In 2003 I started designing and publishing websites for individuals, small businesses and charities. They were simple, rather amateurish affairs, but adequate for their purpose, and some of them are still useful and remain on line. I charged very little or nothing for the work as it was an enjoyable pastime.
But of course I had to register the domains and buy some webspace, and I chose the cheapest host I could find, an outfit aimed particularly at students. I hadn't been a student since George VI was on the throne, but they were happy to accept me as a paying guest, and all went fairly well until last December, when it became clear that things were going wrong with my host: it became impossible to get replies to emails, their billing portal was inaccessible so that I couldn't pay for renewals, and technical support was non-existent. So I had to think of transferring my webs to a new host, and thus began a three-month nightmare.
For a start, wresting control of my domains away from the firm I had light-heartedly handed them over to four years earlier proved difficult since they would not co-operate, and I had to open an account with another firm, get a Domain Release Certificate and obtain Authorisation Codes (for the .coms) and get the tags changed (for the .co.uk ones) so that the domains could be transferred, and then find a suitable new host.
All this would be child's play, of course, to an experienced computer person. Well, I suppose I am experienced in one sense—I have been playing with the things since 1982—but I am not an expert: I was never much good with them, and most of the skills I acquired are either forgotten or irrelevant (who nowadays needs to write DOS batch files, or use DbaseII?).
But the real reason it all became a nightmare is that the kind of people who work in the Support departments of computer companies are not, to put it mildly, of the highest calibre; never before have I encountered in such a short space of time so many stupid, pig-ignorant, incompetent, ill-natured swine. It has been like taking a winter break at Conservative Central Office.
There were times I have needed every ounce of those qualities for which my name has long been a byword—the quiet diffidence, the mildness of temper under provocation, the reluctance to rebuke or even to criticise, the calm tolerance of human frailty—in order to stop myself from speaking out severely or even intemperately.
Then I was recommended to a vast telecoms outfit who are business-oriented but were prepared to accept my little account, and I started another transfer process. All went swimmingly until, after an exchange of some forty-eight emails and several hours on the telephone, I found out that they could not provide something I needed (FrontPage extensions, if you must know), and I had to start looking again.....
Finally I have got back to where I was last November, with the domains safely ensconced and the webs uploaded. My new webhosts seem all right, but it is early days yet: in response to one complaint I made to them I received an email which was addressed "Dear Individual" and read: "...I have checked the extensions on that domain name and can confirm that there was an issue. To resolve this I have tried removing and re-adding the extensions from here."
There was an issue... This is computer-speak for "Yes, there was something wrong at our end but we don't do apologies. Anyway, we have no idea what it was, but we may well have put it right now, for all we know."
Well, they had fixed it, so I suppose I must try not to worry any more....