Thursday, March 6, 2014

No. 91 – Bodysnatchers

Performer: Radiohead
Songwriters: Colin Greenwood, Jonny Greenwood, Ed O’Brien, Phil Selway, Thom Yorke
Original Release: In Rainbows
Year: 2007
Definitive Version: None.

Death comes in many forms. Sometimes it comes slowly, peacefully. Sometimes, it’s violent and abrupt. This story has a bit of both.

Every year at the annual Executive Game, Scott, as the site admin, delivered his report about the number of unique visitors for, and every year the numbers astonished me more than the year before.

When we cracked 100,000 in the fourth year, that felt particularly like a milestone. Granted, 100,000 visitors in a year is small potatoes overall, but for an independent baseball essay site, I thought that was pretty good considering how little I did in relation to marketing. People were finding BBT and coming back.

I’m not a sales and marketing guru by any means, and I wasn’t interested in doing anything other than posting in usenet groups and contributing on a few other sites. I was all about providing content. I wanted to write about baseball, not try and sell advertising.

That of course contributed to the website’s downfall. It’s difficult to keep people interested in doing something when they aren’t being paid to do it, and one by one, contributers walked away. First, it was Jim, then Scott and finally … even me.

After I got my fulltime gig in 2006—and considering the workload I suddenly found myself buried under—I had almost no time for outside pursuits. I was living with someone, so the spare amount of spare time had to be prioritized in her direction. I decided that BBT, or at least the column that I wrote weekly, had to stop, at least on a regular basis.

I wasn’t ready to pull the plug on BBT, though. I could contribute more regularly with short hitters in the forum. Occasionally, I wrote longer pieces. The site could have continued, albeit not as it had, until I had enough time to devote to it again. That’s the slow and peaceful part of the story.

I can’t remember when BBT got its first spam post in the forum. I want to say it was in 2003. At first, it was easy to handle. I’d delete the post and ban the IP address of the poster. Maybe a month later, someone else would slink in and soil the forum, and I’d do it all over again.

The first real spambot attack happened in 2005. Suddenly, the forum was overrun with posts that seemed to repeat endlessly. Scott and I would ban, clean everything out, only to have another bot post spam a few days later. It was relentless, and Scott and I didn’t have the resources to deal with it on a constant basis.

After a particularly egregious attack in 2006 when my webhost shut down the forum, we switched to a different forum board that made it all but impossible for spambots to attack. It worked. It also more or less wiped out our forum traffic, too.

What we did was move to a board that required registration and a password. Back in 2006, when Facebook still was the realm of college and high school students, Internet surfers weren’t comfortable with giving personal information to anyone for any reason. Consequently, a lot of people didn’t bother coming by any more now that they had to go through a few extra steps to post their thoughts. Oh well, like Steve Dahl says, pioneers get the arrows; settlers get the land.

Although wounded, BBT survived the spambots. It wasn’t so fortunate, however, when it was confronted by an enemy from within.

At Scott’s urging, I switched web hosting for BBT from Earthlink to StartLogic in January 2006. Scott liked the uploading process, and I loved the price. Instead of paying roughly $30 per month, I paid $80 for two years.

Sometime in January 2008, I had to change my bank checking account because of a data-security threat. This had unintended consequences. The big one was that I had automatic renewal and withdrawal with StartLogic, and my service came up for renewal that month. When StartLogic went to make the withdrawal, it was refused, because my account number had been changed.

StartLogic’s response was … well, a bit of an overreaction. It didn’t send me an email or make a phone call alerting me of the situation. Instead, it shut down my website the day of renewal. BBT went from there to gone in one day.

You can imagine my surprise: What the hell? I called customer service to find out the problem: Were we hit by another spambot? No, it wasn’t able to process payment. What … ? Oh yeah … I guess it is due about now …

I had received no notice that payment was due, no invoice and certainly no warning ahead of time that StartLogic had been unsuccessful in obtaining payment, as in, “hey, we tried your account and had no luck. Are the settings still correct?” You know, SOMETHING that would have tipped me off that a potential problem was brewing.

No, StartLogic just shut its collective yapper and destroyed my website. I say destroyed, because that’s exactly what it did.

I quickly gave the customer rep the information to my new checking account, StartLogic withdrew the payment … and then did nothing. See, instead of just changing one setting that would, say, block links, it took everything down, every article, every file and the entire forum.

Various service reps assured me that they had all the files and could restore them. They either lied or misunderstood the nature of the problem, because nothing changed. I communicated with StartLogic tech support every day for a solid week trying to get BBT back up. Every day I got an email from a different person, saying he was sorry for the inconvenience (“inconvenience”?) and that I should do this or that. I’d call and be on hold for more than an hour before finally talking with someone who told me to send an email. As you can imagine, my frustration and ire built each passing day.

StartLogic never fixed its mistake. I could restore the articles, but the archives would take a long time to rebuild, and the forum was wiped out—a year’s worth of posts gone. I was livid. In fact, I’m livid right now just thinking about it.

Finally in March, I threw in the towel. I wrote a farewell post on the front page of BBT. Then, I wrote StartLogic a simple email canceling my service per the terms of the agreement and demanding a refund from that date.

This might come as a shock, but it took StartLogic until May to resolve that issue, not coincidentally after a series of increasingly angry emails before I wrote telling it to cancel immediately as I asked in March and then added: “I will not call you. You call me. The next call from me if this is not taken care of to my satisfaction will be from my attorney.”

Moral of the story: Don’t ever, ever, EVER use StartLogic. Don’t let anyone you like use StartLogic. In fact, don’t even utter their ironic name. It sucks, period, and I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone ever, period.

So, yes, The Company That No Longer Shall Be Named murdered BBT, suddenly, violently and without any reason whatsoever. It was brutal, but there was a final insult to this whole sordid tale.

For those of you who have been paying attention to the timeline—the conclusion of my battle with Voldemort took place in May 2008—you’ll recognize that I was involved with something far more important than some jackass web host. During the pit of my despair over Laurie, my domain name came due. I had much bigger fish to fry at the time than a defunct website domain name, and I completely forgot about it. When I finally remembered, I found that some piece of crap heisted it out from under my feet. At least it wasn’t a porn squatter.

But … I couldn’t let it go. Every once in a while, I’d check it out only to see that, yep, those Chinese characters the squatter posted were still there. Three years ago, I found out that Network Solutions kicked that buttwipe to the curb. I inquired about my domain name, wanting it back to ensure that no one else would use it. It should come as no shock that the douche bags at Network Solutions—another company you should never use—referred me to its “buying service” to arrange for the terms of its ransom.

That was too much to bear, so screw’em. If I start another website, I’ll use the name and do a .net, and Network Solutions can choke on a domain name that’s worthless to anyone … except me. 2000-2008. RIP. It deserved a better fate.

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