The other day I started to get a flood of spam returned to me via bogus return addresses. This has happened every month or so for a while: a day of 2000 messages in my inbox. The return addresses are all made-up localparts at my domain, like MiltonqWilsoncantelope@nedbatchelder.com. I thought, oh well, I’ll have to clean these all up, and I considered turning off the default address for my domain, so that these messages wouldn’t get delivered in the future.
Before I got around to it, though, my hosting provider (TotalChoice) decided to do something for me: they suspended my entire account, including my web hosting. For about 18 hours, this site was offline, and all emails to nedbatchelder.com were discarded. I found this to be a bit of an overreaction, and it pissed me off.
After some pestering, the support people let me know that my billing had also failed. I use a virtual credit card number, and it expires once a year, so this had happened a few times before, with no interruption in service. This time, I had to pay up before they would turn the account back on. After providing a new credit card number, the account was re-enabled.
I went to my email settings, and saw that the default address for nedbatchelder.com had been set to discard emails rather than forward them. This was fine, except that I realized that I had been using the custom of providing different emails to different sites: email@example.com for Bloglines, firstname.lastname@example.org for Digg, and so on. So I went through a pile of old emails to see what aliases like this I had created. It turns out there were about 60 different ones over the years. I started to create explicit forwards for the ones I really needed, but when I tested them, nothing was being delivered.
Turns out email@example.com was also being delivered only because of the default forwarding, so I had to create a real mail account for myself, change Thunderbird’s account settings to access it, and test it. It worked, so mail was at least flowing to me again. I created the half-dozen more aliases I needed, and they seem to work fine.
For some aliases, I figured I didn’t need them to be distinct, so why not just change them to ned@ and be done with it? One of these was the email I gave to eBay. I logged into eBay, and tried to change it to ned@. No luck: that email is in use. I clicked through to “I forgot my username”, and had eBay send me my username in an email. Turns out I am both “nedbatchelder” and “ned_batchelder” on eBay. Trying to change the underscore name to use a different email address wouldn’t work (the form kept claiming the username was invalid?). OK, let’s set my real account to point to my Gmail email. Nope: you need to have a credit card on file to use a Gmail address (why?). OK, I made a generic second email address for me at nedbatchelder.com, and pointed eBay at that. Whatever.
At this point, I think my email is working properly again. If you wrote to me Wednesday night or Thursday during the day, and I seemed (unusually) unresponsive, the email may have disappeared. Try me again.
Talking to friends about this incident, I’m told that this is what I can expect from an inexpensive vendor. One friend told me to switch to Dreamhost, they’re great. I mentioned to another friend that I already had an account at Dreamhost that I could switch to, and he said, they’re worse, don’t use them.
Having been through other experiences like this with other hosting providers, and reading reviews online of hosts, and talking to friends, I’ve come to this conclusion: with a commodity like hosting, most people will have a fine experience with whatever provider they choose. There are probably truly bad providers, but most are fine, and most people will have a good story to tell. But some small number (1%? 5%?) will have a horror story to tell, and again, it will happen with whatever provider they choose. So I don’t know what to expect in the future, and I don’t know whether to switch or not.