Fog Creek Software
Discussion Board




Hosting a tech support news server?

Subject line says it all.  Recently there was a thread on news server "peering", my question is a bit different.

Mitch & Murray rent space on a Verio hosted virtual server.  Although there are various web enabled forum packages available that will run on that configuration, I have always preferred a real Usenet style newsgroup for technical support purposes.  It is time for M&M to run one of those.

Questions:

(1) How is this done?  How do we do the news.mitchmurray.com IP address and news server config?

(2) Does anyone know of a virtual server hosting company that will allow us to do this (Verio won't)?  If not, are there companies out there that specifically host these things for a fee?

(3) Is there someone who can talk me out of this and convince me that running a web-based support forum is the way to go?  Frankly, other than the Fog Creek implementation, I think they are slow and butt ugly.

Thanks from all of us downtown ...

- Mitch & Murray

Mitch & Murray (from downtown)
Friday, June 13, 2003

I think it depends on your target audience.  Are they techies who know how and will take the time to subscribe to your news group or are they common folk who just want a simple way of asking a question.  Personally I don't like newsgroups, and prefer forum style question/answer, it is much simpler.

Just my $0.02.

You think I'm joking.  I'm not.

AnyMouse
Friday, June 13, 2003

By the way, you guys from the Midwest by chance?

AnyMouse
Friday, June 13, 2003

DataDynamics' news server is one of the top reasons I've seen that people like the company. I think it's a great idea.

You know, you might try dropping their tech staff a line to ask about it - couldn't hurt.

Philo

Philo
Friday, June 13, 2003

I started the thread about peering. I've also thought of setting up a news server too.

There is a newsgroup called news.software.nntp, and this thread discusses private news server installation under NT:

http://groups.google.com/groups?hl=en&lr=lang_en&ie=UTF-8&oe=UTF-8&threadm=3482A2AD.84278B5A%40sprynet.com&rnum=1&prev=/groups%3Fhl%3Den%26lr%3Dlang_en%26ie%3DUTF-8%26oe%3DUTF-8%26q%3DINS%26btnG%3DGoogle%2BSearch%26meta%3Dgroup%253Dnews.software.nntp

Of course, The *nix world invented news servers and it has a ton of packages out there.

As far as the technicalities: subdomains are simply added to your internet server's DNS server entries - I know nothing about this process, just that whomever maintains your DNS entries for you must add things like "mail.mitchnmurry.com", so that is the same level that would resolve "news.whatever". IE, the same process that makes www.somedomain.com the same as somedomain.com. In practice many sites (and most smaller sites) have all of these subdomain aliases pointing at the same IP address.

If you are indeed renting a virtual *root* host, I'd find it strange that Verio won't allow you to run such a low bandwidth service.  I have a virtual Linux root host and my provider doesn't care what I run on it, as long as I'm not vandalizing things...

Bored Bystander
Friday, June 13, 2003

One other thought - just to answer your original question succinctly - news is just another program, like Apache, nothing magic about it. Has its own ports, and wants its own IP address (even if shared with other services.)

And, yet another thing - I tried a while back to find a commercial provider of 'private' news servers with no feeds in or outbound, just a private little news sandbox. NOBODY SEEMS TO DO THIS, ANYWHERE.  So you're stuck with hosting your own.

Bored Bystander
Friday, June 13, 2003

There's a mail-to-news gateway which might be able to do what you want, I don't remember quite what it said about private groups and the site's down right now.

www.gmane.org

Note that you will need your own IP address if you really want a newsgroup.

Do you really think your customers want this? Might be better off with a news interface, web interface, mail interface if you really want news.

mb
Friday, June 13, 2003

Hi M&M,

I personally prefer a message board, or maybe a news server with web-based access like the MSDN boards.

Now that I'm using ActiveReports in a number of projects I had to go and set up Outlook Express just to access it. For any kind of customer service operation you want the barriers to be as close to zero as possible. Since maybe 99.9% of your customers have a web browser, and are likely going to your site to look for this support, it makes sense to just give them a link that they can go to immediately without requiring the 70% who dont have a newsreader setup to set things up, and then all of them to have to switch applications just to begin finding their answer.

With that said, I have found that using DD's support news server works pretty well. It is cleaner than most message board implementations, but then again FogCreek's system of a well-implemented board works well too (Other than the lack of an ability to flag topics of interest in an easy to find manner).

-- Josh

JWA
Friday, June 13, 2003

Can you not supply both, and gateway between them? I think for a forum like this one you could do it quite effectively; you'd have a problem with threading, if it were just like this board, but that's pretty obvious.

Really, though, it depends what you're selling. (What _are_ you selling?) My thoughts on this would be these, and they're pretty simple but there you go:

If it's a shrinkwrap type affair, web board will probably be fine.

If there are subtleties involved in its use (it's a programming library, or programming system, or something mega complex like Excel), a newsgroup would _definitely_ be useful (I'd say better, but of course there's the issue of the barrier to entry) so that real regular users have a forum that's convenient to use on a regular basis. I assume you want to keep these users sweet because they'll be recommending your product to friends and will doubtless help questioners for free.

If doing both news and web forum, I would set aside a group for news-style users _only_ -- this group will probably be slightly different from your 'average' poster to the web board, and will possibly want a slightly more 'newsgroup' feel. (But without the slightly cliquey nature of many usenet groups, I should add!)

I'm presupposing you don't mind your customers giving each other support of course!

Tom
Friday, June 13, 2003

There are plugins to some of the popular forum packages that let them read & post to newsgroups.

www.MarkTAW.com
Saturday, June 14, 2003

If the purpose of the forum is technical troubleshooting then go to the ZDNet forums and set up a message forum as close to theirs as you can.

You want the right tool for the right job and the limitations of the ZDnet way (one post only at a time) are perfect for answering specific questions, keeping things on topic, and allowing people to see who's posted what.

Stephen Jones
Saturday, June 14, 2003

It sounds like your renting space on a drive, not a server, so this is going to be a problem. They're not going to let you install some software on their servers. Your best bet is probably hosting your own server of a broad band line. It's bit of work, as you've got to learn how to secure it and admin it etc, but it's not hard once you get it set up.

I'm guessing your not after crazy download bandwidth as Fog Creek are (distributing shareware over the internet), so a small BB link should be fine. You can probably get one of Verio. Then all you need is a static IP.

You can be cheap and just run one IP instead of a range. Verio should be happy to keep your DNS records for you, so you don't need an extra IP for that. You can then use NAT to route ports to specific servers on the inside, or be even cheaper and just throw the lot (web, mail and news) on the one box.

I've done these configurations a few times (all ways: multi-IP and NAT'ed) and never had any real trouble. Obviously, there's a speed difference between multi-IP and NAT'ing, but is shouldn't be an issue for you.

Geoff Bennett
Sunday, June 15, 2003

One counterpoint to the idea of running an NNTP based news server: usenet use is a "geek thing." I know of several private news servers. All are run for product support of programming libraries.

In fact, the only advantage I can see to running a news server is that it IS esoteric. Maybe that's a desired quality here.

But most non technical end users will be completely lost with a Usenet interface. Also, you have the issue of your company's content being saved on someone else's hard drive as a built in behavior of offline readers.  Perhaps you would not want every message to be saved offline in other's hands, I don't know. (Yes, in most browsers you can Ctrl-S and save the HTML. But it has to be done per page, generally.)

A web based bulletin board  is the current universal solution to these issues.  No seldom used client software to config and everyone can figure it out.

Bored Bystander
Sunday, June 15, 2003

> No seldom used client software to config

I notice that if you put an URL like news://news.foo.com/foo.public.foo-support on a Web page and someone clicks on it or enters it into IE, then Outlook Express will pop, connect to the newsserver, add an entry to the newsgroup, display existing threads...

Christopher Wells
Sunday, June 15, 2003

I've never had anything like that happen to me. Ever.

www.MarkTAW.com
Sunday, June 15, 2003

If you just want a newsgroup that **looks** like a newsreader then http://foxweb.eontech.com/forum/default.fwx might help you out.

Chris Ormerod
Sunday, June 15, 2003

*  Recent Topics

*  Fog Creek Home