TL; DR: Hosting company ilbello was founded in 2002 by an Italian teenager with a passion for web development. Over the last 16 years, Fabio Ferretti has continued to grow ilbello into a thriving hosting community. Perhaps the platform’s most unique aspect is that it’s free for users and doesn’t rely on ad revenue. And Fabio continues to operate ilbello as a non-commercial entity because he is genuinely passionate about hosting.
In 2002, then-16-year-old Fabio Ferretti developed a website as an internet relay chat (IRC) server that would give him hands-on experience with the Linux operating system. Eventually, he turned the site into ilbello, a free hosting service based in Italy.
Today, ilbello has been free for longer than most hosting companies have existed and still offers robust functionality — despite its humble starting goal.
“I was very passionate about computers, and creating the website was a way for me to get my foot in the door with Linux,” Fabio said.
Though Fabio now has a day job as a the CTO of an ecommerce agency, he continues to run ilbello himself on a small budget. He doesn’t have plans to transform it into a monetized platform, either. Most hosting companies would find operating a business that doesn’t turn a profit — by design — an exercise in futility, but Fabio views ilbello as a worthwhile endeavor.
“I use it as a signpost, and a way to test new features and versions,” he said.
Users continue to find ilbello useful, as well. For one, the platform is among the minority of hosting companies that don’t sell user data. Also, it is both completely free and ad-free, meaning it doesn’t give users a free verson only to bombard them with too many ads.
Another benefit for ilbello users is that they can run most PHP software without disruptions. Its PHP platform is the product of more than 15 years of Fabio’s research and development, and he said many users believe that it works better than paid versions from larger hosts.
Ilbello supports a wide variety of popular software programs, including Joomla, WordPress, Magento, OpenCart, and Moodle, among others. And users find that versatility just as appealing as the price.
“People like to use ilbello because we support so many types of popular software without a lot of the hassle and cost,” Fabio said.
Keeping Up with Hosting Trends Since 2002
While many other 16-year-olds in 2002 were exploring online games as the internet began to hit its cultural stride, Fabio wanted to create a more useful tool. But what prompted a teenager to start a hosting company?
“It was the beginning of peer-to-peer networks,” Fabio said. “I was inspired by my internet related chat (IRC) friends to create the platform.”
In Italy, Fabio had limited options for streaming data at the time. In response, Fabio and his group of friends, whom he calls “a geek community” began offering tools and servers for these early internet adopters to create and host projects.
Soon after, many of Fabio’s friends started developing their own web pages, for which they needed hosting solutions. Since he was working alone, he found efficiencies where he could.
“At first, I started to automate everything I could on ilbello. Then, I started specializing in PHP hosting,” he said.
More than 15 years later, Fabio is still just as passionate about being an early adopter of new technologies. He regularly develops new tools for his hosting platform and keeps up with all the new PHP releases. For example, when we spoke to Fabio, he’d already adopted the latest version of PHP, which had been released earlier that morning.
“At first, I try the tools I develop on a small audience. After a few days, I release them on a larger scale,” Fabio said.
Though ilbello might not be as widely known as more prominent hosts, Fabio takes pride in the fact that his platform works just as well as the others. Fabio regularly meets small developers who use his platform — by happenstance.
“It’s often the case that I meet someone who knows about ilbello because they use it,” he said. “Start-ups, founders, developers, early adopters — all of these types of people tend to use ilbello.”
Offering Ease of Use and Free Tools Without Ads
That so many dedicated developers and entrepreneurs know about ilbello is not surprising. After all, one of the platform’s key features is that it doesn’t have a commercial goal. That means no email marketing, no ads, and, of course, it’s free.
The only times that ilbello contacts its users is to remind them to update the websites they’ve created — or delete them if they are no longer in use.
“There may be a few emails I’ll send if you have a website — to keep it updated or delete it,” Fabio said. “Because if you have something and you just leave it sitting there, it may be spammed or hacked or exploited.”
Another reason developers stay with ilbello is that Fabio regularly makes helpful updates to the system. Currently, ilbello makes a free VPS available to users who simply provide their email address. The VPS is designed for developers or other users, who want to deploy and test projects securely — without starting from scratch.
Though Fabio may not provide the level of customer service that paid hosting companies do, he is still committed to solving user problems. Based on user feedback, he has simplified many of the ilbello processes to address concerns.
“I try to figure out the common questions and create solutions that might help future users, so they don’t encounter the same issues,” he said.
For example, Fabio undertook a recent project after he realized that many of his users were struggling with their usernames and passwords.
“Everyone was having trouble with the username and password,” he said. “Now, you don’t have to create a password — our system automatically generates a password and sends it to you. You have a unique password that is assigned to you. It’s secure and applies to everything. That has made the process so much easier.”
Simplifying Common Processes Enhances User Experience
Ilbello has been a passion project for Fabio since he built it to practice Linux when he was 16 years old. But he has no plans to make it into a full-time gig. For one, the website would have to be considerably bigger for it to warrant his attention full time.
And Fabio has a day job in the tech sector, so ilbello is not the only outlet for his passion.
Fabio plans to continue running ilbello because it gives him the freedom to explore his interests — while also helping others. Further, he has automated many processes so he can focus on making tweaks in his spare time.
“Nowadays, it doesn’t take so much effort to keep it running,” he said. “And If I come up with an idea, it only takes a few hours for me to make changes.”
Fabio plans to continue testing his ideas on Ibello because, at heart, he is still the same inquisitive developer that he was as a teen. He’s interested in developing new open source tools that others can use for free, and he’s considering turning ilbello into an open directory of developers, agencies, and industry experts. That would transform the platform into a place where developers could access tools while making connections with experts in the field.
As a free service, ilbello has never provided an income for Fabio. So why does he create so many tools and services for free?
“Because development is my passion,” he said.