The AOL List: CrimeHost

David Cassel (
Thu, 6 Mar 1997 13:21:29 -0800 (PST)

			   C r i m e H o s t


"They know their business, they talk straight, and they get the job done." 

That's the Motley Fool's chief technician--but he's not talking about
America Online. Though the investment-advice site still appears on AOL,
UUNet spirited their web page away from AOL's page-hosting service,
PrimeHost. "[T]o meet their demands for bandwidth and server performance,
The Fool turned to UUNET," reads the company's press release.  
( ) "We wanted a good home for
our Web site and we talked to the top Internet Service Providers in the
market," the technician adds. "UUNET was the most capable, reliable and

Last Monday the Fool's pages migrated from McClean, Virginia to Fairfax,
Virginia.  But the slap in the face hides a greater truth.  AOL's had a
wave of defections from their over-priced service.  Their web page 
( ) displays testimonials
from Primehost users.  Except 27 of them no longer use PrimeHost. 

"The final reason we left was the fact that AOL's traffic slows down the
PrimeHost server,"  the CEO of Inter-Ads Networking told the AOL List. 
Though their page still quotes him, he left PrimeHost over five months
ago.  "Inter-Ads has found no other server with the capacity of
PrimeHost," the quote reads--though they now use Bizserver.  "We are very
happy with the service," the quote continues, "and sell web sites based on
the fact that the PrimeHost server is one of the most reliable servers on
the Internet."  "We found it hard to work with the PrimeHost server..." he
says now.  "It has some strange quirks making it hard to program." 

In fact, displays 27 quotes from
the PrimeHost web page--along with the services currently being used by
the businesses who gave them.  All 27 have abandoned PrimeHost. 

One quote came from a business that used their service for less than 6
months.  "We received a good proposal for a host in our own country
(Belgium)," says Edmas Neo of Aidem Consultants, "and this allows us to
update heavy information (QuickTime movies) directly from hard disk to
hard disk."  "I used it for, I think, something less than a year," Joel
Orr told the AOL List--who also appears on the page, though he no longer
uses the service.  "I left because PrimeHost wanted a bunch of money
for a named domain.  I moved to, where I got one for
$30/month (plus Internic fee) with 30 megs." He found more options while
looking for a RealAudio server. "Mindspring gives it to me, with a whole
bunch of free CGI scripts, for a total of $50/month."  The quote on AOL's
web page may have been true at one time, but "I'd say that there are other
options now that were not available then."

The mysterious time warp continues.  Lee Kupersmith is still quoted as
saying "Solid, reliable service with knowledgeable tech support"--though
he no longer believes that.  "Since I switched, PrimeHost had been down
three or four times, only once for a short period.."  And his new
service is cheaper.  "They provide everything that PrimeHost offers in
their commercial account ($199/month) for $30.95/month. Plus custom CGI
scripting without delay, cron jobs, full Telnet access for all UNIX

It's a common complaint.  For page-hosting, PrimeHost charged a $199
startup fee--and $99 a month maintenance--and commercial accounts cost
twice that, with a $249 start-up fee.  "I used PrimeHost for about 3
months before I realized that I was being drastically overcharged," says
I-net Emporium's Michael Peabody (still quoted on PrimeHost's page as
saying "Excellent!")  James Bohe of Electric Works Publishing had a
similar experience.  Among his reasons for leaving were "difficulty in
updating the site when I had the time and, of course, the cost."  The
extra money was crucial.  "For my needs, as a new company on the WWW, I
just could not afford the charges Prime Host was asking.  Had I not moved,
Electric Works Publishing would not have lasted long enough to be noticed
on the Internet!"  Peabody concurs. "I left my quote rather early into my
experience with PrimeHost.  I have since switched to HiWay, which I
believe gives me much better value for my money."  He has a list of
complaints.  "PrimeHost at the time I was there did not have CGI
availability--and every option, including e-mail aliases cost extra

Not everyone is happy with HiWay.  "AOL Had their security call Hi-Way
twice, thats why was shut down," says the author of a hacker
web page--who moved his collection of internal documents and hacker
secrets to  But the larger, mass exodus from
PrimeHost has its roots in AOL's history of overcharging--which dates 
back to the days when Steve Case and his brother Dan ran a juice stand at
age six.  Business Week reported that they charged 2 cents a cup, 
"but many people gave them a nickel and let them keep the change."  
( ) The lesson wasn't lost
on the brothers -- "We learned early the value of high margins," Dan

Inflated values is a common theme.  "My quote about PrimeHost was
referring to a period where one individual was providing good,
knowledgeable support (John Divney)," Kupersmith recalled.  "However, as
things progressed as the company changed from NaviService to GNN Hosting
to PrimeHost, they seemed to get less reliable and their new tech support
people seemed to know nothing about Internet servers."  Expertise was
non-existent.  "Unless I was able to get through to John Divney, no one
could answer any questions above a novice level."

Another PrimeHost refugee, Doug Thompson, tells the same story.  "The
quotes on the PrimeHost page were actually about NaviService and were
modified later through the name changes (first GNNHosting and later
PrimeHost)."  It's not an oversight.  "I have pointed out to them at least
a half dozen times that I no longer use their service and will not give
them a good recommendation if asked, yet the quotes remain (and I
understand is also used in their brochure)." 

The PrimeHost page still has him saying "Prime Host provides a
professional presence on the net along with reliability and high speed." 
In those days, "it was still a small service that offered reliable servers
and good customer service...  When AOL took over, I saw a consistent
decline in customer service and an increasing inability to handle my needs
as my sites grew."  How does he feel?  "The fact that the quotes are still
up on the PrimeHost pages is an indication of their level of service and
lack of attention to detail."

Kupersmith concurs.  "As far as my quote goes now, I would prefer they
wouldn't use it. If anyone were to contact me as a referral, I would have
to honestly point them in another direction." 

"I took the two sites that I had on PrimeHost off in 1996," says Thompson,
"for several reasons:  Too much downtime. One of my sites is a daily
political newspaper and I was losing hits (and revenue) because the site
was not available."  The other reasons? "Incredibly poor customer service.
Questions went unanswered, promises were not fulfilled."  These involved
specific promises about the service.  "A server upgrade promised in
February, 1996, did not actually take place until August. During the
delay, commercial-level customers did not have access to the CGI-bin
directories which put my feedback forms and discussion groups offline." 
Kupersmith agrees.  "They kept hinting that I would be able to use
pre-written CGI scripts at their domain level account ($99/month) but
that never came about." 

PrimeHost's policies also disturbed their customers.  "I've used AOL's
hosting service for a period of less than 6 months.  I cancelled it
because the charges were unclear and I don't feel comfortable,"  one
Primehost user remembered. (His quote on the page:  "PrimeHost is a great
service. Their technical consultants are most helpful...  Keep it up
PrimeHost.") In fact, Thompson points out that billing problems weren't
uncommon, either. "I had problems with double-billing and incorrect
amounts charged to my credit cards. Despite promises to correct, the
PrimeHost billing department instead stopped answering my e-mails. I
finally had to get American Express to intervene and correct the bills." 
Adding insult to injury, "the promised one-month refund for the August
outage was never issued."  Peabody confirmed his experience.  "The thing
that most irked me about PrimeHost is that six months after I left their
service, they started billing me again.  I had to fight it out with them
for three months to get them to credit my account.  It was costing me $99
a month. Now I pay $24.95/month for better service and more capability." 
Yet to Thompson's chagrin, AOL continues serving their quotes. "As far as
I'm concerned, PrimeHost should be called CrimeHost."

The random quote server at
becomes more suspect as defectors move on to other services.  "I moved
one site to MindSpring and another to Hiway Technologies--both at less
cost than PrimeHost--and have been more than satisfied," Thompson points
out.  "Since that time, I have added a number of site with various other
hosting services and have yet to experience the problems I had with

The testimonials can easily be disproved by typing whois and their domain
names at the UNIX prompt.  In fact, a closer look shows the page of happy
users often quoted the same company twice. The company name's are subtly
altered for the second quote, and they're spread out on the page so they
don't appear consecutively.  Again, this occurs even if the customer has
moved on to a different service--like Hiway technologies.  "I currently
have three domains set up with them and they are about one-quarter of the
cost," a former user observers. "More functionality is also available."

But even more startling are the web pages of customers who remained with
Primehost. Following their links from the PrimeHost page shows dozens of
technical problems--raising doubts about the level of support they
received.  Five of the pages don't have a DNS entry. Four returned the
message "This Site is temporarily unavailable.  Please call the site
administrators for more information." But the PrimeHost page is unphased. 
"Like both the service and the software" reads the quote offered by one of
the affected pages. 

"I have received exceptional technical support..." reads another
page--consisting of a single frame that uses 13% of the screen, displaying
a maximum three lines of text. The remainder of their page is blank. Still
another testimonial reads, "Using the AOLpress software has allowed me to
achieve a level of efficiency that my competitors simply cannot match." 
That efficiency wouldn't be desirable--the page's URL brings up a "Listing
of directory," displaying only the *names* of 47 files.  (Thirty-three of
which are stand-alone GIFs.)  "Excellent Service at Rock Bottom Price!"
reads the quote from Boxing Online's Technical Manager.  His URL also
brings up a "Listing of directory," displaying two directories--both
returning the message "Forbidden. You don't have permission to access...on
this server." 

A humorous table appears at ,
juxtaposing customers' quotes with their technical problems.  But at the Motley Fool offers the most vivid
testimonial.  For weeks their page displayed a "Fool Apology."  "Our Web
Service Provider has been experiencing network difficulties," read the
message.  "We apologize for any inconvenience this may cause, we are
working to correct the problem."  When their switch to UUNet solved the
problem, they replaced the apology with a link headlined "Fool Good News!
We have a new home!"  The link leads to a testimonial about the advantages
of defecting.  "You should see an immediate increase in speed with our new


As recently as October 1996, a promotional web page set up for Steve Case
announced that Case was looking forward to Courtney Love's appearance at

Courtney Love appeared at Lollapalooza in 1995. 

        David Cassel
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