Please Don’t Use

Be wary of “free”, especially when it comes to web hosting. In this business, storage is cheap, domains are cheap. costs $15 a year. A small-time pseudo-personality currently out of work like me can get good, quality paid hosting for frankly nothing, and so can you. If you can’t afford the $5 a month for, say, DreamHost’s Shared Starter plan (plus the monthly rate of the domain, about $1.25), you might need to stop buying so many Funko Pops, I’m sorry to say.

But maybe you’re a hobbyist! Maybe you just want a place to experiment with HTML before you buy something bigger. I fell into this camp, if you are or were on Neocities, you probably fell into this camp, and I’m not here to sneer at you. Everyone starts somewhere. Let’s talk then about “free” web hosts then.

A lot of “free” web hosts are the “site builder” type–Wix, Weebly, Webs, so on. These produce bloated, inflexible, horribly slow, invalid, obfuscated markup and people who don’t know a thing about the internet love them. Bugmen will call me elitist for wanting people to know a little about site building before they have a site, in the same way an avid cricket player wants newcomers to understand what the fucking bat is used for, but I do. I want people to give a shit about what they put through the pipes, yes.

But then you have the true “free” hosts. They’re not here to provide you a template system to paste your content over so you too can look like everyone else with a portfolio, they’re just here to hand you (charitably!) a bit of web server space so you too can have your own presence that only you control.

And 95% of them, likely more, are charlatans. Of course, I’ve talked a lot about the big one–Neocities! Neocities is linked on every single forum thread where someone bitches about the modern internet, yet has the single highest user turnover I’ve ever seen on a site. Pretty much everyone there from my days is long gone or on better hosting now. It’s not hard to see why. Geocities had character. Neocities has AIDS.

That brings us to the topic of today’s irritation:
Just looks spammy, doesn’t it?

Like Neocities, banks on the name of the original free web host (which gets a pass from me for having the content and the personality no modern clone can match), but unlike it, has a public, browsable archive of Geocities sites that’s good for inspiration and whittling away some time. Of course, this is no mere archive: wants to be your home on the web! So, if you happen to have had a Geocities site that got saved, will let you log in and have a Geocities site again. If you’re new, you can join in on the nostalgiamining. So far, so good.

Naturally, having heard about it since my Neocities days (though knowing not one person who had anything more than a placeholder site there), and wanting to quickly park my username in case anyone got any ideas (which has happened many times), I got to making an account.' signup page

And found it wants a home address and ZIP code. For free hosting. Funnily enough, Caby said this basically locked her out of having an account, seeing as though Wales has no ZIP codes, so so much for the “world wide” part of the web, I guess. Still, no commies at least.

In any case, since I refuse to give anything that I can’t hold accountable with my money anything more than my address, I instead put down the address of the Crabtree Valley Mall in Raleigh, North Carolina. I’ve never been to this mall, nor North Carolina, but hey, can’t hurt. I was then met with this rather ominous error message, ostensibly as it detected I don’t actually live in North Carolina. telling me I've been "reported"
Consequences will never be the same.

Well, fuck it. Figured they already had my IP address (which people have tried and failed to dox me with anyway), so I instead put down the address of the Stroud Mall here in town. At long last, it let me in.' members section
The members section is pretty well hidden away in the corner of every page. The site isn’t very well thought out, that’s for sure.

As far as hosting goes, it’s…acceptable? Serviceable? The backend looks no better than the frontend, all very much having a spam site vibe to it with the overly shiny, clipart-esque icons and the fact that the site statistics don’t actually work, but it accepts files and lets you see them on the live internet. The web uploader isn’t that much better than Neocities, taking either one file at a time (yeah right) or an entire ZIP of files in one go (clunky, but passable). You can also use an FTP client, but I couldn’t be assed to try it.' web uploader
I mean, at least FTP is an option? Gets points over Neocities in that respect, I suppose.

Where really starts to fall apart is when you actually start digging into everything else. For one thing, as hidden away as the members section is, at least it’s not as hidden as the forums. Yes, did you know has forums? Did you know that there is one singular account there, that being the admin account? And every single thread, every single post on this tiny, shitty phpBB forum, is from that account. I’m not kidding, go look for yourself.

The ghost town that is' forums
God, there was a Cracked article about creepy places online, and one of them was a forum that only this one person ever posted on, all hours of the day, over and over. This is like that. The heart of the community, everybody.

Now, you might’ve noticed in that first screenshot that actually offers paid plans. This never gets brought up, seeing as though everyone who wants to use the site uses it because “muh Geocities” and Geocities was free after all, but I got curious enough to see how its plans compared to DreamHost.

What I got was an entirely different host with much more expensive rates and no free option. GridHoster, it called itself. Note the total lack of mentioning anywhere across it.

Somehow, it manages to look no less spammy.

Now, one trick nearly all web hosts (DreamHost included) will do is put down their “monthly rates” as the 3-year contract rates, which are usually heavily discounted. If I had the upfront money, I would absolutely use DreamHost’s yearly or 3-year contract plan, but I don’t right now, so I go monthly, which is usually twice as expensive. Still not a huge expense, but you do pay extra for the no contract/cancel anytime lifestyle.

GridHoster does the same, so that $6 a month plan is actually closer to $12 a month. This still doesn’t get you everything DreamHost’s Shared Unlimited plan gets you, nor the excellent, sprawling documentation and support. And that actual unlimited plan, that $8 a month? $16 if you’re paying monthly.

GridHoster's real rates

It’s a pretty neat trick, all things considered, but maybe not the most honest one. And of course, $16 for comparable hosting to what we get for almost half that isn’t quite as sexy. The domains aren’t really competitive either: it’s got free WHOIS proxy protection (not that I trust most registrars to not yank domains away from people after what NameCheap pulled), but as far as the auto-renewal goes, or the number of TLDs, not even close.

There’s also virtually no information or user reviews on this place anywhere I’ve checked. So yeah, I wouldn’t be surprised if that big fancy scrolling box of company logos at the bottom that was definitely, 100% worth using Bootstrap for was more just what GridHoster is running on than any seal of approval. Not that they’ll tell you that.

GridHoster's Hostadvice page
Ironically enough, despite locking out people in countries that don’t have ZIP codes, it and GridHoster both seem to operate outside of the US.

So yeah, A clunky, creepy beast that uses a Geocities archive to get nostalgiaminers in the door and is really a front for a tiny, no-name web host with non-competitive rates to probably any number of far larger, more successful, more trustworthy companies. Stunning. Makes Neocities look good somehow.

(I’ll probably have a post on the page I actually threw up on my parked account tomorrow because it’s cute and was super fun to build. Stay tuned.)

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