Frequently Asked Questions

The NearlyFreeSpeech.NET FAQ (*)

General (*)

What's the most important thing to know about your service?

NearlyFreeSpeech.NET is a do-it-yourself service, designed to allow experienced webmasters and people who are strongly self-motivated to set up low-cost hosting by only paying for services they actually use.

Support is a great example of a high-cost service that's typically bundled into hosting offerings. But it's also a great example of a service that most of our members don't use and don't want to pay for. As a result, our system is designed to be used without individual private support, and our baseline membership does not provide it. Nor do we offer "pre-sales" support; it's up to you to figure out if our service is a good fit for your needs.

If you do want support, we do provide a wealth of documentation, self-support and community-support options. There is also a higher-cost subscription membership available that offers limited individual private support via email and our website. But this doesn't change the do-it-yourself nature of our service: individual support provided to subscription members is limited to guidance, you'll still have to do all of the heavy lifting yourself.

This means that if you don't want to pay for individual private support, you don't have to. But it also means that if you don't pay for it, you won't get it.

If one of those options works for you, great! If, on the other hand, you're looking for a more "high contact" approach to support or if you're looking for someone to create or manage a site for you, that's absolutely fine, but a do-it-yourself service like ours may not be the best fit for your needs.

To put it another way, some people change their own oil. Some people pay a mechanic to do it because although they could do it themselves, they want to spend their time another way. And some people pay a mechanic to do it because they just want their car to work and the details don't interest them. NearlyFreeSpeech.NET is a service for people who want to change their web site's oil.

What's the most common mistake people make while signing up for NearlyFreeSpeech.NET?

The most common mistake people make while signing up for our service is disregarding the unique one-to-one relationship between a person and their membership.

Your membership represents you as an individual. As it says in bold print on our signup page, you may only have one membership, you may not create a membership for anyone but yourself, no one but you may access your membership, you can't transfer your membership to another person. (Transferring some or all of the services on your membership to another member, on the other hand, is dead easy.) You must also use your individual, real name on your membership.

These warnings and policies are there for a reason. When people don't follow them, then sooner or later problems result.

Don't: create memberships for other people.
Do: host their stuff for them on your membership or get them to do it themselves.

Don't: tell us your real name is "Company Inc." or "Organization Webmaster."
Do: create an account for the organization on your membership.

Don't: create a second membership for a new project or customer you want to work on.
Do: create a second account instead.

Don't: give your login credentials to somebody so they can help you or share responsibility.
Do: have them create a membership and add them to your site as an adjunct member or share your account with them.

If you do one or more of these things, it will eventually result in problems. You may find yourself unable to log in, unable to make payments, or your membership may wind up in the hands of someone who has no idea what they're doing.

Why do I have to enter my real name when creating a membership?

If you lose access to your membership, the first step in our recovery process is providing a government-issued photo ID matching the name on the membership. If you entered a fake name or "Thus-and-such Webmaster" when you signed up, you're typically screwed. (It is possible to customize your recovery settings in advance in such a way that you can get around this later, but we strongly discourage that since it makes it just as easy for others to get around it as well.)

We're absolutely fanatical about our privacy policy. We're not going to give your name to anybody unless somebody shows up with a judge's signature. If you don't trust us with your name, you probably shouldn't trust us with your content either.

Requesting a real name also helps people avoid the most common signup mistake.

Can I beat your pricing if I get my own VPS?

Maybe. We aren’t out to provide the cheapest possible service. In fact, we have absolutely no interest in doing so. Our goal to is to provide a high-quality service at a fair price, and make it scale so we can put that service in the hands of as many people as possible, many of whom couldn't otherwise afford it.

With that said, the most common reason people feel that we're more expensive than an alternative is that they are comparing us to a different type of service.

We provide a fully managed environment, including frequent security updates, careful performance tuning, and 24x7 response to crashes and outages for everything underneath your code. The tools you need to build your site are already there, ready to be used and customized however you want. We have dedicated infrastructure to build a constant stream of updates, more infrastructure that runs regression tests on those updates to make sure things are working before they get to you, then we let you pick just how aggressively you want those updates applied.

With an unmanaged VPS, the provider maintains the hardware (hopefully), but doesn’t care if your VPS is up or down. The full responsibility of installing and maintaining the OS, the system configuration, all the packages and utilities, and the entire application stack falls on you. Every critical security update. Every urgent kernel patch. Every weird error in the system log. Every crash in the middle of the night. Every traffic surge. You have to know about it, you have to know what to do about it, and you have to do it. Often on a deadline. And that responsibility never goes away. It never even takes a day off.

Occasionally, people comparing us to a VPS zero-value that, because it hasn't occurred to them, or because they plan to do it themselves (some of it, anyway — system administration is good-paying full-time job) and haven’t placed a dollar value on their time. But VPS providers sure don't zero-value it. The price difference between an unmanaged VPS and a fully-managed VPS from the same provider is often $50-200/month. Already, our pricing looks a lot better!

Second, the lowest VPS deals come from brand new providers who lose money on every sale. They’re buying market share by selling below their cost. We don’t compete with them on price. We just wait for them to go out of business.

Third, VPS providers use all sorts of tricks to make it seem like they’re providing a lot more than they really are. Hopefully you’re already convinced, but if you’re in the mood to keep reading, the rest of this FAQ entry contains a partial (but long) list of such tricks and what we do differently.

VPS's and RAM:

VPS's and storage space

VPS overselling

We are not trying to say all VPS’s are bad, or even that they’re all a bad deal. There are some applications where a VPS is a better fit than our service. And if you don’t need or want all that we provide, and don’t mind doing a lot of work yourself, a low-end VPS may save you some money. But in an awful lot of cases, for sites big and small, we provide an excellent value that no VPS can match.

How much does the average site really cost?

We have recently changed our pricing, and so we cannot currently offer good statistics for this. They will return in a few months. Until then, we recommend using our Pricing Estimator tool to get an idea of what your hosting costs might be.

Do you provide email hosting services?

No we do not.

We do, however, provide email forwarding service. You can set up as many different addresses at your domain as you like, specifying where each one should be forwarded and/or use "catchall" forwarding to send everything to a single address.

The first choice, and often the best one, is to use the email account(s) provided by your ISP for this, but there are other options. Many of our members choose to use free email services like Gmail or whatever Microsoft is calling their free email this week.

Is your service easy to use?

No.

Compared to the endless parade of hosts that provide tons of "one-click installs," one-size-fits-all web site templates, unlimited toll-free telephone support, and cookie-cutter control panels, our service is arcane and complex. We consider this a positive.

Our service is designed for people who are comfortable with Unix-based web hosting, including manipulating MySQL and files using command line tools. To get good results for nontrivial sites, our members need to understand how Unix file permissions and ownership work, and how they apply to a secure web hosting environment.

We do provide extensive documentation, including a massive FAQ, that addresses a large number of the most common inquiries we receive. Because we employ neither "canned answers" to inquiries for support nor underpaid "tier 1" support personnel to give them, we do tend to refer people to the documentation when their questions have detailed and complete answers there.

But if our systems are working properly, we expect that most of our members should never need to contact support. By extension, they should not have to pay extra to maintain a staff of people they never use. Consequently, our free technical support is extremely limited and is provided primarily through our community forum. The primary option for those seeking individual support (subscription membership) costs extra and even that has fairly strict limits as far as how much help we can provide.

We have found that most of our successful members are those who have previous experience with web hosting. This is, however, a gross generalization. We have plenty of members who have made amazing sites starting from ground zero because they are strongly self-motivated and learn well independently. It's cool for us to watch them learn, too.

If you are not comfortable that you already have the knowledge and experience outlined here, and you do not particularly want to acquire it, that's a perfectly valid position, but it means that using our service may be an exercise in frustration for you that is best avoided.

Do you provide DNS hosting services?

Yes! Our DNS service meets most simple DNS and email service requirements for the average website. NearlyFreeSpeech.NET DNS supports most common resource record types (A, AAAA, CNAME, MX, NS, SRV, TXT, and PTR).

How many web sites can I host with a NearlyFreeSpeech.NET membership?

Our system is very flexible in this regard. Each membership can have one or more accounts. Each account can have one or more sites. Each site can have one or more domain names. For many people, this means one membership, one account, one site, and one domain name. For many others, it gives them the power to be as creative as they want, and to pursue several different goals.

Whether you spread your websites across multiple accounts or keep them all in one is completely up to you. Support for multiple accounts allows people who have sites for different reasons, such as business and personal, to keep the finances separate if they choose to do so.

Do you register domain names?

Yes we do.

See this page for full information about our integrated domain name registration services.

How will I know if my account is about to run out of funds?

Our system will send you email (or, optionally, SMS) reminders when your account is running low on funds (and of course it will let you know if you run completely out). The reminder levels come pre-configured at $5.00 and $1.00, but you can add, change, or remove them at will.

Why do you only offer prepaid service?

We do this for several good reasons:

  1. This allows you to limit your exposure. If for some reason your website spins out of control, you won't open your mailbox and find a $1000 bill. It'll burn through whatever you have on deposit and then shut down, allowing all of us to work together to find and fix the problem before it gets out of hand. Your liability can never exceed the amount of money you have on deposit.
  2. Holding a deposit also helps us limit our exposure. By holding the funds for a site in advance, we ensure that nobody ever incurs charges for services they can't pay. If we didn't do that, your costs would go up because our members would ultimately have to pay to cover the costs of all the other people who defaulted.
  3. Maintaining accounts lowers our overhead. We don't have to send out bills, past due notices, or go to collections. That's one more unnecessary thing you don't have to pay for, meaning your costs stay low.
  4. It means there is no list of credit card numbers or bank accounts waiting around for hackers to find.

My web designer says I should use somebody else instead of you. What do you say?

We say: go visit somebody else's website. Look for their affiliate program. Find out if your web designer is getting a kickback for referring you. Some providers pay 10% or more every month.

Affiliate programs make it difficult for a web designer to make objective recommendations about what's good for your business. So good web designers generally don't participate in affiliate programs, and you can rely on their advice. We don't have an affiliate program, so when someone recommends us, you can be comfortable that it's because they like us.

On the other hand, maybe your designer has had good luck with somebody else and knows that they provide quality service, a system they're already familiar with, and a price that's in your budget. In a case like that, sometimes it's better to go that way. Few roads are better than the ones one knows best. We'll be here if you need us.

Do you price-match your competitors?

No.

Our pricing plan is designed to be fair to you and fair for us. It represents our actual cost to provide the service. In the case of resources, for instance, this is literally true: all revenue from resource charges is channeled directly into the acquisition and maintenance of hosting hardware. And by "hardware" we don't mean a Hummer with a sexy custom "NearlyFreeSpeech" wrap on it.

Our pricing plan is simple and straightforward as well as very competitive. You pay for what you use, and you don't pay for what you don't use. That's all there is to it.

Prices that appear better than ours fall into two categories: big bundles and temporary loss leaders. Our thoughts on big bundles are detailed elsewhere. As for loss leaders, as long as the hosting business exists, there will be somebody offering free or below-cost service because they think adding customers is more important than building a sustainable service. Competing on price with every free-today-gone-tomorrow hosting provider that comes along would simply guarantee that we'd lose what really makes our service the best deal: its simplicity, honesty, and sustainability.

How can you make money at these prices?

It's not easy. For one thing, we keep overhead to a minimum. No fancy multi-acre Silicon Valley office palaces with slides and wandering masseurs here. No business development teams. No commission-driven sales force.

Also, we try to avoid doing stupid things that make no sense just because we heard someone else made a lot of money that way. That really helps.

This is not a loss leader, a limited time offer, or restricted to only certain people. This is our business model, and it works.

What is the minimum deposit?

Our system will attempt to allow any reasonable deposit.

There is no minimum balance needed to create a site, but your balance must be at least $0.01 if you want it to work. :-)

Will you design my web site for me?

No, we will not. Our design skills are horrifyingly bad anyway. We like to stick to what we're good at, which is hosting sites, not creating them.

Do you offer collocation, dedicated servers, or VPS services?

No we do not.

There's no other way to put it: we're complete control freaks. Our policy is simple: if we don't have a remote-controlled explosive collar welded in place around your neck, we don't give you root on our network. Since there are currently no commercially-available remote-controlled explosive collars licensed for public use, this pretty much means we don't give you root on our network.

This is very good from a security and reliability standpoint, but it does rule out offering these sorts of services.

However, our hosting services have gotten more and more powerful over the years, to the point where you can do pretty much anything on our service that you can do with a VPS, dedicated server, or colo, as long as it's web-based. If you're under the impression you need a VPS or dedicated server to run your web site, try asking about it in our forums, because there might be a better way.

The notable exceptions to this are handling credit card numbers directly on your site (for which we recommend using a third-party service run by security experts instead), or handling regulated health information, for which there really is no alternative to a provider that can offer HIPAA-compliant hosted services (and, regrettably, the massive associated expense).

Are you about to pop up a "chat now with sales!" ad on me?

Nope. Aren't those annoying?

What happens if I get slashdotted/reddited?

Typically, not much. Our system includes dynamic load-balancing and scalability so it can adapt quickly to dramatic changes in your traffic levels. (It is possible to create a site that's so inefficient that it can't keep up no matter what we do, but that's pretty rare.)

A major "slashdotting" (or insert the surge site of the week here) of a site hosted on our service will cost you (on average) less than $10, one time. The best part about that is that as soon as it's over, your costs go back to normal, but you'll save any usage-based discount resulting from the traffic burst. There's no higher-tier pricing to get permanently pushed into, and we won't cancel you for having something to say that people actually want to hear.

This happens to one of our members about once a week, so you can bet we know how to handle it. Or rather, our systems do. Our load-adaptive clustering technology is at its best when handling demand surges, and our pricing is at its best when you'd prefer not to be billed based on a 1% event the other 99% of the time.

Note: Our service is based on science, not magic. It will not make slow sites run quickly, nor will it make sites scale if they aren't built for it. Your site must be able to complete requests at the same rate they come in. If it cannot, for whatever reason, then there is nothing our system (or any other) can do; you're gonna have a bad time. Please take this into account when designing sites intended for high traffic levels.

What if I want to set up a web site but don't have a domain name / don't want to fool with DNS?

When you create your website on our service, you will be asked to give it a "short name," which is a brief one-word name for your site that must be unique across our entire service, and we give you a built-in hostname based on that.

For example, if you choose example as your site's short name, you will always be able to access it as http://example.nfshost.com/.

If you don't want DNS or a domain of your own, you're welcome to use this name for your site at no additional cost. If you do use a domain of your own, then having your site available under this alternate name may help you troubleshoot any problems during the setup process, as well as provide a backup if there is ever a problem with your domain.

How come your service isn't free?

Because the servers we buy and the bandwidth we obtain are very competitively priced, but they still do cost money, as do the people that run them.

We get this question from two different angles. First, there are always people who just want something for nothing. We don't have much to offer those people.

The second angle comes from people who would like to see us offer some sort of ad-sponsored free service. There are two primary reasons we have not pursued that:

  1. If it were possible for us to sell ad space on your site and make money from your hard work, wouldn't that be a little like ripping you off? You are welcome to sell ad space on your site, if you wish, and you are the only person who should profit from it. If you want to try this out, Google AdSense is a great, easy way to get started, and it works with our service.
  2. Accepting sponsorship for a site places additional constraints on the content of that site. If we did this on any kind of scale and were dependent on the profits, the sponsors would gain enough influence over us to potentially force us to censor our members. That's unacceptable.

Finally, we would encourage you to remember the time-tested truth about free services on the Internet: if you're not paying then you're not the customer, and if you're not the customer then you're the product. And if that doesn't put you in mind of the mental image of a herd of cows milling around outside a slaughterhouse, well, we admire your optimism.

Our customers are not advertisers, not venture capitalists, not the government, and not public opinion. Our only customers are our members.

What's the difference between bandwidth and storage?

Of the two, storage is easier to understand. Just like you, we have hard drives (except larger and probably more expensive) and we store the files that make up your site on them. Storage refers to how much space those files take up. Storage billing is measured in units called megabyte-months, which refers to one megabyte stored on our system for one month.

Bandwidth, on the other hand, refers to the amount of data that is sent out when people visit your site. Bandwidth is measured in units of gigabytes. If your page (including any graphics and such that may go with it) takes up one megabyte of space, then about a thousand people (1024 actually) would have to download the whole thing to get to a gigabyte of bandwidth, and that's what you'd be billed for.

Why doesn't your website look like other hosting provider sites?

It's simple. We don't want to confuse people into thinking we're anything like other hosting providers. Our simple, text-based layout is designed to load fast, to be easy to use, and not to try to distract you from making an informed decision about us. As if that's not enough, we also think Jakob Nielsen is pretty cool.

So, sure, we could follow the crowd and get stock graphics of impressive racks of equipment and inspired-looking people staring blankly into space. We've even been told we can't possibly be taken seriously as a hosting company unless we have them. But we're not buying. Those other companies can keep the sort of people who make hosting decisions based on how cute the model on the home page is. Our members are way too smart for that, and that's just how we like it.

And psst, we'll let you in on a little secret. Not all of our servers are the same color. Scandalous, we know.

Are your domain registration services intended for general-purpose usage?

No, our domain registrations services are provided on a cost-recovery basis as a service to our hosting members, and are not intended to be used as a standalone product. We are not, nor do we have any interest in being, a general-purpose domain registration provider.

Consequently, while we do not impose any restrictions on the use of our domain registration and RespectMyPrivacy.COM services, our system is specially designed to facilitate use of registered domains with our hosting services. If you wish to use these services for other purposes, you are welcome to do so, with the following caveats:

What if my web site gets attacked?

This is a tough question. We do host websites that get attacked by a wide variety of different methods. However, the variety is so wide that there is no "typical" attack scenario or "average" outcome that we can offer as an example.

At any given time, our network is typically experiencing between zero and three denial-of-service (DOS) or distributed-denial-of-service (DDOS) attacks. Most are short, lasting only a few minutes or hours, but the longest lasted for over a month. Most are not service-disrupting, but occasionally they can render a member site inaccessible, and rarely, if they are significant enough, large-scale DDOS attacks can sometimes briefly disrupt our entire service. (This is equally true of all web hosts.)

To help protect our members' sites, we employ a large number of passive network features like connection filtering and firewalls. These are generally very effective against the everyday attacks we most frequently experience. When attacks go beyond the simple, an active response by NearlyFreeSpeech.NET personnel is typically required. Our active response to attacks on member sites (or on our service itself) is roughly proportional to the square of the disruption caused; our response escalates very quickly as attacks become more severe. Thanks to our long experience in the area, we have a wide arsenal of tools that can be dynamically employed or tuned to help mitigate serious attacks. We take keeping our members' sites online very seriously!

Having your site attacked does sometimes consume resources, e.g. bandwidth, that we charge for. The cost of such an attack depends on the type, scale, and duration of the attack, as well as in large part on your actions before and during the attack. Since these factors are not under our control, vary widely, and cannot be accurately predicted, we will not under any circumstances attempt to estimate what the financial implications of a hypothetical attack might be. If you want such an estimate, simply figure out the bandwidth that would be used based on the size of your site and the anticipated volume of requests.

However, since our service is paid in advance, you always have complete control over your maximum financial liability simply by controlling the balance of your account. If you feel your site is attack-prone and you are primarily concerned about costs, we encourage you to maintain a low account balance to limit your exposure. Then, if a situation arises, you will be able to make an informed decision about your best course of action before incurring any significant expenses. If you feel your site is attack-prone and you are primarily concerned about availability, we suggest that you maintain a larger account balance and customize our account balance warning feature to notify you if your expenses spike in an abnormal way.

Our service is based on personal responsibility. Although our TACOS ensure that you have broad discretion in choosing what to say on your site, if you choose to say something controversial then you must be prepared to be first in line to bear the consequences. We will not indemnify you or waive any costs you incur arising from an attack on a site you host; we are a hosting provider, not an insurance provider.

In all cases, if you are concerned about your site being attacked, you are your own first and best line of defense. You should design a site that is lightweight and fast-loading so that it remains available under heavy load and minimizes bandwidth cost.

If you run into a problem with someone attacking your site or trying to bleed your funds dry, please feel free to contact us. It is absolutely not our intention to sit back and laugh while someone drains your account, whether your site content provoked the attack or not. In some cases, we can block obvious troublemakers and certain types of attacks so they will not reach your site. But since you are the site operator, we will expect you to take all reasonable measures to protect yourself first. Example 1: If someone is posting rude comments on your forum site, you will need to use your forum's blocking features to handle it. Example 2: If someone writes a script to repeatedly download the largest static banner graphic on your site, we may be able to block their IP address for you.

With all that said, it's worth noting that most sites will never be attacked directly and have absolutely nothing to worry about in this area. Even given our libertarian TACOS, fewer than 0.1% of our hosted sites have ever been targeted by noteworthy attacks.

Is your service only for controversial or extreme websites?

Not at all! It's true that our libertarian attitude toward personal responsibility attracts a handful of controversial websites, some of which make a person wonder, "Ok, sure, you can say that, but why?" However, the vast majority of sites we host (greater than 99.9%) are perfectly ordinary blogs, forums, wikis, and personal pages run by people just like you.

For the bulk of our member base, the "fringe" web sites we host frequently serve as the proverbial canary in the coal mine: they act as our global censorship early warning system. As long as the fringe sites can remain online, we can all be confident that the rest of us with more moderate views have real freedom to express ourselves. When people (or governments) attack such sites or attempt to get them shut down, we learn more about what legal and technological techniques we need to use to keep your site protected.

NearlyFreeSpeech.NET isn't necessarily about saying something controversial. In a lot of cases, it's merely about knowing that if you need to someday, you won't find out that your freedom to do so atrophied away while you weren't looking.

Should I set up my new small business website at NearlyFreeSpeech.NET?

NearlyFreeSpeech.NET provides our members a very specific service: it is designed for people who want to tinker with their website at a very low level and squeeze every last drop out of it. We are in some respects similar to an auto parts store, rather than a mechanic. NearlyFreeSpeech.NET will sell you an alternator for your '72 Impala*, but both the responsibility to determine that the '72 Impala needs an alternator, and the job of installing it remain with the customer. All the knobs, tweaks, options, and flexibility we provide can become a real frustration for a person who just wants to be done already.

Furthermore, as a small business ourselves, we understand that one of the keys to success is for the principals to spend as much time as possible focusing on the high-skill areas and as little time as possible on "have to" stuff, including accounting, legal issues, and maintaining web pages. Every minute that we spend on something that we're barely competent or outright bad at is a minute we're not spending leaving the competition in the dust. Thus, we try to outsource as many of those tasks as possible so we can focus on doing what we're actually good at.

For that reason, in general, we find it difficult to recommend our service to new and small businesses; the do-it-yourself nature of our service and the limited support that entails can be anathema to someone who really needs to be spending their time somewhere else. So it's often better to pay (a lot) more and get a turnkey solution. But there are two exceptions to this:

First, for a lot of businesses these days, the website is the business. If you're a high-tech person trying to build a small business around a dynamic web site and you need advanced control over the programming and site configuration, as well as excellent speed and scalability at minimal cost, NearlyFreeSpeech.NET may well be perfect for you.

Second, the economic realities of new businesses often dictate that the owners have to do some of the things that are outside of their core skills. If money is tighter than time and the alternative is not to have a site, the ability to create a site at NearlyFreeSpeech.NET for pennies may be priceless, even if it takes a little more work.**

*As long as your '72 Impala supports HTTP and is hosted on our service.

**But don't expect to see any "NearlyFreeSpeech.NET: It's better than nothing!" marketing campaigns.

Will you pre-approve my web site content for compliance with your Terms and Conditions of Service?

No. If you are concerned that you might encounter problems with the content you want to publish, we'd strongly advise that you consult an attorney familiar with such issues. We can't provide legal advice, and don't offer a service that is intended to (or by any stretch of the imagination, could) protect our members from everything they might bring upon themselves by what they choose to publish.

Free speech is a responsibility, and it is important that our members understand and are willing to accept the consequences of what they do, and do not expect us to do it for them.

For your reference, here are links to all the relevant fine print:

How much will my site cost to host with you?

This is a question only you can answer. Sites are billed based on the resources they consume (bandwidth, storage, and CPU/RAM). The cost is therefore based on the size and popularity of your site, as well as any optional features of our service that it uses (like domain registration or MySQL).

We don't know any of those things about your site, and we are not able to estimate things about your site that you don't know yourself. If you have your own estimates or past records about your site's size and popularity, you can use those, plus the pricing information available on our site, to estimate the approximate cost.

We do provide a Pricing Estimator you can use to try to get an idea of how much your hosting may cost.

What kind of uptime can I expect with NearlyFreeSpeech.NET?

It depends. (Of course.) The short answer is: Not only don't we know, we can't know. The long answer uses the word "however" a lot.

Shared hosting has a well-earned reputation for volatility, due to the fact that you are sharing resources with other people and neither you nor we know from moment to moment what they or the visitors to their site are going to do. However, the most common causes of downtime for member sites are specific to the particular site affected (misconfigured DNS, an expired domain, runaway scripts, letting your prepaid account run out of funds, etc).

We find that when people ask us about uptime, they are expecting us to give them a magic number with a certain quantity of nines in it that represents what fraction of the time our service is available. However, our service is sufficiently varied and complex that offering such a number would be disingenuous, especially since we host a large number of sites and they don't all move in lock-step; one person's downtime might not affect someone else.

It would be very easy (and blatantly dishonest) for us to pick an arbitrary metric that would allow us to claim 100% uptime, or any number of nines we want. But, likewise, for any sufficiently large cluster of computers, something somewhere is always offline for maintenance, so we could probably make an argument for 0% uptime. (Though we won't.) Sites move back and forth, servers go up and down, and most of it happens without any visible effect. Even when a production server crashes (which does happen from time to time) it typically affects only a relatively small percentage over our members' sites, and usually only for a few minutes.

Our clustered approach does provide resiliency against many (but not all) types of hardware and load problems that cause downtimes at providers where your site is 100% dependent on the availability of a specific server. However, we do develop and maintain our own clustering software, so occasionally something incredibly weird may happen here that never would have or could have happened anywhere else. Such events are rare, but not without precedent.

Sites hosted at NearlyFreeSpeech.NET are probably slightly more likely to be "collateral damage" of a denial-of-service attack targeting some other controversial site hosted here than at other hosting companies that are less flexible in terms of hosted content. However, the flip side is that you are probably better protected against most such attacks due to our extensive experience with them, leading to (most likely) a very small net difference in the chance of being affected by that type of downtime.

All in all, our overall service availability is probably above average to very good when compared to other shared hosting providers. However, "overall availability" is meaningless to someone who's affected by something that doesn't affect everyone. Each person's view of our service availability can and will vary widely based on their personal experience as well as their personal criteria for what constitutes "availability."

We do monitor all of our systems and services continuously from multiple offsite locations and respond to problems detected as quickly as possible, 24x365.

Is this cloud computing?

No. Clouds are fluffy. We are not fluffy!

We have been using "cloud-like" principles since we started in 2002. We make heavy use of multiple virtualization technologies, hardware independence, shared resource pooling, load balancing and clustered job distribution. But we do not consider ourselves to be a cloud computing provider, if only because that's such a marketing term and really means very little. (We've seen it argued that "the cloud" is anything you don't host on equipment you own and operate yourself.)

Where are you located?

From a geographic and legal standpoint, our entire business operates from inside the United States of America. Almost all of our services are provided from our primary datacenter in Phoenix, Arizona. (According to insurance studies, Phoenix is the major US city least likely to experience a natural disaster or terrorist attack, a distinction it has enjoyed for at least the last 20 years.)

From an Internet standpoint, we are well-connected to multiple Tier 1 backbone providers. We do not use bandwidth from the "discount" carriers frequently associated with inexpensive web hosting providers.

Keep in mind that although our company is solely under the jurisdiction of United States law, our Terms & Conditions of Service do require you to follow the laws of whatever country you are in. (With certain limited free-speech-related exceptions available only with our prior written consent.)

Also, although much has been written lately about how imperfect the US government is when it comes to Internet issues, it remains the best choice for hosting. Most of the top countries one would consider as alternatives have already been caught doing the exact same stuff; at this point it's safer to assume that the rest just haven't been caught yet. But in the end, there aren't any other countries that have good Internet connectivity and infrastructure, fundamentally recognize the individual right to freedom of speech, and have a legal system that doesn't force web hosts to remove anything that generates complaints.

The US isn't the perfect choice, it's just the best one. So we'll keep working to make it better through our support of the EFF, the Freedom of the Press Foundation, and similar organizations.

The exception to this is that if your web site will greatly antagonize the US government or is illegal in the US, you should not use any US-based host, including us, to host it. That's just common sense.

Do you offer telephone support?

No. We provide support primarily through the ticket-based issue reporting system on our site, in our forums, and through email.

Providing good-quality telephone technical support is very difficult and expensive. Since most of our members don't use support and, more importantly, don't want to pay for support they don't use, maintaining a telephone support option for the few people who would use it is not economically feasible. We also have a moral objection to call centers; anyone who has ever seen, run, or interacted with one knows that that's no way to treat human beings, regardless of which side of the phone they're on.

Most companies as small as ours that offer telephone support do so by outsourcing it. We looked into that, and it's a very cost-effective approach, but the result is moderately awful; it still involves call centers, and it fills them with people that have little to no knowledge about the specific system they're "supporting." When a call comes in, their screen flashes up with the name of the company they're supposed to represent, and since they know little to nothing specific about the company or how its systems work, pretty much all they can do is search the FAQ and read entries to callers in the hopes that they find the right one. While that works in a lot of cases, it wouldn't work here. Soul destruction aside, our members are smart, motivated and tend to have a lot of experience; if their questions are in the FAQ, they typically prefer to find and read what they need for themselves.

However, there are web-hosting companies that do a great job with telephone support, especially for new customers and people inexperienced with web-hosting. If that's something you're looking for, you may find that one of those companies is a much better fit for your needs than we are. And although they may be considerably more expensive, the extra investment is often well worth it if that type of extensive assistance is something you expect to use frequently.

Someone else uses your service and wants my help with it. How do I help them?

Very carefully.

First and foremost, do not let the other person give you their login credentials. If they do, don't use them. Doing that will result in the membership being suspended, and will cause both of you all kinds of problems and misery without helping anybody.

That means that to help someone else with our service you're going to need a (free) membership of your own. There are two very important reasons for this:

  1. When you go to the signup page, you'll see bold print warnings that memberships are created for individuals (not companies or organizations) and that they may not be created for others, transferred, or shared. Make sure you heed those warnings. If you don't: suspended → problems and misery → nobody helped.
  2. Creating your own membership will give you the opportunity to look around our system and make sure that you're familiar with the features and limitations of our service, and that you're comfortable you can provide the necessary help.

Second, it matters what type of help is being sought.

If the person just needs help managing the content of a web site, we have a feature called adjunct membership which allows one member to edit another member's site. There's no fee for that; you can become an adjunct member of another person's site without ever paying anything. Full information about adjunct membership is available in the version of our FAQ available on our member site.

We also offer the ability to share an account between multiple members. This is the best way to organize many types of complex projects, or hosting for companies where more than one person needs to be involved. This also doesn't require anyone but the "main" member to pay anything. Full information about this is also available in the version of our FAQ on our member site.

If the person needs more help than that, there are two basic ways to proceed.

It's important to emphasize that due to our privacy policy, we will not under any circumstances discuss the details of any person's membership with any other person in the absence of their express written consent, provided through our site.

Should I use NearlyFreeSpeech.NET or a VPS?

There are certain specific cases where a VPS is a better fit than our service:

Likewise, there are several cases where we are a much better choice than a VPS, but they all boil down to this: you have stuff to do, and spending lots of time installing, customizing, tuning, and maintaining a VPS isn't it.

Whether that's running a production application, developing your big idea, or just learning how to program, there's a good chance you're a lot better off here than you are at a lot of other places. We call ourselves a "do-it-yourself" provider, true, but we try pretty hard to provide you a great environment and a set of high-quality tools to do your "it."

(And before you make a decision between our service and a VPS based on price, please question your assumptions.)