Signing up for a blog host 1 – the trials and tribulations of A2 hosting

Requirement

I decided I wanted to start a blog (well, it seems I did start – we’ll see how it goes). Asking around, WordPress came up as the clear software of choice, but there are a range of views as to the best hosting platform. There are a lot out there, and it’s difficult to tell whether reviews are biased or not, what experience reviewers have etc. Doing a detailed personal review of the marketing content of sites is exhausting. Eventually I narrowed the choice down to either a2hosting.com, or bluehost.com. I wanted a plan on a shared platform, and both companies offer three tiers of service.

Review

A2 have a very comprehensive table that extensively lists the similarities and differences between the products. You can click on each item for more explanation. There are 126 rows in the table. The problem is that most of the items are not differentiators. They are things like ‘spam protection’ that apply to all three. It would be more useful to have a table that shows only the differences, and then a list of everything else everyone gets. As it is, you have to try to scan the table, making sure you haven’t missed some important difference.

By contrast, all I can find at bluehost is a very short table of 13 items, with no link to additional information. If the company know that these are the 13 most important things that their customers ask about, then ok, but there were some things in the A2 table that I wanted to be able to ask of bluehost, ‘which of your products does this’? Provide the summary by all means, but also make the detail available. The bluehost site also annoys me as the cookie popup won’t go away.

So I decided to go with A2, but it wasn’t plain sailing by any means.

Checkout

I chose the domain name I wanted, and looking at what the options were for the renewal period, I couldn’t figure out the pricing. I admit I was tired at the time, but, if I understand correctly, re-inforcing that the now price is ‘with discount’ and the future price is without, would just make it quite clear. Don’t make me think.

One year domain registration selected
Two years domain registration selected

Then there are further configurable options. The first asks whether you want a dedicated IP, which is recommended for SSL certificates. I know what these things mean, but they aren’t explained. That may be fine for the target audience, I don’t know.

A2 checkout options – IP address and server boost

However, in the big long table on the previous page, I thought I’d seen something about SSL certs. As there was no explanation here, I had to abandon the cart, and go back to have a look. I also didn’t understand how these boost options relate to the three shared hosting products. I still don’t understand.

Back at the big long table, there’s this

SSL info from the big long table

If the cert was set up automatically, I couldn’t see why I needed a fixed IP, so I said no.

Further down, there’s another option to get a GlobalSign cert, rather than the free one from Let’s Encrypt (note the missing apostrophe on the form).

Another SSL option

There’s no explanation as to the benefits of paying more. Again, maybe the target audience knows this, but why not at least group the SSL/IP options together?

I won’t go into the detail, but exactly the same sort of issues came up with options for offsite backup, and spam firewall. There’s no explanation, or note as to how it relates to the inclusive features of my chosen product.

Then, one of the options is to choose an application to auto-install. I chose A2 optimised WordPress. After I had moved on from this page, I came back to it, and new content had appeared below this dropdown.

Surprise additional content on going back in the process

The dynamic content to tell me my password fails to work in the checkout process. It’s only because I went back, that I spotted it.

Cloudflare CDN is included in the product, but in checkout there’s an option to pay for ‘Cloudflare basic’. Sigh. Ticking the box to add this option fails to dynamically update the total price, although other items do. Bigger sigh. It’s included in the price on the next page. Throughout, it’s not always clear which charges are monthly, and which are annual.

The next page gets personal data, address, billing information, company name. Quite a bit in one go. I missed one field, and filled it in, and pressed enter, but the ordeal wasn’t over.

Checkout error of items I had already entered

All of the ‘sensitive’ information had been deleted, but the page hadn’t told me I would have to re-enter it.

I filled it in. Again.

The confirmation page included this…

More bloody SSL stuff

What is it with A2 and SSL certs? They’ve already told me it’s automatically installed. I ignored it.

Not getting up and running

Then I received six emails from A2. I’m not going to list them.

Apparently, I’d paid for something called railgun, which is some sort of performance enhancement, and for this to work I had to enable Cloudflare in the CP (control panel). One of the linked articles said

“… to make sure CloudFlare handles all traffic to your site, you should use an .htaccess file to forward root domain requests to the www domain.”

This linked to another article that gave me the snippet of code to add. I did this, and it didn’t work. I got ‘too many redirects’. So I wrote to support. Some time later, I got a reply saying that since this was a WordPress installation, I shouldn’t edit the .htaccess file, but should change parameters in WordPress. There was a link to an article on how to do this.

I wrote back to ask if doing this would still forward root domain requests.

I got a reply that tried to explain the underlying technical rationale for making the change, but didn’t answer my question. My attempt to follow the instructions resulted in me being unable to log in to the WP CP at all.

After 5 emails, two live chat sessions, and three days, I asked for a refund.

My takeouts

Here’s what A2 say on their homepage about shared hosting “Our Shared Hosting solutions are the perfect high speed and user-friendly solution for your personal blog or web site. Each Shared Hosting account is fine-tuned for the best performance and reliability.”

Generically they also say
“Whether you’ve never run a website before or are a professional developer, rest assured we have a web hosting solution to meet your unique needs!”

 

hgghj

Wired magazine infinite scroll problems

Here is Wired magazine’s website footer

Footer from wired.co.uk
Footer from wired.co.uk

The pages on the website have infinite scroll. It’s not the worst ever on the homepage, as it’s not too long. Go to one of the main hub pages though, such as the science section, and if you’re looking for ‘contact’ there, you’ll just be about to click the link, when the next tranche of content kicks in. It doesn’t seem to be well thought out.

Three things that headings do

Three things that headings do…

This isn’t a link to an article elsewhere… I just thought I’d post this thought, which won’t be news to many people here, but I’ve found it useful when discussing principles of design and effective communication to be explicit about these points.

1) A heading communicates the start of a new section. This assumes the heading is reasonably well designed. It means that a reader can scan a page and pick out the sections.

2) A heading communicates hierarchy. Sub-headings will typically be in a small font size, or not bold etc. Again, it needs to be easy to pick out when scanning.

3) A heading communicates semantic information about the content. This assumes that someone gives some thought to the wording of the heading, and succinctly describes what the content actually is about, rather than just using the heading to fulfil the first two functions.

Arriving at the O2 Intercontinental hotel, November 2017

My wife and I arrived late and tired at the Intercontinental Hotel at the O2 London. We looked for the carpark. There was a sign to the ballroom carpark, but we weren’t going to the ballroom. After driving around for a while, we realised that the sign actually mean ‘Ballroom AND carpark’.

To get into the carpark we drove up or down a ramp (I was tired). There was a big sign to reception, but there was also a small laminated sign on the door saying that to get to reception we had to head for the ticket machines on the ground floor. We didn’t know if that was up or down the stairs. If the sign had simply said ‘go down to the ground floor’ we would have known. This was indoors, no windows.

After checking in we got into the lift, pressed a button to the sixth floor, and the lift went to the tenth floor and stopped. We pressed the emergency button, and nothing happened. Then my wife saw the sign (only in English, I think) that you had to wave your keycard at the sensor to make it work for you. The lift is designed to trap people who don’t notice the sign, can’t read it, or who don’t have a keycard.

As with designing digital experiences, a little more thought here to understand the context of users, and the positioning and wording of messages would have made the start of our stay a lot smoother.