Letters From Somnolescent

A Year Under the Bulb: An Ode to DreamHost
December 6, 2019

As you might be aware, when Somnolescent first got a web presence, it did so under a little site called Neocities. (No link, doesn’t deserve it.) As casual web hosting, it’s…fine. It’s hard to get excited about its lack of features, its style-over-substance presentation, how broken it really is, the abysmal Supporter’s plan, and especially its community, but for just getting a website online, it’s okay.

For our needs, Neocities wasn’t about to satisfy. We needed something sturdier, something with a better featureset, better support, and people who give a shit at the helm. The search didn’t last long, and the choice for us was pretty clear: only DreamHost would do. And we love it.

Over the past year, we’ve had nothing but good things to say about DreamHost. It’s been able to support nearly every little venture and idea we’ve had so far, and we’ve had many. Frankly, for what we get, it makes Supporter’s look like a ripoff. Come, as I rave about getting far more than you pay for.

When I first started shopping for hosting, I knew I wanted something that’d allow every member of the group to have their own site. On Neocities, Somnolescent was more of a conglomeration of sites, and we wanted to keep that individuality but something a little more united and isolated.

DreamHost’s Shared Unlimited plan is basically the perfect fit for us. Shared hosting is a bit of a four-letter word for power users, and maybe if we were doing crazy heavy web app shit, there’d be more of a reason to care, but the vast majority of the content that gets delivered through Somnolescent is static. Barely even any JavaScript. The sole exception is the blog, which uses PHP. We’re not grinding away here. Even if we were bigger, this is kinda what the Web was optimized for. (And if we did need to upgrade, DreamHost has VPS options at the ready.)

Shared Unlimited seems more expensive than Supporter’s at first ($10 vs $5), but let’s do some math here. Supporter’s gets you 50gb of storage, 3,000gb of bandwidth, and kills the file whitelist, meaning you can upload whatever you want. This counts towards a single account, and the “infinite site creation” had to be downgraded to “multiple site creation” because someone found an exploit to utterly fuck follower numbers. Better yet, if you wanna upload particularly big files (we’re talking >600mb), Neocities’ web uploader will more than likely time out. Wanna use that 50gb of storage effectively and host, I dunno, FLAC versions of your albums? Kill yourself.

Shared Unlimited gets you unlimited storage, unlimited bandwidth, and there never was a file whitelist to begin with. Most importantly for us, additional sites can be hosted under one account, each with their own separate usernames and passwords. This is what powers Somnolescent. My master account is only linked to the top-level Somnolescent site. Everyone else in our group (including myself) has a separate account that only they can touch, which can each support an unlimited number of extra sites.

So while the $5 Supporter’s plan might get you a single site and support for a domain you have to buy elsewhere per-month per-person, for DreamHost (assuming five people plus the monthly cost of the domain across those five) comes down to $2.25 a month. If we were buying in yearly increments, or even three-year increments, we’d get even more of a discount. If you wanna count my three extra sites in that, the cost drops to $1.50 a site per month. Shit is a fucking steal, especially given that I’m a broke twentysomething hosting a few sites for some friends.

DreamHost’s infrastructure is incredibly solid. You can bring your own FTP/SFTP client, and if it’s enabled, you even get shell access to your own little corner of the shared host. Each site can either be under a subdomain (which we get great use out of) or on its own domain entirely. If you buy that domain through DreamHost, it comes with WHOIS privacy for free. The entire group uses the venerable FileZilla to upload our stuff, which is so infinitely better than Neocities’ buggy web uploader, it hurts.

Oh, but that’s just what we get that’s comparable to Neocities. Let’s talk about what else we get with it that Neocities can’t even touch:

Email hosting

We actually get unlimited @somnolescent.net email addresses with the site, which I find incredibly satisfying. I’ve wanted this domain for many years now, and now to have it as a calling card, a place to be contacted? Feels good. Feels right. (Everything’s configurable per address, and there’s webmail access—not that I use that, given how good Claws Mail is as a client. I just prefer having offline archives of my mail anyway. Still, lovely to have the option.)

We also get discussion list and mailing list support with our email hosting. I know, how’s that for power users? We’re not using either just yet, but it’d be kinda fun to deliver people mail every so often, remind them we’re still here. And staying here too >:3c

Server-side scripting

Neocities limits you to static sites. This is by design, and I don’t really have an issue with it, but being able to dive into PHP and SQL databases has been a good source of fun for me as a newly-minted webmaster. For all its faults, I felt genuinely accomplished when I got Nucleus installed and running on our site. It’s opened up a world of possibilities for us—blogs, photo galleries, forums, guestbooks (now that we actually have a use for one of those, you nostalgiaminers), and other such things are all now within our reach.

Per-site logging

I suspect Neocities’ “stats” are trumpeted up. For the lack of activity there, I kinda doubt the view counts I see on people’s sites, and I think a couple hundred thousand of the sites or so are spam or otherwise unused. It definitely doesn’t feel like a site with those numbers, I know that.

DreamHost gives us specifics, though. We can see IPs, user agent strings (so we can tell how people are looking at our sites), what people are looking at, what’s referring them, and so on. The logging has been a source of amusement, given some of the people who still lurk the site and act as if we can’t see they’re still not over us.

This man pops up in our logs every time we update any of our sites. Remember that next time he says we're the creepy obsessive cult.

Custom DNS records

This is a nerdy feature, but one I really do appreciate having. If you’re not familiar with them, DNS records are giant lists that match a domain name (somnolescent.net) to an IP address (69.163.227.118). This is what allows me to use the somnolescent.net name for things I host on my local network (say, a Minecraft server, or a Gopher server). If something like Google Search Console wants to give us analytics on how we’re doing in its rankings, we’d need a custom DNS record to verify we own the domain. Thankfully, we do, and we can do that.

.htaccess

Another great, nerdy feature, .htaccess is an internal file we can use to configure security and Apache settings per-domain, and really per-directory if we wanted to. This is what enables us to have custom error pages, block directories from access, redirect, control indices for directories, force HTTPS, rewrite URLs, and a whole host of other advanced behavior that Neocities simply doesn’t offer. I barely know what I’m doing with them, but we use them all over the site for security and to amuse ourselves.

Actual goddamn customer support

Customer support for Neocities is about nonexistent and kinda inexcusable given the money people dump on it. If I’m paying for your service, if I’m keeping you afloat, I deserve your ear. No equivocation, Kyle. Fuck your MySpace MP3s, answer me.

Meanwhile, DreamHost offers email and phone support if I ever need to get someone on an issue we’re having. And even aside from that, their knowledgebase articles are incredibly useful and intuitive for a lot of the webmaster things I’m still green on. Again, we’re small and low-stakes enough that we really haven’t had much of an issue so far, but just having the option is an infinite step up from what we were dealing with before. Blocking my friends on Twitter for questions, Kyle. Tut tut.

I could go on, but I think I’ve made my point. DreamHost hasn’t just been a huge step up for us in terms of hosting and our identity as a group: it’s just plain fantastic hosting. It’s everything we needed, a whole lot of what we wanted, and at the absolute perfect price point. We can grow under it, we can experiment under it, and not a single thing can stop us now.

To finish up, I asked the Somnolians to nitpick and name any problem whatsoever they’ve had with DreamHost. Here’s what I got back:

[6:04 PM] Cammy: @Somnolians i'm writing a thing on the blog about how great dreamhost is, tell me any and all issues you've ever had with it
[6:04 PM] mon: literally nothing
[6:04 PM] borb: literally nothing
[6:04 PM] dotcomboom: literally nothing
[6:04 PM] heathsy: literally nothing

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