My website has raised its anchor and set sail into the internet oceans without me

A ghost-ship story for Christmas

Something for the Weekend, Sir? Account suspended. Er, wot? [F5, spin spin] … Account suspended.

Nonononono this can’t be happening, not today. [Ctrl+Shift+R, spin spinny-winny spin spin] … Account suspended. What the heck?

I am trying to post an update to my website. One of my websites, that is. For reasons lost in the mysteries of time and space, several websites seem to belong to me; possibly each one represents an aspect of my polyfocal blend of functional skills.

Mmm, "polyfocal blend of functional skills": don’t you just love that? I got it off LinkedIn.

It’s not the same with my email addresses. Like you, I have a few email addresses. That is, I have several; well, let’s say quite a few. OK, I currently have more than a dozen and less than a score – not counting aliases, of course. But email addresses are different: I can trace each one back to a decision, a purpose, a reason for setting it up.

Naturally, not all of them are what I’d call active, and the virtually unused ones don’t even attract spam these days. There are a handful that I haven’t checked for more than two years (could be seven), and at least one whose login details I have long forgotten but may well still be operational in one guise or another because it was offered as "Free email for life!" and I’m not dead yet. And there are those older email addresses whose logins I remember perfectly well but I can’t be sure if they still work because the dial-up number isn’t answering any more.

Enough about email addresses, it’s this flipping website that won’t let me in to add anything. And even though my account is apparently suspended, the website itself functions as a publicly viewable entity to anyone who cares to look – which is a shame as it’s utter pants. It’s this very paucity of content I was hoping to address until Mister Account Suspended suddenly decided to flop his soggy credential-obsessed nob in my face.

I try a lookup; the domain’s still a going concern so that’s not it. I try my luck following the support link on the Account Suspended page but that goes nowhere, as in it takes me to a page inviting me to email the support team directly rather than fill out a support log form. Those kind of emails never get answered, or they go straight in the bin, or possibly they’re re-routed to one of those "free email for life" addresses in the hope that a future time-traveller from the outsourced call centre on Phobos will nip back to 1998 to answer them.

Actually, my email has done none of those things. Instead, it has bounced straight back to me with an instant "Undelivered Mail Return to Sender" subject line. For further assistance, it says, I should contact my postmaster. So I nip down the road to my local postal sorting office and ask for him. He listens patiently as I explain my website login problem, surrounded by forklift trucks and sacks of letters, but frankly the guy is no help at all.

I dunno, maybe I typed "Google" into Google and broke the internet again.

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Talking of Google, maybe it's one of those internet products that are here one day and vanish in a puff of electrons the next. You know, like Picasa, Helpouts or G+. Or URL Shortener, Jump or Trips. Or, er, Allo, YouTube Gaming, Link Ads, Fusion Tables, Bulletin, Correlate, Reader or Cloud Print.

That's a bit unfair to Google, actually. Alphabet is a big organisation that creates a lot of stuff so it's inevitably going to can a lot of stuff too, and it gives you reasonable notice before shutting a service down, as long as it was a service that had been up and running for a while. If it wants to tidy up any of my dozens of long-forgotten and long-unused Gmail accounts, set up on various whims over the years as temporary disposable logins for things that no longer matter or even exist, it's doing me a favour frankly.

This is in painful contrast to the six-week warning received by TalkTalk Business customers at the end of November that their entire business email system was to be floated into the middle of a pond and torched at the beginning of January. It has since backed down. It wos El Reg wot won it, yada yada.

TalkTalk, Tiscali, Pipex, whatever: email addresses tied to a specific ISP or computing brand are always going to be a bit of a risk. At best, your business is lumbered with an address frequently associated with utter failure and public disdain. Worse, the address itself is susceptible to being buggered about with as your ISP is repeatedly taken over and merged with other ISPs.

To this day, I don't understand what my Apple ID is, as Apple keeps changing the brand domain for the email address it assigns you. Do I use the dot-me, dot-icloud or dot-mac address? Are they different? Are they the same? Are they aliases for something else yet to come? Every time I register a new Apple device, it tells me I've registered with all three versions even though I didn't. What is this, more Apple delusions of grandeur by elevating a single ID into a holy trinity?

Good news! I have just received a reply to one of the tentative messages I sent out to anybody who might once have had something to do with me setting up that website that I'm locked out of. Account suspended indeed! We'll soon get to the bottom of this. When I get hold of that hosting provider I'm going to kill him.

Ah. It seems God beat me to it.

According to this reply, my hosting provider died. His web hosting company was a one-man-band – how was I supposed to know? – and he plucked his final banjo string a year ago, last Christmas in fact. That might explain why he hasn't been responding to my urgent emails or picking up the phone today.

It seems his mate was left to wind down the company and in his rush somehow failed to let me know. I'm fascinated that my website has kept going for a year while hosted by a dead person. And yet the website continues to be very much alive, its thin and woefully outdated content – now impossible for me to update – still visible and enabled by a lost corner of a webserver nobody knows anything about or has any responsibility for.

I toy with the idea of picking a new host and pointing my domain to the new IPs but I can't bring myself to complete the purchase. I click on the Empty Basket button instead.

Maybe I'll just leave the site and its meagre nine obsolete pages to linger just as they are, served up for who-knows-how-long by the ethereal spirits of the internet and hosted from beyond the veil. Its destiny is to join the growing fleet of orphaned websites out there, nudging bows with other wayward vessels left behind with broken masts after untidy clear-outs, sudden insolvencies and sheer forgetfulness.

Mine will be an HTML Marie Celeste, its destination unknown, its home port forgotten, forevermore bobbing captainless, crewless, rudderless on the seas of eternity.

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Alistair Dabbs
Alistair Dabbs is a freelance technology tart, juggling tech journalism, training and digital publishing. He revels in the romance of being the author of a ghost-ship website. His only wish is that the website in question had not contained quite so much information about novelty dildos. More at Autosave is for Wimps and @alidabbs.

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