In January of 2011, I decided to start a cycling blog. My intention was to have some fun writing about something I’ve been passionate about for many years.
I had been shopping for a new bike when I came across the site this blog is hosted on, Bostonbiker.org. It seemed to be a place where local cyclists hung out, so when I noticed that members of the community could sign up for free blogs, I decided to sign up for one.
It seemed like a good place to have a personal blog because it was smaller and more targeted in subject matter than the large free blog hosting sites, which are home to blogs on every topic under the sun. It also had no advertisements inserted into the pages — one of my requirements for using free web space, either for web hosting or blogging. As an aside, there are models of generating revenue that can be used by site owners who want to offer ad-free hosting space.
Early on, I noticed some limitations in terms of the quality of the hosting at Boston Biker (bostonbiker.org). I could not (and still can’t) embed videos from any site other than YouTube. Even then, I must use the old embed code or the video won’t work.
Sometimes I can’t login to the admin panel and other times I can’t upload images to my blog.
The owner of Boston Biker recently had the same problem when he was out of town.
The pages of my blog were slow to load, but I thought it wouldn’t matter since this was a personal blog, and I didn’t expect it to receive much traffic. Nonetheless, within the first few months my traffic began to increase more than I had anticipated and I was getting a decent amount of daily visitors to my blog. So, I continued blogging. However, things began to go downhill last summer.
After having blogged here for a year and a half, the owner of bostonbiker.org decided that he wasn’t making enough money on his website. To rectify this, he decided to put ads on all of the blogs. He did say on his blog that if anyone really objected to having ads on their blog, then they could tell him and he would remove the ads.
I made such a request for several reasons. First, I write about serious subjects. Many visitors do not take bloggers seriously when they are making money off of their blogs. It undermines their credibility because it’s difficult for total strangers to know whether they’re being objective in what they say or whether they’re saying it for monetary reasons.
Second, it makes the blog pages load more slowly. Every time a blog page is requested, a script on the page makes a call to Google’s servers to fetch the ads. This is a really good way to lose visitors who give up and go to another site because they don’t want to wait for the page to load.
Third, the ads are not relevant to our blogs (mine had electric scooters on it — see the screen shot at the top of this post) and they ruined my design. I had prominently placed a post dedicated to cyclists who have been killed while cycling at the top of my blog, and it was moved towards the bottom of the page by the ads.
Fourth, when a main site, like bostonbiker.org, hosts free blogs, those blogs — if successful — drive traffic to its site (where there are ads) and provides free publicity for this site, which is worth more than what the owner would earn by showing ads on each blog individually.
Therefore, the “free” blogs are a two-way street. The site owner provides free web space (which, by the way, costs him nothing beyond what he is paying to host his own site) and the bloggers drive traffic to the main site, generate positive publicity for his site and congregate there to form a “cycling community.”
Why am I telling you this on a cycling blog? Because cyclists are stereotyped as arrogant and self-centered and sometimes deceitful — and so-called online “cycling communities” are proof of this.
I say this because Boston Biker uses a “.org” domain. This domain is associated with non-profit sites, which along with the assertion on the home page that it is a “cycling community for cyclists in Boston” gives the impression that it is a community, not a for-profit venture.
I made all of these points directly to the owner of this site (the man behind bostonbiker.org) last summer when he started running ads on the “free” blogs. He didn’t reply to any of my points, but he did agree to remove the ads.
Since that time, my blog (and the rest of the bostonbiker.org site) has gotten slower and more unreliable. In fact, over the last few months, my blog has been down several times per day. This has cut my traffic (visitors) down to one-third of what it was before the problems began.
The problem has become so bad that I recently wrote to Boston Biker himself to ask if he could fix it. I politely told him that the problems plaguing his site were probably due to a combination of his installing way too many anti-spam scripts on a shared hosting site along with widgets and advertisements — and a lousy hosting company which has too many sites packed onto a single server (bostonbiker.org has to compete with them for CPU cycles because all of the sites are using the processor on one shared computer).
Here is the proof I sent to him:
“I use a monitoring service to determine whether my blog is online. It’s a free service, which doesn’t check as frequently as a paid service would. Even so, since May, I’ve received notices nearly every day saying that my blog was down. Sometimes the blog is just down and other times I get a variety of error messages stating that the monitoring service couldn’t connect to the blog due to various problems.
Here are some of the downtime reports since the beginning of July:
Pingdom Alert DOWN:
IsolateCyclist (isolatecyclist.bostonbiker.org) is down since 07/01/2013 01:41:21PM.
http://isolatecyclist.bostonbiker.org/ port 80 is Down at 03-Jul-2013 17:38:09 with response code -1(Host Not Found).
http://isolatecyclist.bostonbiker.org/ port 80 is Down at 08-Jul-2013 07:39:39 with response code -4(Performance issue).
http://isolatecyclist.bostonbiker.org/ port 80 is Down at 09-Jul-2013 06:57:33 with response code -4(Performance issue).
http://isolatecyclist.bostonbiker.org/ port 80 is Down at 11-Jul-2013 09:22:19 with response code -2(Timeout).
Pingdom Alert DOWN:
IsolateCyclist (isolatecyclist.bostonbiker.org) is down since 07/11/2013 04:11:21AM.
Pingdom Alert DOWN:
IsolateCyclist (isolatecyclist.bostonbiker.org) is down since 07/19/2013 10:51:21PM.
http://isolatecyclist.bostonbiker.org/ port 80 is Down at 23-Jul-2013 20:52:04 with response code 500(Internal Server Error).”
I won’t go into a lengthy explanation of what this all means from a technical standpoint. Let it suffice to say that this is the reason he isn’t making more money on the Boston Biker website. Whenever my blog is down, all of bostonbiker.org is down.
My blog is a subdomain of bostonbiker.org (isolatecyclist.bostonbiker.org). I’ve explained this to him several times over the past couple of years and he still doesn’t seem to understand it.
He replied with the following e-mail:
I seem to recall you being very reluctant, in fact adamant about not having ads on your site. These ads are what help keep the site hosted and running
smoothly. As you currently receive all of these services for free if you are unhappy with this, and are unable to help fund them, I would be happy
to show you how to export all of your data so that you may move it to another site, one you can pay for yourself.
Please don’t hesitate to leave if you are unhappy with the free services you get.
This, as I pointed out to him last time he tried the “These ads are what help keep the site hosted and running smoothly” line is total bullsh*t. As I said earlier, it costs him nothing beyond his own hosting costs to offer bloggers space on his shared hosting account.
How do I know this? I used to work as a Web Developer, and I have developed websites far more complex than bostonbiker.org. When I pointed out to him that his site was hosted at a hosting company called Powweb, which offers flat rate hosting for $3.88 per month (yes, you read that correctly, less than $4.00 per month), he had no reply. Do you really think he needs ad money, in addition to the traffic and publicity I bring to his site, to cover his $48 per year hosting expenses?
Keep in mind that he has ads on his blog (the main site). Using my blog’s traffic as a gauge, I would estimate that he receives several times as many visitors as I do per day, mainly because he updates his blog nearly every day and because his is the main site, which would give him better search engine rankings.
Even with the downtime we frequently experience, he should be making at least $100 per month on advertising and could be making as much as a few hundred dollars per month. If we go with the $100 per month estimate, he would be making a $95 per month profit on a site that presents itself as a “community.”
As an aside, the “community” consists of nothing but his blog and an offer of free blogs for community members. There is no forum, no services of any kind and no discounts or perks for members.
Back to cycling communities and money. I demonstrated to Boston Biker that his site (and my blog) are frequently down.
In addition to his lack of understanding about how this affects his own blog (and his profits), he alludes to costs associated with “running the Boston Biker site.” It really doesn’t cost him anything to “run” the site. It is simply a WordPress installation with a few widgets. He does all of the “maintenance” himself. On a site like this, it shouldn’t take more than a couple of hours per month to keep it “running.”
With the profit he is making on advertising, he would be making at least $50 per hour for the time he puts into this site — possibly more. And the work necessary to maintain a modest WordPress installation is not difficult. What, then, could explain his obnoxious attitude towards the members of this “cycling community?”
Greed? Yes, perhaps. Cyclists are often called “greedy” and “entitlement minded.”
Unfortunately, this “cycling community” just reinforces those stereotypes. As for myself, I am more of an altruist. I think that a community should exist for the public good, not for personal profit.
As such, and since Boston Biker doesn’t intend to fix this site, I will be evaluating options for moving my blog. Since mine is a personal blog, and I make no money from it, I should not have any trouble finding free blog hosting elsewhere.
For the time being, I will continue blogging here, at bostonbiker.org. I will certainly give my regular readers plenty of notice if I decide to move my blog.
Who knows, maybe I’ll start my own Boston cyclists’ community. I’m going to give that idea some serious consideration.
If any of you have trouble reaching my blog, now you know why. Let’s hope that I can find a good solution to my hosting problems so that I can continue blogging for the entertainment and enlightenment of my fellow cyclists.