Blog hosting site Wordpress.com have just announced a great new feature which is also a simple way that hosting companies can help journalists under attack online. The blogging hosting site now lets you automatically redirect your old Wordpress web address to wherever you move to when you switch blog hosting services. When your readers come to the old site, they get automatically forwarded to your new address. Wordpress.com uses a technique that lets Google and other search engines know you've moved too.
That's not just a good customer relations exercise: it's a vital tool for journalists who have to switch services in a hurry -- not because they want to, but because they're under attack from hackers. In cases like that, it's the hosting service who often "encourages" them to move on before they bring down the rest of their customers.
Controversial news sites, like Russian investigative magazine Novaya Gazeta or, most recently, much of Burma's independent media-in-exile, can get taken off the Net with malicious distributed denial-of-service (DDOS) attacks.
It's not only the targeted web site that gets blown offline by a DDOS. If it's on a shared server, all those other sites may be taken down too. And if the hosting service the news site uses pays for bandwidth, they could be saddled with a huge bill which no-one will be able to pay.
It's not surprising then that many hosting services would rather a controversial website leave than continue to cost them money and threaten their service to other clients.
I wish more big hosts would stand by their customers, but I understand why sometimes they can't. Making the passage when a customer moves onto another, more resilient web hsot, is not something that any company has to do for their clients, and it's not something that all hosts think about. But when you're dealing with independent media that may have to find a new home in a hurry, features like redirects can make all the difference between news sites that keep their readers during a DDOS, and those who lose them forever.