I have a Plusnet mobile SIM. I was out and about the other day, and wanted to check my account. I don’t have the app, so went to the mobile site to login. The login form is pretty standard.
I didn’t recall what username I’d used. I use an algorithm to set a different password for each site, so that should be ok. I tried mobile number, email address, and my two options for non-email usernames. None of them worked. Worse, I wasn’t even sure that my subsequent attempts were being sent to the server.
That error message appeared, and when I then tried different credentials, I couldn’t see anything happening. I hit the ‘x’ to delete the message, tried again, and nothing happened. The error did not reappear to tell me that the new attempt was wrong as well.
I also found that sometimes on a first attempt to login, I would get the following screen, which makes no sense.
I gave up.
Next day, I checked my old emails to see if I could find the username. I did. It turned out to be an 8 digit number set by Plusnet, and you can’t change it to anything you can remember. This is lunacy. It ensures that customers will have to have their username written down somewhere, which is what we’re all told not to do.
Also, the password has to have a special character like +, ^, ! etc, which makes it even more likely that customers won’t be able to login.
It’s become quite clear that today, it’s not common for logins to be attacked by brute force. There are enough credentials available for sale on the dark web for it not to be worth the bother. Sure, there’s a base level of security you might want to impose, but what Plusnet are doing isn’t warranted. It’s user hostile.
And that’s not all. In your frustration of trying different usernames or passwords, and an unresponsive interface that doesn’t let you know it’s working, you’re likely at some point to end up with this.
Having had the unfortunate experience with A2, I set about finding an alternative host. I was rather losing the will to live, and more or less decided just to go with Bluehost. It still irked me though that their product information page was rather sparse. The checkout page was a lot simpler than A2, and by each of the additional options was a link to explain what it meant.
That’s good, although at the time the search engine link gave me an error.
I was feeling a bit under-informed, so pushed myself to one last review. Of particular help was hostadvice.com. Not only does this site have reviews, but there is also a free 24×7 live chat, which I used. The person at the other end asked me about what I was looking for, and as a result recommended Siteground.
I’d been put off Siteground initially as their plans are more limited in storage and bandwidth, but realistically unless something extraordinary happens, and people start reading this, it’s not going to be an issue. It does though speak to an interesting psychological point. I imagine that there are many people paying for faster bandwidth, or more phone minutes than they need. Just the fact that ‘more’ is available, makes people want it, because otherwise you are getting ‘less’. So from a business point of view, when broadband providers in the UK advertised ‘unlimited’ bandwidth, but it really wasn’t, it was nevertheless an attractive proposition, and the limits imposed by the ‘fair use’ policies had no impact on the vast majority of users. The real problem was that ‘fair use’ wasn’t really fair, because then ‘unlimited’ didn’t mean unlimited, and the policies weren’t made obvious. Even so, another provider who offered a capped plan, even if it was more than the ‘fair use’ of the unlimited plan, didn’t have as good a marketing proposition.
So I put my rational hat on, and went with Siteground, where this blog is hosted. Checkout was simple and informative, much like Bluehost. The post-purchase experience was a million miles away from A2. When I was offered mutually exclusive choices of two things I wanted to do (one was set up WordPress, I can’t recall the other), I asked live chat, who not only immediately told me what to do – but did it for me. It was really easy. There was no mucking about with URLs to point to one domain, no issues with SSL certs, or .htaccess files. What had been painful to do on A2 turned out to be very easy on Siteground.
I would emphasise again that I’m just one user, with a specific use case. There could be other scenarios where A2 is a better choice. Nevertheless, I think there are obvious things that A2 could improve on, and congratulations to Sitehost for getting it right.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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).
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.
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.
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…
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.
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!”
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.