web hosting media

zvonimir-gembec-plus-hrI met Zvonimir Gember during the European hosting conference and trade show WebhostingDay 2010. I went out for a smoke (bad habit, but excellent way to socialize) and met Aaron Philips of cPanel and started chatting. Zvonimir (leader of Croatian hosting provider – Plus.hr) was there and joined us. We had great time together and since then we are in touch. And here he is in an interview for B10WH.com.

been in touch  People around the world know something about Croatia, especially those who watch CNN. A lot of commercial about Croatian tourism is going on there. But your country has many other things to offer. I know this because I’ve been there twice. You have a fast growing IT hosting industry. I remember that when we met during the Webhosting Day 2010 you told me there are about 10 well-established hosting providers and another 10 which can be considered as contenders on the Croatian market. I was surprised because Croatia isn’t that big. So my first questions is:

Do you serve Croatian website owners only? I saw the Plus.hr has a Croatian version only?

Yes, until recently we do serve only Croatian market, but very soon we will start to offer hosting services to whole region.

Tell me are there any differences between Croatian and other hosting markets in Europe in terms of the features and applications people use?

In fact, there is no difference, Croatian customers mostly use same applications and features like customers in Europe.

Which is the most popular Linux control panel in Croatia?

cPanel definitely, but we also offer dotNetPanel (now WebsitePanel), and there is some Plesk offer, but, so far we are not offering it.

Do Croatian site owners prefer to use any well-established standards such as WordPress, Drupal, Joomla, etc to organize their web sites or prefer custom build CMS?

There is lot of custom CMS solutions, but, WordPress and Joomla is most widely used CMS solutions.

Which hosting hosting platform is more popular in Croatia – Windows hosting or Linux Os based services?

Linux with cPanel, but around 30% of our hosting customers prefer Windows hosting.

Tell me about the domains you host. What percentage of your customers use .HR and which domain names except the general TLDs (com, net, org) are popular in Croatia? Is the .EU popular?

Around 40% of is .HR, and yes, .EU is popular, we register a lot of .EU domains.

What about .ME? You used to be in the same country with Montenegro 18 years ago. Does that make .ME domain attractive for Croatian site owners or the only thing that is catchy for them is that this extension is associated with “ME”?

.ME domains are more attractive to international, English speaking customers, then Croatian, we offer it, but there is no big demand for it.

I have seen that you are offering a reasonable amount of disc space with all Shared Hosting plans in Plus.hr. Is the overselling approach of offering “Unlimited Disk Space” and “Unlimited Bandwidth” popular in Croatia?

No, we as a leader in the Croatian market do not believe in term “Unlimited”. We are trying to offer “hosting that works”(TM) :-) and our customers recognized it. We have lo of migrations form other web hosters that offer huge amount of storage with unlimited features with extreme low prices to us, only because our hosting and support works.

I have seen you are doing Xen VPS. What are the advantages of Xen virtualization? Did you test and compare any other virtualization technologies to Xen?

Yes, we are testing Virtuozzo because it offers much denser packing of virtual machines on physical machine, and is mature product, with all tools you can imagine. So far, we a trilled with it.

Are you planning to launch any other language versions and to expand the customer portfolio in other countries?

Yes, during summer, we will have multilingual site. English for start, and maybe more in future.

What are the business priorities of Plus.hr – to expand in Shared Hosting, in VPS or in Dedicated Hosting?

Since our flagship product is shared hosting, we will continue to offer it. We will also work on reliability and features of shared hosting portfolio, we also offer dedicated servers, managed and unmanaged, and VPS servers with much affordable prices.

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.

ben-welch-bolen-site5I own web hosting directory that used to be quite popular 5 years ago in 2005. It used to bring me a lot of money from advertisers, but as often happens something else appeared and I begun spending less time working on it. So it’s profit went down to zero. Soon I found it was still good and decided to re-brand it. I gave a call to a few guys I know from web hosting and asked them whether they were willing to help. I got “Yeah” and got down to business.

When it comes to web media it is important to have good news and of course the right people speaking to your readers. One of them is Ben (Ben Welch-bolen), a guy who was in web publishing business but soon decided to buy a web hosting company. His new web host is Site5, a popular shared host.

So I dropped a message to Ben and asked him for an interview. And here he is.

Hi Ben, always good to talk to you. When I met you at Parallels Summit in Vegas, I told you that you have an interesting name. I remember I asked you where “Welch-bolen” comes from, but I forgot the answer. So please now tell B10WH readers about it

Hah sure! My dad’s last name is Bolen and my mom’s last name is Welch. They decided to combine their last names as my mom did not want her last name to be lost to us. So my last name is Welch-bolen and I’m one of only two people in the world to have that last name, the other being my brother.

Hmmm, so that makes very easy for anyone to find you. You must not break any law! When you go to benwelchbolen.com there is a question “Who is Ben Welch-bolen?” and the answer is “It is really hard to say”… I’m sure it is a lot to say about you. So just tell me about your education. You have graduated in University of Arkansas at Fayetteville… BTW they have a interesting introduction on the website… Did you make it :)

I made that site in around two minutes because I was tired of other sites ranking for my name “Ben Welch-bolen” and decided a funny title would be more fun.

The University of Arkansas is a fantastic school and the Fulbright Arts and Sciences program is, in my opinion, equal to any Ivy league education apart from the benefits Ivy league reputations bring. I think a lot of that is due to the old dean of Fulbright College, Don Bobbitt.  He did a fantastic job attracting and keeping high quality professors.

I took a few computer science classes when I started school but it was frustrating; they treated us like we were in the army, want you to drop classes because they have too many students, etc. The classes also lacked creativity and included a lot of busy work. Only a few of the professors seemed to have any passion for what they were teaching. I switched to humanities after that and really enjoyed taking classes on politics, international relations, anthropology, and religious studies.

Unfortunately I am color blind and have practically no web design skills so I’m left wishing I could make something as snazzy as their intro.

I checked the recommendations you have in your LinkedIn profile. You know… There are some people who build their social networking profiles to look as they are the brightest and finest ones you can meet. Your recommendations however look very authentic. See what Mitch Keeler told about you: “Ben is one of the hosting professionals that others should be inspired to be like. With his efficient work ethic and his finger on the pulse of the industry there is no doubt that he is one of the best in the business at what he does.”… This is very strong recommendation. You should be careful not to disappoint him :) Well I’m joking, but If I have go get serious I have to say that you really make an impression of a very intelligent and cool guy. But let me ask you something  “What do you think help most to any web hosting professional, to be very ambitious and determined or to be more spontaneous, tolerant, and creative…

That is very kind of Mitch, and hopefully I can live up to that! I think for a web hosting professional it really helps to love what you are doing because customers will be able to see that passion regardless of what the job you are doing for a web hosting company.

Web hosting is a service industry so if you love helping people with problems it will show in your work.

Personally I love that I’m providing a service that helps people start businesses, learn to code, design, or build something, or just provides the infrastructure needed to get that first blog up so they can express themselves to people around the world. I’ve been building websites since I was a little kid and the Internet still continues to amaze me. I’ve got friends around the world who I can communicate with, and being able to build a website that can reach a world wide audience for only a few dollars a month is awesome!

I’m asking you this question because the companies look much alike their owners :) I know that you were in publishing business before deciding to buy Site5. If you have to redesign and re-brand Site5 for 24 hours what would you change, what would you do different?

Wow hard question!  I love our web design so I would work inside that design. I would redo the front page to make the customer testimonials more prominent. Then, I would add images to the front page to help our visitors easily get to the hosting product that will best fit their needs.

After that, I would write more details on every feature of our plans as well as more general information on each product. The goal of all this would be to provide more information to prospective customers and to make our bounce rate as low as possible.

Another company of yours Bweeb welcomes its website visitors with the message “We love the creative freedom computers and the Internet offer the world and their unique ability to unite people virtually”. Is sounds that you like most the things you do in Bweeb?

Yep, I love a lot of what I do and I’m incredibly passionate about the opportunities computers and the Internet have for everyone in the world! I remember getting pen pal letters from kids in other countries when I was a little kid and would love to imagine how they lived and what they were doing. Now with the Internet I interact daily with people in Australia, India, Singapore, England and many other countries and the Internet has allowed us all to share ideas instantaneously!

It is also flattening the job market: a child growing up in China who studies programming is not limited by his geographic area and can be working for a company anywhere in the world. It is incredibly exciting to be in the computer industry right now; a person’s ability to create something online is not limited by anything other than his or her skills and effort.

Let me ask you something about HostGator, your previous employer, before start talking about Site5. HostGator was very aggressive on the shared hosting market. It was one of the first web hosting companies that begun offering “unlimited hosting”. I must admit I like HostGator, but sometimes their marketing methods looks a little bit bad-mannered. You have said on your profile that you “learned more than you ever thought possible about the hosting industry, marketing, and management” in HostGator. Why have you decided to leave, to create Bweeb…?

HostGator is an awesome company and I learned so much from Brent while I was working there. I do disagree on the unlimited hosting. Every shared hosting company is selling unlimited hosting, and that was the case even back then.

In shared hosting the real limits are things consumers don’t have a good understanding of, such as number of concurrent connections, CPU usage, and memory usage. It really comes down to making sure clients have a realistic understanding of what they can do on shared hosting.

I left HostGator because some side projects I had started at Bweeb really took off. My business partner and I started a network of websites to help users find web hosting companies as well as sites focused on teaching people how to build websites, hosting businesses, programming, and a lot more.  As those grew, they simply needed full time attention.

Now a question about Site5’s. Do you know that there are 937,000 listings in Google for Site5. I remember that this company was quite popular a few years ago. Why did you decide to buys it instead of building a new one? Didn’t you afraid that someone has built its reputation and it would be hard to change it the way you wanted?

We’ve worked with the owners of Site5 for the past few few years so we had a good understanding of their business, and were very comfortable with it’s considerable strengths and with the areas it needed improvement. We felt comfortable that we could fix the problems at Site5 and fix any reputation problems as visitors and customers saw what we were doing with the company over the next few years.

Over the last four years my business partner and I kept notes on what we wanted to do to make our web hosting different and offer something unique to consumers. Site5 already had a custom code base that runs most of their backend and that was a big factor.  This custom backend gives us great flexibility, and will make these future projects easier to complete and with fewer compromises.  If we started a new company it would have taken a long time to  create that base to build off of.  As it is, we are getting to jump right in to a very exciting time here at site5.

What do you think about buying hosting customers. Do you buy customers and does it worth the money? Isn’t it risky business, to acquire smaller companies and to reorganize them. It is probably easier to get new customers…?

I think there is an important distinction to be made here between buying smaller companies to then wrap into a larger hosting company and taking over a hosting business to maintain and improve it as it’s own company.  When we took over Site5 we bought the entire business, maintained as much continuity as we could while improving Site5’s service as much as we could.

I don’t consider that to be “buying customers”.  Buying a smaller hosts customers on the other hand, can indeed be tricky.  To do that you have to make sure you have software to handle migrating them to your system and that you are not loosing customers who have problems during this migration.  At the same time it can be an effective way to grow quickly.  It really comes down to looking at it from a business standpoint and what your cost to acquire a customer through marketing is versus outright purchase.

What do you do when you see a negative review about Site5? Do you discourage? What anyone has actually to do with customers that for some reason are very dissatisfied the service – to refund them and to let them to leave, or to try to keep them?

I try to do everything I can to help customers with the problem and help them to understand the situation. Our management team and I all have our emails published in the forums and on the website so our customers can contact us directly.  If they are not happy with a ticket or issue they can email us directly so we can look it over and make sure everything is working as it should.

Since we have only been running Site5 for three months it is hard when a review or comment is complaining about something before we took over, but that is just part of the job. I do my best to explain to them what changes we have made to stop those problems and offer them a free trial to come back and see what a difference we have already made. We also post a big blog post going over the changes we are making to improve service since we took over every three months. You can see the last one here.

Let me ask you about another company of yours. Who’s behind SearchEngineMarketing.co.uk and why di you decide to go for a .UK web address?

We have a pretty big network of sites on webmaster topics and for a while we were doing a fair amount of consulting work for companies in the United Kingdom. We started that blog to talk about SEO issues inside that market and I wanted a place to talk about a lot of marketing issues we saw on a daily basis. Unfortunately, I haven’t had as much time as I would like to write for it. We like to focus on smaller markets as they are easier to manage and the United Kingdom is a great geographic area to focus on.

Do you describe yourself as “Entrepreneur”. What’s your definition of entrepreneurship?

I would describe myself as an entrepreneur.  I really enjoy pushing myself and trying to make something out of nothing. I’m not sure I would be very good at generating a definition, but if I had too, I think I would define entrepreneurship as the act of thinking critically and creatively in order to solve a problem or market inefficiency, and doing the hard work to see if your solution, service, or product can succeed.

OK, it is time for a final question. Make me to sign up with Site5. What do I have to know about your company?

Hah no pressure there! Site5 has a great team of employees and offers well priced Shared Web Hosting, Reseller Hosting, and Managed Dedicated Servers. Our goal is to provide the most stable hosting for our customers and let them focus on building their websitse. We have a great community of customers and a very active forum that helps users with advice on coding, design, and more. Plus, how many hosting companies provide their CEO’s email so users can email complaints directly to him?