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Guild to police Web-hosting services

October 28, 1998
Web posted at: 5:45 PM EDT

by Glenn McDonald

(IDG) -- Putting your business online is a big investment, and a notoriously risky one -- particularly if you're depending on your Web site to facilitate sales, ordering, or other online transactions. Much of the success of a business site depends on the quality of the Web hosting service. You want to be sure that potential customers aren't turned away by slow connection speeds or frequent technical gaffes.

A new nonprofit organization is aiming to certify hosting services with a seal of approval if they continuously meet an independent set of performance criteria. The Web Host Guild, developed by the niche Web directory service Sumo, was officially launched at this year's fall Internet World trade show. So far, it has approved 25 hosting services and is processing 20 or so new applications, said Sumo president and WHG chair Jonathan Caputo.

Common-sense criteria

The WHG requires applicants to complete a questionnaire covering customer and technical support policies, services provided, payment options, and usage and access logs. Stated policies are then independently verified by online monitoring service NetMechanic. Once certified, hosting companies agree to have their servers tested four times a year.

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"These are really common-sense criteria, things like money-back guarantees and 24-7 technical support, but you'd be amazed at how many hosting services don't meet these basic requirements," Caputo said. Of the approximately 7000 to 8000 providers in the United States and Europe, Caputo estimated that only about 15 percent meet the criteria.

In addition to the server testing provided by NetMechanic, WHG staffers test customer support both over the phone and via e-mail, Caputo said. Server statistics and support performance are taken into account when the board of directors votes on an applicant.

Who watches the watchers?

The board of directors includes hosting providers such as Concentric Network, Hiway Technologies, Sage Networks, Worldwide Internet, and Web 2010. With five voting members being hosting services themselves, the suggestion that the WHG is little more than a professional coalition is a potential problem. What if a voting member doesn't want to approve a direct competitor?

"That was certainly a challenge when we put this together," said Caputo, whose company Sumo offers an independent directory of Web hosting services, but makes money through banner advertising only. "Even though this a competitive industry, WHG members realize that effective criteria can only strengthen the industry as a whole."

Jim Shaver, chief technology officer for board member Web 2010, said the WHG follows a code of ethics regarding such matters, and that having competing providers on the board levels the playing field.

"It's a majority vote, so no one vote could kill a deal. I've personally voted no on a couple of members, and they've still won approval," Shaver said. He added that the board is looking to add members that do not compete directly in the Web hosting market.

Seal of approval

Once a hosting service passes initial approval, companies can display the WHG seal on their site and are included in the searchable directory of all companies who are members, Caputo said. All members are reviewed every quarter to assure standards continue to be met.

"We want to ensure that companies are living up to their claims consistently," Caputo said. "If they're offering multiple T3 access, we'll check with the backbone providers to make sure there are T3s there and not a single T1."

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