Avoid A Small Orange and Other EIG Hosting (BlueHost, HostGator, etc.)

Step 1. Buy well-liked hosting company, Step 2. Screw it up, Step 3. Profit??

Who is EIG?

EIG (Endurance International Group) is a behemoth in the hosting industry that has amassed a portfolio of over 80 web hosting companies. Of the brands you're more likely to have heard of, they bought BlueHost in 2011 and HostGator in 2012. Chances are if you have ever used a web host, EIG has since bought them. The problem is that EIG is notorious for buying web hosting providers that people like and ruining them.

Take A Small Orange ("ASO") for example. EIG bought ASO in 2012. Kevin Ohashi, the founder of Review Signal wrote a great piece about this acquisition and its aftermath, titled "The Rise and Fall of A Small Orange". He explains far better than I can why EIG has developed such a bad reputation in the hosting industry, and he provides some great data to support it (showing how average user reviews tumble post-acquisition).

He also explains why A Small Orange didn't see significant declines in customer satisfaction until 2015 despite the acquisition taking place in 2012 (it has to do with ASO maintaining some autonomy and keeping its CEO around for a few years).

Some Good Years with A Small Orange

I started using A Small Orange in 2013. It was a small company with a weird name, but at the time it was receiving a lot of rave reviews. They were known for having excellent support, and part of their brand was being eco-friendly, with 100% of the electricity used by their servers coming from wind power (a claim that I believe was true at the time).

In my experience, their support staff was indeed friendly and helpful (the few times I reached out). They had fair pricing and good documentation. They also had a special sense of community that you don't normally find with hosting companies. I was a happy customer, especially when they announced support for Node.js and the relatively new Ghost blogging platform in late 2013. I had some bad experiences with WordPress(1) and had been wanting to try Ghost. Their "getting started" documentation didn't disappoint, and thus this blog was up and running.

Why I Left A Small Orange

Through 2015, I was generally happy with ASO. I do remember once not being able to access my site. It turns out they were experiencing an outage, but everything was back up in 10-15 mins and technically it fell within their 99.9% uptime guarantee. Fair enough, but since these instances weren't reported to users I wondered how frequently they occurred without my knowledge.

In 2016, it was as if ASO had completely forgotten about Node.js and Ghost. The auto-updater for Ghost stopped running. My blog got stuck at Ghost version 0.7.8, which was released in February 2016. For a while this didn't bother me too much; I would check the release notes for new Ghost versions and it didn't seem like I was missing out on much. Of course I eventually wanted to upgrade, and in late 2016 I attempted to do so. That's when I discovered that ASO was (and to my knowledge still is) running Node.js v0.10, which reached end-of-life in October 2016. The newer versions of Ghost available at the time (rightfully) didn't support Node.js v0.10, because it was past its end-of-life.

I chatted with ASO's support team (a few times, actually) and opened a ticket urging them to upgrade Node.js. They refused. I proclaimed "but it's past end-of-life!". Didn't matter.

I also asked about Let's Encrypt support (which provides an easy way to get free SSL/TLS certificates). Let's Encrypt was maturing and gaining significant popularity during this time, and I wanted a Let's Encrypt certificate of my own. Many hosting providers have added this as a feature, including cPanel integration. ASO to this day does not offer it, and a support rep told me they have no plans to do so on shared plans.

I planned to move off of ASO since they weren't updating their shit, but I kept putting it off. That was until I encountered a MySQL error that had nothing to do with my instance that took my site offline for I don't know how long. That was the last straw. I couldn't update core, out-dated services (Node.js), couldn't use Let's Encrypt, and had to suffer through random errors and downtime due to things that were preventable but completely out of my control.

Oh, I almost forgot. They also significantly raised their prices earlier this year (I think) without so much as an email to their existing customers. Oops.

So long, A Small Orange. It was fun while it lasted.

(1) A WordPress site of mine was once hacked and defaced, likely because I was running an out-of-date version. At the time (pre-automatic updates) I didn't realize the importance of frequently updating WordPress and the propensity for script kiddies to scan for vulnerable deployments. I also didn't like PHP much.

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