Scary Website Tales – 2015
What can cause you to suffer restless nights? What can send you on a roller coaster ride of frustration and rage? What can plunge your life into a Bermuda Triangle of horrors? Read on if you dare, these three, very true, Halloween infused tales and prepare yourself so you don’t suffer a similar fate (cue evil laughter).
Dude, Where’s My Website?
There was once a wealthy man who had a vision. A vision of a website, a web community of people who would be able to connect with each other and prosper through mutual business opportunities. This man, we’ll call him “Jamal” contracted with a popular, mid-sized, Los Angeles web agency to develop this website for the cost of $250,000. This was a lot of money, but Jamal had money and the website plan was ambitious. All went smoothly at first, the agency held regular meetings with Jamal and created a plan to deliver the website.
What Jamal didn’t know was the web agency had a weak process. This process was made even weaker by contracting the bulk of the work to an offshore team in India. There was a communication gap and poor knowledge transfer between the Los Angeles project manager and the team in India. To add fuel to this fire, Jamal had a restless imagination. He would throw new ideas and requests at the team and the team, due to their weak process was unable to control him. They would smile and tell him “of course this can be done” without discussing the consequences of the new requests.
The website launch date kept being pushed and there was little for Jamal to see. He became anxious and frustrated and demanded to know why the website wasn’t complete. The web agency said that it was almost done but would take an additional $100,000 to complete. Jamal was shocked but also relieved that there seemed to be a solution in the near future so he paid the money and waited, and waited, and waited. Months passed, again he demanded to know where his website was, he’d lost valuable marketing opportunities and had nothing to show. The web agency apologized, explained that they were close and just needed another $100,000 to finish up. Again Jamal paid, after all he was 8 months and $350,000 in the hole, surely it had to be finished soon.
Cut to 1 year later, Jamal faces the web agency in a Court of Arbitration to demand his investment of $450,000 back along with damages for the lost marketing revenue and other incurred costs. Jamal ended up with nothing but some buggy code that was completely unusable. I served as an expert witness on that hearing, I examined the website code that was developed and hundreds of email trails between Jamal and the web agency team. I provided my opinion that weak process and restless visionaries with money are a recipe for disaster. Don’t let this happen to you, download and read our “Scope Creep” whitepaper.
Hacked Into Oblivion
Me: Hello, Executionists web design, how can we help you?
Caller: Hi, is this the… executioners?…
Me: Ha! no common mistake, “Executionists”, like to “execute”, to get things done.
Caller: Oh, sorry, I wonder if you can help me? Our website is running slow and there’s a warning on Google that our website is not to be trusted or something.
Me: Uh oh, that’s not good – can you get me the FTP or hosting account info and we can take a quick look?
Caller: Sure (provides hosting account access).
Fifteen minutes later:
Me: Hello, I’m calling back about your website problem.
Caller: Yes, can you fix it?
Me: Well, my developer took a look and the site has been hacked. You are running an old version of WordPress and some out-of-date slider plugins on an older shared server so that’s probably how they got access. We saw references to “cialis”, “viagra” and “Oakley sunglasses” on most of the site pages. There also seems to be over 30 gigs of files which don’t seem to belong to your website within a directory on your hosting account. Do you have any backups of your website?
Caller: Um, no I don’t think so, whatever came with my Godaddy account. The person who used to manage this stuff left the company about 6 months ago.
Me: Well, you could try contacting the person who left or Godaddy to see if it’s been backed up. If you don’t have a recent backup, I’m afraid you will have to rebuild it from scratch due to the number of issues and the old versions of software, it would be just as expensive to try and clean it up.
Caller: Oh damn, how much will that cost?
Me: We can work up an estimate for you based on what’s there now, but I will also strongly recommend a regular website backup service and upgrades be made in the future or you could have the same problem again. It’s cheap insurance against hackers.
Caller: Ok, thank you. I’ll wait for your estimate then.
Me: I’ll send it in a few days.
A Case of Possession
Listen closely to this tale that begins when the internet was in it’s infancy and a flood of businesses demanded websites. In the early days of the 1990’s there weren’t many established website agencies, it was a bit like the wild west. There were few rules or precedents for how the relationship was supposed to work between the web developer and the client. Many, many clients got into arrangements with developers that became untenable and hostile as time passed.
The client would trust the website developer to design and build them a website. The clients was dazzled by the idea of having their company put online and congratulated themselves for finding a “genius” programmer who knew how to make it happen. But what the client didn’t understand was that their website was hosted on the developer’s server, usually in some cold, dank basement or garage. The client had no real “ownership” of the hosting account, they were merely renting from a developer with mercurial morals and moods.
After time there would be a falling out. The developer wasn’t evolving with the times, they lacked some skill that the client wanted or they were unreliable or even unstable. Recognizing this, the client in desperation, would want to take possession of their website to pass it to a new developer (cue foreboding chuckle). But, they were often met with silence or hostility. “How dare the client want to break up with me!” the developer would scream, “I would never give what I built with my own hands and brain to another company to manage!”, and they would either refuse to cooperate or charge some exorbitant amount to allow another developer to take it over. Sometimes the client would be forced to go to court but most times, the client would just cut their losses and rebuild the website from scratch.
In the 21st century these issues are not as common. But every few months we get a call from a distressed website owner who paid a developer to create their website and later had some falling out. The caller always wants to know what their options are, usually they are afraid to approach their developer or he (it’s almost always a “he”) is completely unresponsive. We offer some solid solutions but it’s rarely a pleasant or easy process. So take heed and beware, because those evil developers are still out there, hosting unsuspecting clients until their time runs out…
These scary website tales made the clients the victims but there are an equal number of stories where the tables are turned and the website agency, designer or developer is the victim. If you have a story please send it in and if we like it, we will publish it. Happy Halloween!
Last year we also published 3 scary (but true) website tales in honor of Halloween, if you can handle further frightening, you can find the links here: