web hosting media

dennis-johnson-sw-whtDo you want to know more about the attack against Web Hosting Talk? Or to meet some or those who made WHT the world’s leading IT hosting community? I think you would say “Yes”. So let me start the introduction to this interview like this.

“There are people who have significant influence in the fields of activity, they are engaged in – business, journalism politics, academic life, science, etc. Some of them are usually controversial figures, other are not. But most people who are involved in any form of community activities (including journalists, politicians, PR specialists) are often leaders and strong personalities who can lead others. The person you will meet below is definitely someone who has a strong character. He is Dennis Johnson (SoftWareRevue), the Community leader of Web Hosting Talk.”

I barely know Dennis… mostly from the short e-mail correspondence I had with him. However the above words are not a cheap compliment, they are result of my sense of him. Could it be wrong? Just read the interview and you’ll find out.

Hi Dennis, Good to meet you! I have spent some time searching about you on the web, and to prepare myself for this interview, but didn’t find too many articles, interviews, authoring works, or any other things that would help me. So I believe in this interview you should say some things about yourself, that you haven’t revealed before. If you ask me “Why?”, my answer is “because I believe you have many things to say”. So let’s start with this question.

I like the way your authoring style, I know from WHT newsletter. Do you know that you are good in telling stories? I mean very good. I have read you are graduated in “Electrical Technology”. Do you like reading? I’m curious what did help you to shape your writing?

I’ve always enjoyed reading – and writing. But had never considered they would be a major part of my job at any age. I have poems, short stories, songs, half-written novels and instruction manuals I’ve written scattered about in boxes, bags and drawers.

I had an insatiable appetite for literature as a child. We didn’t have the technology of today of course, so reading was my means of exploration. I loved reading anything. One day it may be Tom Swift in the Race to the Moon, Principles of Refrigeration the next, and then Principles in Psychology followed by Black Beauty. But I’d say what influenced my writing the most is my passion. I’ve always been a very emotional person. And I think that comes out in my writing.

I hope it is appropriate to ask you do you see yourself as a journalist?

No. I don’t see myself as a journalist. Journalistic prose can be a chore for me. I’m much more comfortable sitting around a campfire and sharing stories than I am addressing a room full of peers that are interested in what I have to say. I suppose you could classify me as a journalist based on my WHT Insider alone. But I don’t consider myself one.

I have asked you “Do you know that you are good in telling stories?” because being a Community Coordinator at WHT and having responsibilities to keep the forums clean and to enforce policies and rules makes you some kind of “Community Guard”, which is very much a Police job :). Do you feel like this sometimes?

When my 82 year old mother asks me what I do, I tell her I’m like the mayor of a city. And as mayor, I have to wear the Police Chief hat. Of course, around these parts, we call them Peace Officers. Sure, moderating forums requires enforcing the policies everyone’s agreed to. It’s something that needs doing. Just like moving and editing posts, answering member questions, encouraging discussion and maintaining the health of a community are all parts of forum moderation.

I have seen that you said in Iamdum.com that you “would love to have time to just surf and post”. And then you added “But, my hours are spent chasing spammers and scammers. And then there’s the bit about managing staff”. Let me ask you something. If you have to categorize members who violate WHT’s Rules, how many categories we will have? We obviously have “Spammers”, “Scammers” and then…

There’s lots of groups that make up a forum community. And some of them think our rules are unfair, because they’re not what they want. Spammers and Scammers can be found in any community. But, given WHT’s nature, we have some unique groups that can be problematic. Some members become so passionate about their community that they’re Overly Protective. That is, they can be seen as rude or disruptive because they want to prevent any harm. Before I delve into this too much, I think I’d like to hold off because I plan on writing a more descriptive measure on the topic. So let’s just say that “there are as many different types of members in a community as a forum needs”.

You said the above things in 2005 and added “I had thought that a larger staff would afford me the opportunity to have time to post as a member. But, lately, I’ve been finding that a larger staff is forcing me to manage a larger staff. Any time that is saved by having someone else respond to a reported post is off-set by time it takes to answer staff questions and concerns”. So how are the things 4 years later. Do you have time to browse and to talk to other members of WHT as well as to write more staff?

No. But my position has evolved. The current staff of WHT is great. It could be a little bigger, but they do an outstanding job of keeping the community in good health. I don’t do much of the day-to-day moderating. But I do more work off forum that I’m still not as engaged as I’d like to be.

How many hours per day do you spend working on WHT?

I’m down to about 4-10 hours a day. It really depends on how much time I need to spend on other iNET communities.

In a Hosting Tech interview you gave 5 years ago you said that you have retired but very soon you get bored and got down to new business. You have also “promised” to prepare “well written retirement plan next time”. I don’t know much about you, but from what I see and read about yourself, you don’t look like someone that would ever retire. Have you ever thought what would you do if we haven’t Internet?

I haven’t considered life without internet. I plan on being involved in some sort of Community Manager roll for a long time yet. You’re right – I’ll probably never retire. I still enjoy learning, and that doesn’t show any signs of slowing down. However, if we didn’t have internet, I’d be involved in some type of customer satisfaction roll.

Five years ago you said that “The admin side of WHT is a monster. A beast with an insatiable appetite. And a lot more work than members imagine”. Can you reveal more about the team behind WebHostingTalk? How many moderators manage the forums, how the WHt is organized and how does the todays Forum looks like compared to the WHT in 2004?

We have 30 staff members. We recruit members that have demonstrated a thorough understanding of forum guidelines, have shown to be non-confrontational and are active. Not everyone who meets this criteria is recruited, and not everyone recruited accepts. WHT is a unique community due to the fact that many members are growing their business through it. As such, we have a higher ratio of the spammers and scammers you mentioned above than other help based communities. It takes a strong individual to moderate the forum and not take the personal accusations personally. It’s simply the nature of the beast that moderated members are offended they’ve been moderated.

Why WHT never turned to a media? I mean traditional online media, the way TheWHIR is in web hosting industry? Haven’t you guys been tempted to broaden the frontiers of the WHT?

We have some new stuff planned for WHT. That’s about all I’m going to say about that. But I will say that it won’t be traditional online media. iNET Interactive has current and projected projects in that arena though. Stay tuned!

Tell me something about the consequences of the attack on WHT. I’ve seen on your recent newsletter that someone told you: “Because of your email, I’m going to take a serious look at our own disaster recovery plan because we seldom do off network backups. I think this would be a good topic on WHT in the future so that other web hosting providers could learn from others.”. So it sounds really weird, but it is obviously the attack has taught a lesson. There is something to be learned for many businesses our there… because I’m sure many of them haven’t build their own recovery plans…?

You mentioned my favorite thing about this attack. It’s a shame that it happened. But it’s made so many others examine their infrastructure that it’s eerily a blessing. Not only is WHT, and iNET as a whole, secure and unequivocally able to sustain itself should it be the target of destruction again, but so many others are safer. This was a malicious attempt to destroy WebHostingTalk.com. They failed.

Is WebHostingTalk loosing credibility and business because of the attack? I’ve seen some people to say that WHT team made a mistake in its statements. “Instead of saying that it could’ve happened to anyone, they should be taking their responsibility by simply stating they screwed up”, this is something someone said in a discussion about “Attack on WebHostingTalk” in LinkedIn. So do you think that you have taken full responsibility for something that you might not avoid?

I don’t see that we’ve lost any credibility. And I don’t see where we’ve avoided admitting fault with our infrastructure. We’ve said it was inadequate for today’s needs. But our current infrastructure is about as tight as it gets.

I’ve read that you have got your first PC in January of 2001. What is your technology level now? Do you have knowledge in coding, making web pages, or doing any other tech stuff, or you are involved in moderating and producing content only?

I’m comfortable with my PC. But I’m certainly not a guru. I can build a web page, but someone else can build a much nicer one much easier. I do some work on my own servers. But I get someone that knows what they’re doing when it gets too technical.

I’m curious which web hosting companies have use used until now and which was your first web host? You can share your opinion with their services if you of course find this appropriate.

The first hosting account I got was through Yahoo! That didn’t last very long. I needed more. Without naming names, because they’re no longer in business, I bounced from one Unlimited host to another before landing on WebHostingTalk.com. The community helped me with choosing a host. A couple months later, I got a reseller account. Then it was on to hosting myself. I have servers in three different data centers. I won’t name my favorite though.

Do you still own GetMeHosted.com?

Not exactly own. But I’m still around there. Frankly it’s more of a means to keep a pulse on the industry than it is to being a host.

Can you point your finger at any web hosting providers and to say “These are the best ones”?

I could, but I wouldn’t feel right doing it. Because of my position on WHT, I try to keep my personal opinions out of who to choose and not choose. Besides, there is no best host. For years, my WHT signature has included the line, “There is no best host. There is only the host that’s best for you.”

You said in an old interview that you liked philosophy. Do you have a favorite thinker/philosopher?

I can’t say I have one favorite.

You like playing guitar. I’m curious whether you are a Rock ‘N Roll fan and if “yes”, which bands are your favorite ones?

It’s hard for me to associate myself with one genre. But I suppose it might be classified more towards Rock ‘N Roll. I probably cover Pink Floyd more than any other group or artist. If I’m just listening though, I listen to more Van Morrison or Andrew Lloyd Webber. I have to give a shout out to John Prine though. Cuz that’s more like me when I sit down with Shelly (my guitar).

Now final question. I have read somewhere that you like cooking. If you have to bring all the WHT liaisons at one place what would you make for them?

That’s a large group. So I’d probably have to fire up the grills. Of course, if my dining room was big enough, I’d likely do some lasagna and/or spaghetti. One thing I’ll guarantee though, everyone will go home full.

Thank you Dennis. Good luck with you enterprises and wish you to have a lot of energy and to keep going!

Thanks for having me, Dimitar. It’s been my pleasure.

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