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Tips on completing your hosting request

Tuesday, March 23rd, 2010

The Question: I often get emails asking for tips on getting a membership with us, or from people who have been denied membership wanting to know what they can change in their request to get an account in their next request.

In General… My number one response is that they need to wow us. Make us want to host your website. It is important to remember that you are requesting something of value for free, and that free thing is costing us effort and money. The people providing and evaluating whether to give you an account gain nothing but a warm fuzzy feeling from giving you an account, and have spent years of volunteering work and donating money to give you an account. Should you receive an account your next door neighbor on the server will be cancer charities, children’s basketball clubs, and many hundreds of other sites that in very obvious ways help other people. With that in mind, we ask that you show respect for the process by taking your time to thoughtfully and completely fill out your request.

Some Specifics

All of that aside, I can give some more concrete advice. I can currently think of 6 things our our review committee looks for while reading over and discussing requests:

  1. Sites do not violate any of our rules.
  2. Sites will not consume more bandwidth and storage space than we can spare.
  3. Sites do not require any software or server privileges that we do not provide.
  4. The requester has the skills to use the hosting account.
  5. The requester is able to articulate a clear vision of their website.
  6. The last thing we are looking for is a bit more vague. We want to host websites that resonate with our mission. We want to host sites that provide some sort of service to a larger community. The requester needs to feel excited enough about their concept and its capacity to do something special that they are able, through their request to us, get our review committee excited about hosting them. The service aspect is checked by the resources potentially used by the proposal. If a site will only use a tiny bit of bandwidth and storage space the bar to wow us is low; if a site has big resource needs then we need to know that the site’s use of so much community resources will be used for something truly inspiring and worthwhile.

Common Errors

Some common errors that people make in their requests:

  • Providing us with such terse responses to our question and answer section that we can’t evaluate their site and also feel like the requester does not value or respect our service.
  • Not informing us why other hosting services would not be more appropriate. Often people just want a simple blog. WordPress.com, Blogger and other services would be more appropriate for people just wanting to dip a toe into blogging. Many students don’t let us know why their school’s hosting is inadequate. Most school districts and Universities provide hosting to their students (In fact one of our systems administrators built the system his high school district now uses). We want to know that a student has explored these options first and has come to a logical conclusion as to why our service is the best place for their site. Some software developers don’t tell us why services such as sourceforge or github would not be the best place for their site.
  • Wanting to use our service as a sandbox for development. Since we provide such a variety of development languages, frameworks, databases, and other software we get many requests from people who want to learn some of these technologies we offer and use our hosting as a testbed or development environment. That sort of work should be done on a person’s local machine not on a production server actively serving thousands of websites.
  • Wanting short term hosting. Our service is not for short term hosting. We often get requests from students who want/need to post class projects online for their instructors to evaluate. This short term hosting is not something we do, and frankly we feel instructors who require this of their students while not providing the hosting resources are being unreasonable.

Registration open for the first group of new members for 2010

Monday, December 14th, 2009

We have completed reviewing hosting requests for the last application window and have sent out notification emails to everyone who applied. We admitted 12 new members during this window; these are the last new members added in 2009.

We have reopened the system to accept requests for the rest of the year. On January 4th we will close again so that our committee may convene and discuss the applicants from this applicant pool. As is typical we expect to take 2-3 weeks to review requests and send out final notices to all who apply. This means if you apply now, we won’t start reading until Jan 4 and you will likely have to wait until ~Jan 25 to begin using your account if we grant you a membership.

During this last applicant pool we struggled to decide on whether to approve accounts to students (and educators) who did not tell us why their school could not host their website. We decided to be lenient and grant most of these requests. In the future we will not do so.
If you are a student or educator requesting an account you must specify why your school can not host your site or your request will be denied

Currently Reviewing Hosting Requests

Friday, December 4th, 2009

For the past week we have been reading and discussing all of the hosting requests submitted in the past application window. Out of roughly 50 requests submitted, we are more closely reading and discussing 22 requests. If you haven’t heard from us yet it is because we are still discussing your request. I hope to send out final decisions some time next week.

A common question that comes up when reviewing requests by students is “Why isn’t their school providing hosting?” Some of you do a good job in your application explaining how you looked into hosting at your school and found it wasn’t offered or was limited in some fundamental way that would prevent you from using it for the website you have in mind. But many requests do not address the issue at all.

Middle and High schools may offer hosting either at the individual school level or at the district level. Ask around to see if students at your school can get hosting – most schools would require you to make a special request.

Universities probably have a number of ways to procure hosting. Hosting services by the University IT system may exist, but you may also find hosting at the college, department, or program level. Often the Computer Science department can provide hosting even if you aren’t a student in that department. Even if your school doesn’t have a formal system for providing hosting services you will likely be able to find someone who can hook you up with an account; especially if your website idea will provide a service for students. Doing this may even lead to the University helping to publicize your website, provide you with course credits, or even fund your project.

If you are a student you really need to demonstrate to us that you have looked into what hosting services your school provides and have a good reason for not using it. We often reject requests because we do not think we are the right host for them; demonstrate to us that you have researched your options and have decided our service makes the most sense for your project.

The I wanted to learn x web framework requests…

Wednesday, June 17th, 2009

Here at AmbitiousLemon we support an unusual variety of web frameworks, and we are always adding more. Combinations of some of these frameworks and some of our other features like Trac, subversion, postgresql, etc are difficult to find in a web host (free or otherwise). We offer these features because we actually use these servers for our own websites and because we are just generally excited by web technologies. So we understand why so many people requesting hosting accounts would be similarly excited about getting an account and just sort of playing around with this unusual mix of technologies. One of our core constituencies named in our mission is the education community so we are further excited by how many people want to further their education by learning how to use these technologies.

Despite all of this we do not grant hosting requests to people just wanting to do some unstructured learning. The primary reason for this is the kind of web hosting we offer is called “shared hosting.” What this means is there are many other websites being hosted on the server. Simply put, your playing around can adversely effect other members. The best way to learn these new technologies is to install them on your local machine (your PC). This way every time you need to restart the server, tweak the apache configuration, or write a bad script that causes apache to crash you won’t disrupt anyone else’s website.

We don’t want to discourage people who are excited by our service from applying for membership, but what we ask of you is that:

  1. You understand that development should be performed on your local machine, not on our production server. Tools such as Trac, Subversion, Capistrano, etc can aid you in keeping the community informed of your progress and rolling out updates to your web app after its initial launch.
  2. You submit a request that involves a specific project proposal. Tell us what you want to create and how you plan to use our server to accomplish your goal.
  3. If your project involves doing something that has already been done (like a blog, social networking site, micro-blogging, etc) that you explain why this project needs to be hosted. Writing these sorts of apps can be helpful in learning a language, but what does the final result of this intellectual exercise offer that will be of interest and use to people other than yourself and your mom. What is novel about your project?

If you come to us with a specific project that will be useful to others and educational for you and that we can practically serve we won’t be able to turn down your request.

Open for new member requests

Thursday, April 23rd, 2009

We have completed reviewing the requests from the last round of new member requests, and have admitted about 10 new members.

With the new members settled in, we are ready to begin another round of hosting requests. From now until 22 May we will be accepting hosting requests again. Beginning 23 May we will begin reviewing the requests and granting membership to those who make the cut.

A few notes that will help guide you as you consider submitting a request:
1) We are a production server, not a development server. So if you just want to play around its best to do that on your PC. If you are seriously developing a product though we offer support for developer tools such as Trac, Subversion, and many web frameworks.

2) Charities and other Non-profit organizations have priority for membership, but still need to do a good job explaining to us what they do. If you are a registered non-profit organization please provide evidence of your registration.

3) Artists of all sorts were one of the first communities we served and are looked upon favorably for new accounts.

4) The more information you provide to us in your hosting request, the more likely your chances of being approved. You will be asked a variety of questions when you apply for membership, use this opportunity to really try to sell us on your idea. If you seem excited about your idea there is a good chance we will be excited as well.

5) If you are a student please let us know why your school’s hosting options do not work for you.

New Members

Sunday, February 22nd, 2009

As we come to the end of another successful admissions period, I thought it might be helpful to future applicants to discuss my thoughts on this latest admissions period. Before getting started on the nitty gritty of it all, I just wanted to say I am very happy with the quality and scope of our newest members. We admitted approximately the number we set out to admit (10-15). I look forward to helping these new members settle in to our community, and I am even more excited to see what they are able to accomplish with our services.

We have nearly completed reviewing all the hosting requests from this last new member admissions period. We received about 130 requests; more than I expected. Unfortunately nearly half of those were incomplete, and therefore not considered (though these people are free to log in in the future and complete their applications). Another 40 or so gave such short responses that they were denied without close review. Among both the incomplete and short applications there were several that looked interesting so it was disappointing that the applicants did not spend the time necessary to submit a quality request. Our new admissions system allowed users to save their progress and come back later, so I was surprised that so many people did not take advantage of this feature to give their responses deeper thought.

We were left with 27 requests that the admissions committee carefully read and discussed. We have admitted 11 new members, and we are waiting for responses to follow up questions by one applicant.

My thoughts from the previous post remain the same. Most of those who were admitted gave long, well-thought-out, complete responses to all the questions asked – principal among them, the question regarding site concept.  We are a charitable organization whose mission focuses on serving other charities, the arts, education, and the open source community. The applicants we admitted served one of these areas either directly, or in a clearly articulated indirect manner.

We will take a few weeks to give our new members time to settle in before reopening the admissions system. Those whose requests were denied are free to reapply in the future, but be sure to address the issues discussed in this and my previous blog post, as well as any notes we may have made in your denial email. Incomplete applications can be completed and submitted once we reopen.

We offer RSS feeds here as well as via twitter, but probably the best way to be informed of when we reopen would be to use the email subscription option here on our blog.

Hosting Request Suggestions

Saturday, January 31st, 2009

We are about a third through our current request submission window and have received about 50 requests so far.

We don’t seem to be getting the same quality of requests that we are accustomed to and that we require to grant accounts. The main problem most requests have is that they only give 1-2 word responses to the questions asked. Often people skip questions or write a response that does not answer the question (maybe people spent too much time watching political debates).

Charities and other non-profits don’t have quite as much to prove (though you still need to do better than 1-2 word responses), but everyone else needs to sell us on hosting you. We want to know a little bit about you and the site you want to host with us. Every account we grant costs us money. We are a genuine non-profit, our free hosting is actually free to you, and actually costs us money. We don’t take in any money for hosting you, no sponsorships, no ad revenue, nothing. We do this solely out of the goodness of our hearts. So, when you write your responses please take the time to carefully consider your response and give us enough information to convince us that hosting your website will help people. Toot your horns a bit people, try to get us as excited about your website as you should be about it yourself.

The sites we currently host are extremely diverse: cancer charities, train photographers, cartographers, unicycle clubs, tech bloggers, graphic artists, family photo sites, and many more things sometimes generous, mundane, or bizarre. The single thing common to all the groups is that they made us want to host them. They showed us that they knew what they were doing, and that they were excited enough about it to make us excited for them.

Capture our interest.

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