All Good Things: Birdhouse Hosting is Closing

I’m about to send the hardest note I’ve ever had to write to my loyal customers at Birdhouse Hosting, which I’ve had the pleasure (and pain) of running over the past decade+

hosting

=================

Hi Birdhouse Hosting users –

It’s very hard to write this, but I’ve decided, after 12+ years in the business, that it’s time to move out of the web and mail hosting game. There are lots of reasons for this:

  • As a boutique host, I simply can’t compete with the prices or services of the big providers.
  • GMail is so fantastically great, their spam control so good, their disk quota so huge, their web interface so excellent, that I am basically forced to recommend that you use their mail services instead of mine, which is paradoxical. “Please go use this free service instead of the one you’re paying for here!”
  • We once thrived on the power and interconnectedness of blogs, but social media has made blogs all but irrelevant (for individuals, not for publications).
  • Spam is relentless, and way too hard to deal with effectively.
  • As a one-man show, I can never take a true vacation or night off, and can’t be there during work hours if you need me.
  • At the end of the day, your needs are better served by a commercial host.

Of course,  most of you came to Birdhouse because you wanted a “boutique” experience – to be a name not a number, to have support from someone who understands your needs and technical skill level. I’ve been proud to have been able to provide those kinds of services to so many of you over the years. But frankly, I’m exhausted.

I’ll still be available to help work on your sites on a freelance basis in your new hosting environment, if you want that and if I have time. Just reach out.

Some logistics below, followed by a short history of Birdhouse Hosting.

So… what happens next?

We plan to shut down the main hosting server, gong.birdhouse.org, on December 31, 2015. That means you’ll need to find other hosting by that time. And hopefully, not in November 2015. :) These transitions – especially for those of you who host mail with us, take time and need to be managed carefully, so we need to start well in advance of that date.

Note to relatives and very close friends: I’ll take a very few of you with me – for free – to my personal account at another provider. You won’t need to deal with any of this.

I’m starting to transition some of our domains over to Dreamhost.com. Dreamhost is not a cPanel system, but it offers a lot of freedom and has the excellent ability of allowing you to delegate someone else as an account manager, which makes the transition process much easier (you can give me the right to manage your account during the transition).

We’ll also need to migrate any domain registrations I currently manage for you over to your registrar of choice, or to your new Dreamhost account.

If you have your eye on another provider, by all means, please take steps now to start moving your content to them, and let me know. If not, then please create an account at Dreamhost and make my email address an account manager (via Users | Account Privileges).

Of course, any unused portion of your Birdhouse hosting fee will be refunded at the time of account closing.

Moving web sites between hosts different is relatively straightforward. Moving mail stores between hosts can be hard, especially if you have a lot of email accounts, and are checking them from lots of different devices. There is one thing you can do make things much easier: Switch to GMail. You can configure your GMail to write and respond from your custom domain, while still being able to take advantage of their huge quotas and great spam control. And by making this switch, you’ll just have a simple email forwarder at Birdhouse, which is trivial to replicate on the new host. Please do strongly consider going for it now – once you’re done with the transition, you’ll never look back, promise (Confession: I’ve been using GMail – not Birdhouse mail – for the past six months).

I debated long and hard about the possibility of selling the business as-is. But there are two reasons I chose not to:

  1. All of the potential buyers I found were “all about the numbers,” and I felt you’d prefer to be independent than to be handed off to an anonymous purchaser. It would have been too painful to sell you off like a herd of cattle.
  2. I want to keep the birdhouse.org domain, which I procured at the very beginning of the web, in 1993. For technical reasons, it would have been very hard to sell the business without the domain.

Yes, all of this does make me sad. But in the long run, it really is the right thing to do. Thanks for understanding. So… please begin to take steps to migrate your hosting needs to another provider. I’m here to help with the transition.

A Little History

In 2003, my household transitioned from dial-up internet to DSL. Drunk on bandwidth, and with an office full of misc computers, and with the first version of OS X including built-in Apache, I realized I could now host my own domains from a Mac I kept running. I stuck a few personal project domains on the new server (“gong”). A conversation with a neighbor led to me hosting her site as well.

At the time, I was co-teaching multimedia skills classes to journalism students at UC Berkeley. Some of them were looking for custom hosting options, so I brought them along for the ride. Before long, Birdhouse was running 20 or so “real” sites off a Mac in my office. Our first major DSL outage convinced me that it was irresponsible to be hosting out of my home on consumer broadband, so I signed up for a colo account at EV1 (which has since been bought and absorbed by a larger company).

The first couple of years, I spent a lot of time creating provisioning scripts: Checking mail and disk quotas, setting up databases, writing application installers, spam control systems, etc. Then, one afternoon I looked over the shoulder of a student as she worked with the cPanel system provided by her host, and realized I was just reinventing the wheel. Many wheels, in fact.

A week later, I had set up shop with a cPanel provider (servint.net) and started transitioning everyone over. That was a bit painful, but the benefits were immense: Nearly all of the custom code went away, and dozens of additional tools became magically available. And security updates were immediate and automatic. It wasn’t all hands-off, but my customers were now empowered to help themselves on virtually every aspect of their hosting experience.

cPanel wasn’t a magic bullet – I still struggled with spam control (and do to this day), and grappled with occasional outages. But in general, life became so much easier that I felt free to take on many more customers. At the height of its popularity, Birdhouse hosted around 150 domains. I never made enough to quit my day job, but it was a nice side gig.

At the same time, I never stopped feeling guilty that I had to defer customer issues until late evening, and I never stopped feeling frustrated that I couldn’t take a vacation without having to check in a few times  a day.

Things started to ebb when personal blogs stopped being the lingua franca of the internet, and social media went mainstream. A few years later, I left my job at the J-School, and the stream of new customers pretty much dried up. To be honest, we’ve been limping along on the momentum of the past for a few years now, and we haven’t been able to add new customers at the same rate as natural attrition.

Which leads us to this point. As much as I’m going to miss doing this, and all of the awesome sites and customers we get to work with, I have to admit that it’s going to be a huge relief not to have to spend hours every night working on the hosting business.

To everyone who has ever worked with Birdhouse, thank you. Thanks for entrusting your sites to a tiny upstart instead of going with the Big Defaults. Thanks for doing awesome work in the non-profit, artist, and journalism spaces. Thanks for bearing with us through all of our podunk mistakes. Happy trails.

– Scot Hacker

3 thoughts on “All Good Things: Birdhouse Hosting is Closing

  1. Even though I haven’t been a Birdhouse customer for a number of years now, it makes me sad to hear this. That said, I’m happy you’ll have more free time and that you will be keeping the Birdhouse domain. Best of luck!

  2. Thanks Scott and Justin. Yeah, it’s definitely a mixed-blessing thing. I’m happysad right now.

    Scott, I’ll work with you to ensure a peaceful transition.

    Justin, thanks for the years you were with us!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *