<plan B from cyberspace>
YOU READ ABOUT these mild-mannered guys who one day walk calmly up to a rooftop and start randomly blasting passersby. You wonder what could drive a guy to that. Then one day you realize you understand. Call that day Thursday, 14 September 2000.
On the Roof, With a High Powered Rifle
Feature I've spent two hours trying to register Alistapart.net and Alistapart.org at Register.com. Feature why I've done that: my actual domain, alistapart.com, is no longer in my name, no longer accessible by my partner, and no longer being served.
Feature that Register.com accepted my money. But its forms weren't working so I could not enter the DNS info or IP addresses. Feature I'm not a complete beginner and I tried four times.
I negotiated a set of forms that required me to click, Yes, I am sure I want to do this. Those forms took me to a confirmation page that again required me to click Yes, I am sure I want to do this. The second set of forms generated an email message "for security reasons." The email message contained a url. I clicked it and was taken to a third set of forms where I clicked Yes, I am sure I want to do this. The resulting page confirmed that the DNS info for A List Apart was...blank.
Void. Dead. Empty. Register.com lost the info I'd confirmed three times. Register.com's page told me to expect an email confirming this registration of null void empty meaningless useless nothingness. That email never arrived.
I am the happy owner of three non-functional domains.
Feature that I went through this process four times to be certain it was the forms, and not me, that were malfunctioning. As of now, alistapart.net and alistapart.org are paid-for domains that point nowhere and will not function. Just like alistapart.com itself. I am the happy owner of three non-functional domains.
Correction: I am not the owner of my original domain. Alistapart.com belongs to DevX and Brian at alistapart.com, a non-viable email address because alistapart.com does not function. Therefore Brian cannot update the original DNS information at Network Solutions. It's more complicated than that, but the civilians below me deserve to live, so I won't delve into the dysfunctional details.
Feature that Bruce at Webcore Labs, who's run a hosting service for years (among his other web businesses) was also unable to get results from Register.com. Feature that after two hours, Register.com offered this error message: Register.com is currently upgrading its systems. Service has been temporarily disrupted. We apologize for this inconvenience. Of course, they took my money first.
Feature I went to Register.com because Network Solutions would not cooperate on the alistapart.com debacle. Network Solutions took Brian's money but would not update their registration. Brian and I don't own the site, we just pay for it. That's the one thing these services seem to understand. Taking your money.
How did I get here?
How did I get here? the guys on the roof probably ask themselves. How did I get here? A List Apart was part of a network at Project Cool. When Project Cool was bought by DevX, ALA was not part of the package. After a few weeks, DevX asked if we were interested in commercializing ALA in association with them. We weren't. Nothing against DevX. It was flattering of them to ask. We just weren't interested in commercializing the site.
We should have moved that day. There was no reason for DevX to keep serving our site. Maybe they did it out of the kindness of their hearts. Maybe they were too busy to shut us off. Maybe a little of both. I know Project Cool's Glenn and Teresa had persuaded them to give us some grace time.
Michael, the last remaining Project Cool employee, kept serving ALA from DevX. Brian and I were supposed to plan our next move. Brian was busy. Days turned into weeks. Michael left DevX and turned the site over to a guy named Andrew. One day Andrew wrote to me, informing me that he would be our technical support guy. We had no agreement with DevX. It was kind of them to offer any support. Maybe they hoped we'd reconsider the commercial angle.
I found a company that would colocate A List Apart for us. Why colocation? Because the backend is managed by Brian's custom scripts. Only Brian knows how they work. I can move the site to any hosting service, no problem. To run the mailing list (over 16,000 members) and the backend technology on the site, we need a Linux box connected to someone's network.
The company I found waited for Brian to send the box. He never did. Just as well. The company went out of business while waiting.
Weeks turned to months. I wrote to Brian. Brian was busy. From a thrice-weekly mailing list, ALA had gone down to a weekly. Now our members were lucky to get the digest twice a month. Brian was busy. DevX began having problems keeping ALA up.
I found another company willing to colocate us. Run by people whose creative work I respect. People who are in the business mainly because they love the web. I wrote to Brian. Brian was busy.
Driving on Fumes
Our hosting at DevX began to drop from time to time. We still had great articles better than ever but they might be offline for a day, sometimes longer. What happens when a site begins to become unreliable? First-time visitors don't come back. Regulars start to mistrust the site.
We still had great members posting to the mailing list, but the mailing list would not go out. We had a willing host at Webcore, but Brian would not send the box, Network Solutions would not let us update the registration information, and we still had no agreement with DevX, who had now been hosting us free for four months and getting nothing in return. We were driving on fumes.
Last week the site went down and did not go back up.
I moved the site files to a temporary location at Webcore Labs. I contacted Andrew at DevX and asked him to update the record to point to the Webcore IP address. I mentioned that we had had problems with Network Solutions, because Network Solutions thinks DevX owns our site. Network Solutions also thinks DevX owns webstandards.org. Webstandards.org is also not functioning properly. I confessed that I was frustrated.
To try to help me, Andrew sent my note to his higher-up at DevX. Unfortunately, he sent the entire note. Complaints and all. The higher-up guy viewed the note as bizarre ingratitude. He'd hosted us free for four months, and here I was complaining. I understand how it looked to him.
I spent hours apologizing. We got to a place of understanding. The gentleman was willing to help us. That was two nights ago. Unfortunately, he hasn't helped us yet. ALA is still down.
Plan B from Cyberspace
I'd been asleep for two hours (I work late) when Glenn called with a plan: register alistapart.org and alistapart.net. They're close enough that we won't lose the branding. It's true that there are thousands of links out there pointing to alistapart.com. But by the time we get alistapart.net and alistapart.org running, the fiasco with Network Solutions may have been resolved in our favor, and we'll get alistapart.com back up as well. Three beautiful ALA domains, thousands of happy readers.
It was a brilliant plan and potentially the end of four months of frustration and powerlessness. Except that I chose Register.com to make it happen.
Right now, there's a great XML article that should be running at ALA. But I've spent all week trying to save the site from oblivion, instead of preparing upcoming content. Right now I'm supposed to be writing a book, but I'm not in the calmly meditative state such work requires. And that's putting it mildly.
Feature I started doing websites in 1995. Others who started then have gotten rich. They worked for it and it's what they wanted. I never cared about that. I love the web as a tool of human growth and creativity. All over the web, people are expressing themselves, creating new kinds of art, forming communities, designing great software and giving it away. I love that web. ALA is my way of giving back to that web. And now I can't.
There will be no new issue of A List Apart tonight. The site (at all three domains) no longer seems to exist. Feature I tried Register.com one more time before publishing this. Feature it is in endless non-functional loop mode. Maybe tomorrow I will try again. It beats going up on the roof.
Feature you might think of today's installment of My Glamorous Life as this week's A List Apart: a story of how not to run a web business (even if it's a non-profit web business). Feature that that's the best you'll get out of me today. There's no sense in trying Register.com or Network Solutions again. It's a one-way ticket to Heartbreak City. And I already spent all day there.
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