Ann Arbor Business to Business
Small Business and the Internet

You've got no mailbox!

September 1999

By Mike Gould

The following story is true; names have been obscured to prevent embarrassment and lawsuits. This all happened right here in Ann Arbor.

It was every 90's businessperson's nightmare. My client tried to contact his ISP to straighten out an administrative matter, and couldn't reach him. He tried phone, fax, and email: no response. He got in his car and went over to the ISP's office and it was empty! No people, no furniture, no servers, nothing. Nada. Zip. The ISP had gone bankrupt (GeekSpeak: toes-up mode) and fled town, leaving a wake of creditors and disconnected clients.

Think about it: no more website, no email, no connection to the Internet - can your business survive such an event? And all this happened the day I left on my vacation, of course (north woods, no phone, no email, no mouse, etc.). Fortunately, I had warned my client that their ISP was a few F keys short of a keyboard, and had suggested an alternate host - that ISP was contacted, furious Internet Voodoo Conniptions ensued, and my client was back on the air (OK, the wire) a day and a half later. (Needless to say, I had some interesting email and voicemail waiting for me when I returned.) I also just happened to have backed up the contents of all three of their websites to my computer, so we were able to get them back up quickly as well.

Tell-Tale Signs of ISP Instability

Good News, Bad News
The good news is that this is a fairly rare event, of late. The Internet industry is still a young one, but a lot of shaking-out has already occurred; I can only recall one other major local crash and burn in recent years.

The bad news is that the smaller ISP's are feeling a lot of pressure from the majors (AOL, MSN, et al), and there have been articles in the press about how all the smaller Mom 'n' Pop outfits are going to crumble when faced with the onslaught of serious competition. A lot of these providers offer free email and the like, in exchange for tarting up your communications with advertising. But what will probably happen in this scenario is that the smaller outfits will be absorbed by the bigger ones, and customers will merely see a change in look and feel, not an experience of loss and feeling around for where the other end of the wire went.

So What's a Businessperson To Do?
Again, don't panic; this sort of disaster doesn't happen very often, but most of the preventatives are cheap and easy:

Thanks to David Bloom of Fac·totem WPC for clarifying some of the above for me, and for saving my (and my client's) butt when the fan was impacted last week.

Next month: Speaking of interactive, let's do a question and answer column; send me questions, I'll dig up answers (web-related only, please; I was kidding months ago when I mentioned that little icon on your desktop there. I have no idea what it does - what happens when you click on it?) If I don't get any questions, I'll be forced to make some up, so write in today! If you are not yet online, you can snailmail me care of Business to Business Magazine.

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