, and a web interface is impossibly tedious to use and horribly limited by comparison. Plus most regular Usenet participants ignore anything posted from Google Groups because of it being so often misused by spammers, sporgers, and jerks. I still don't have a good substitute. A few free news servers are keeping me afloat for now, but they're unreliable and have poor coverage. But I decided I don't need Usenet enough to pay extra for it. I just shouldn't have to. When I signed up for WildBlue, Usenet was part of the package. I don't see how they can just stop offering it and that's that. When they call that an upgrade, that's just adding insult to injury.

They threatened to take away our web hosting too, but then they never quite got around to it. This is last February.

On December 27th, I just happened to notice, tucked off to one side of the site I have to log onto to check my bandwidth usage, a note that they were finally going to be killing our web service. They didn't email us, didn't offer anything else besides a short note in the middle of a page of pointless spammy announcements that have read the same few things all year, about how to log into various bits of their services. It's sheer luck I noticed.

Again, their "upgrade" is to simply take away the service entirely, and instead say "you can use Google Sites", which I could have done anyway. They don't even preserve the old URL! Nor can I set up forwarding on it since it is already gone. Google Sites does not allow you to upload HTML. You can't even paste a lot of HTML into it: for instance, it's impossible to put a PayPal donation button onto a page. It's just basically a wiki. And they offer no functions whatsoever to import an existing site. I had to copy and paste each page into Google Sites one at a time to rebuild my site. Then manually reupload every file and picture. Then rebuild all the links.

The result is a bland version of our site which looks the same as everyone else's site in the world. (Not that my old site was a masterwork, but at least it was my design, and I had the option of making it whatever I liked, which I no longer have.) Thankfully, I barely use that site, but this is only ensuring I'll be even less likely to use it in the future. Plus I wasted an entire evening rebuilding my site page by page... imagine if I had had more than ten pages, too.

Again, this is probably a boon to people who can't spell HTML and don't even know how to make Microsoft Word output as HTML (or if they did, would be puzzled no end by how to FTP the resulting files into place). Admittedly, that's a large and growing part of the market. I'm no HTML expert, I have never even developed a dynamic page, but I have been making old-style HTML for more than ten years, and for us this is a huge downgrade. How hard would it be for them to at least provide a way to put your own HTML into the site? Sure, I could go register on a pay site to host my pages, but I'm still paying WildBlue the amount I signed up to pay when that was part of the service I signed up for, and I am irked no end that they can just drop services without my consent and still bill me for them.

(Of course, they're really just failing to increase my prices by removing services, so I don't have a legal leg to stand on when it comes to complaining about this. But the fact that they go calling this downgrade an upgrade is what really gets me steamed.)

Don't get me wrong. Google Mail, Google Groups, and Google Sites are all good things for what they are and what they do. I don't hold this against Google. This is WildBlue sucking. This is WildBlue knowing that no one would sign up for them if they had a choice, and so, doing whatever they damned well please, because what are the suckers going to do, go get DSL?


litlfrog said...

That's just stunningly bad business sense at work. It makes you think that they've given up on keeping customers, that they just know they'll lose every customer once DSL or cable come to town, so why not make money while they can? I work at a small ISP and I can't imagine us just yanking something as simple and maintenance-free as USENET groups and personal webpages. And while we do lose some customers when DSL becomes available, we keep plenty who know they can get hold of a knowledgeable technician in something less than an hour if something goes wrong.

Hawthorn Thistleberry said...

Yeah, really, how much money can it possibly be saving them? That's, what, two servers in a closet somewhere and maybe five minutes a day of backing them up. Sure, I can see adding those other services for the customers who can't handle Usenet or HTML, but why pull the existing services?