Buffalo Freenet – forgotten stepchild?

I’ve been struggling with this problem for two months now and gotten nowhere, so I guess I’ll rant about it here. Who knows, maybe someone will read it who can help, but mostly, I’ll just get it off my chest.

I run a web site for our local ski club at the Buffalo Freenet. It’s been there for a couple years now. For those of you not familiar with the BFN, it’s a non-profit, public service sponsored by the Department of Library and Information Services at the University of Buffalo. It began years ago as a service to the community to let people get online back before internet service was commonplace as it is now.

It started out in the days of phone modems and text-based services. I had an account there years ago and used to wait my turn to log in on one of the two phone numbers they had. My first (I mean very first!) web page was hosted there. I remember getting an account at Delphi (The ISP, not the auto parts company I worked for. It was before Delphi Automotive even existed.) because they offered PPP service that you needed to use a web browser before Compuserve or others did. AOL didn’t exist or may have just started up out of the remains of the Commodore-centric Quantum-Link service.

The BFN was pretty active then. It provided email and text-based web browsing and a bunch of quaint services with names like Gopher and Archie to the public. It was pretty educational, letting you learn as much as you wanted to. Their portal to the internet was organized on a city-model: Post office for email, City Hall for administrative things, etc.

But as the internet became web-based and most people signed on with their personal ISPs, they dropped the dial-up lines and became mostly a community web host.

The university was just one sponsor. They had a couple web design and information consulting companies donate services. At some point, the URLs changed from a freenet.buffalo.edu base to the bfn.org and I had heard that another company was donating the hosting and DNS part of it.

But enough history. When I started the ski club’s web page, the BFN seemed like a logical choice for the site. We were a community organization and they offered sites to community groups. For a couple years it was pretty routine. I kept the site updated and it was a valuable tool for the club. We even had a few new members join because of it.

Until recently when the site just disappeared. In fact anything bfn.org vanished without any explanation. It couldn’t happen at a worse time for a ski club. It was fall and our meetings and trip planning was kicking into high gear. We really needed the site we had come to rely on for getting the word out.

So, I did the logical thing, find a new host. The board of the club authorized getting our own domain name ad we did: skicluboflockport.com and we were back in business. In just a matter of time, the search engines would find it and everyone would be led to the new site.

Then the old site came back up.

I had anticipated that. Actually, I wanted that to happen so that I could put a redirection to the new URL up and send people from the old URL to the brand new domain.

But there was a hitch. The site came back up, but I couldn’t access it to change anything. The FTP account works. It signs on and takes the password, but no files show up. You can’t even get a file listing, it just times out. So we have Google and other search engines pointing to the old web site with old information on it. Whether they find the new site or not, the old site still shows up and won’t die off!

I had the same problem once before with a site I ran for a Ham Radio group. We had a site through a hosting provider in Florida. It was great for a couple years, then one day I lost FTP access. No way to change the site. The host company was so shoddy, they hadn’t billed me for the site in ages, yet wouldn’t take the page down. We put up a new site, but couldn’t get rid of the old one for several years!

So we’re stuck with the website locked in time where it was. I’ve tried to contact someone connected with the BFN, but half of the pages on their website don’t work and the other half are so old, I don’t trust them. I contacted the company who donated the servers and got an automated response, but nothing else, not even a response to say they couldn’t help me. I’ve searched in vain for anyone at UB to contact and finally have asked a friend of a friend to look into it. Hopefully I can at least get the old site taken down or redirected.

It looks to me like the old venerable Freenet is dying a death of neglect. In this day of ubiquitous internet, cheap hosting, and a wi-fi equipped laptop in everyone’s backpack, it’s role has changed, maybe even become obsolete. Unfortunately, our site is tangled up in it’s death throes.

Posted in Rants, Tech Stuff
4 comments on “Buffalo Freenet – forgotten stepchild?
  1. Mark Gritz. says:

    Al,
    I know a guy who works with the CIT dept at UB. I’ll drop him a note and direct him to this post and see if he knows anything about UB’s connection to freenet.

    Thanks. Even though I have it fixed now, I’d be curious to hear any dirt on what’s going on from an inside source! – Al

  2. Al Gritzmacher says:

    I finally go it fixed. I did it myself.

    Well, partly. I finally got in touch with the head of the department, and although I hated to bother him, he was responsive and helpful.

    He looked at an error log from my FTP program and suggested I turn off “passive mode” I’ve run into that before and would have probably tried it myself, except it was so difficult to find how to do it in the particular FTP client I was using.

    So, with access to the files restored, I was able to put in a refferal file that sends everyone on to the new site. It even does it using the HTTP 301 header, which may help get it reindexed in sites like Google faster. It tells them the site has moved, permanently.

    But it was still frustrating. Email that bounces because of quota limits being exceeded, (blame it on spam – I call it inattention) web pages that are so out of date they don’t work or the information is based on the old telnet into the mainframe days, lack of contact information, and no mention at all of the change in the site hosting. I still don’t know whether the company involved in donating services is still part of it, and finally got around to plugging the box back in, or it just got handed back to UB and is back on thier network. freenet.buffalo.edu and bfn.org seem to work interchangeably these days, so I suspect the latter.

    I mean, I’m not complaining. How can you complain about a free service. But it was a source of frustration.

    The good thing is, we now have the ski club on a commercial server with their own domain. That’s key. Even if a server goes belly-up, ICANN won’t and we can always point the domain anywhere we want.

  3. Mark Gritz. says:

    I am not sure what your best e-mail contact is. I sent some contact info to your (dot)arrl address. that is the current one in my addy book. I see you figured it out already though.

  4. Al says:

    …and then it went down again. And back up.

    Then all of a sudden, I started getting email from some mailing list they had for webmasters that I hadn’t heard from in years. Either had most of the people getting the emails, because most of the emails were “How did I get on this list? Unsubscribe me, please!”

    But at least there was some explanation, that they had moved the servers to another place that was donateing them.

    They now have two servers, one running Apache, one running with Front Page extensions, (Ick!) And they gave directions on how to make yours work and choose which one you wanted.

    I couldn’t get it to work again. I could not log in via FTP, Telnet, SSH or anything else I tried.

    But it no longer matters. I would have liked to keep it referring the old URL to our new one a bit longer, but by now, the new one should be in every search engine on the planet, so it just doesn’t matter.

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