Hi JohnL and Brad!
Thanks for the comments. I definitely plan on keeping the core message board services (and all other major features on DCSki) free. I just need a way to make sure the photo upload service is limited to honest, regular DCSki readers that want to share their ski photos with other DCSki readers, and tying that feature with a "donation" type subscription seems the best way of doing that.
You mention a charge for viewing these uploaded photos -- I'm hoping I don't need to do that, but I do need to make sure readers understand that the photos they upload through this feature are intended to be viewed by other DCSki readers, directly on DCSki. I'm not in a position (in terms of bandwidth, etc.) to host user photos that would be linked to from other busy sites. On occasion, I've seen other sites link directly to a photo on DCSki, without crediting DCSki or giving a link to DCSki. Anytime someone visited their page, it grabbed the photo from my server, using my sever resources and bandwidth. Not a polite thing! These are the types of things that we web developers get to worry about.
Again, I'm not looking at separating DCSki into "premium" and "free" services as I don't want to fracture the community. I'd like to put a donation system in place, where people can contribute an optional subscription fee if they'd like, and as a token of thanks I would provide an extra service such as the photo upload feature. And I have every intention of waiving the fee and providing the photo upload service for free to readers who regularly contribute useful trip reports, etc. (such as DCSki columnists).
In terms of some behind-the-scenes stats on DCSki's implementation, right now DCSki is hosted on a dedicated Linux server at a data center in New Jersey. This server is getting a little old, so I recently ordered a new server that I plan to co-locate in Annapolis. I can't wait to get the new server -- it is going to absolutely smoke. (Well, not literally, I hope.) It's a dual-processor XServe G5 (www.apple.com/xserve), a 64-bit machine that can reach up to 9 Gigaflops in performance. It runs Mac OS X Server, which is based on FreeBSD UNIX. It's not the cheapest server you can buy, and unfortunately, there's a 7-week waiting list to get one, but I'm in the queue. This server will have ample processing and storage power to drive DCSki for many years to come -- I think you'll all be amazed by the performance! (It could easily run the equivalent of dozens of DCSki's at the same time, so there will be power to spare.)
I've wanted to co-locate my own server for awhile, but only if I could find a company that was near my house. (Right now I lease a dedicated server, so if there is a hardware problem, the company I lease it from is required to correct it. When you co-locate your own server, the data center provides power and network connections but you're responsible for repairing the system if something goes wrong. I like the company I'm currently with that's located in New Jersey, but I didn't want to drive all the way there to set up the server and repair problems!) I did recently find a company near my house that sounds good, so hopefully that will work out OK. I would love to co-locate the server in my own house if possible, but I've looked at the options and there just isn't an inexpensive, reliable, high-performance way to get the bits in and out. So a nearby data center is the best option. (They have backup generators, 24-hour security, redundant network connections through multiple providers, and economy of scale.)
Brad: I'm planning on upgrading the message forum software again over the summer, which should allow me to have tighter integration throughout the site. DCSki's message forum had been based on a very old version of ubb.classic, a commercial package that's implemented in Perl. Earlier this year, I upgraded that to the most recentl version of ubb.classic, which provided many features people had been craving. But I plan to upgrade once again to ubb.threads, a version they have that's implemented in MySQL and PHP. Because all of the message forum data will be stored in a MySQL database, I'll be able to easily raid that database on other pages of the site to pull out information. So I should be able to do some neat things with that.
Another thing I'm thinking of doing is making an interactive resort profiler using Flash. Until now, I've avoided using Flash on the site (and haven't allowed Flash-based ads) because I wasn't sure what saturation Flash had in the browser market. It seems the vast majority of browsers can now display Flash reasonably well, so I'm starting to learn Flash and thinking of ways I can add it to the site. I will probably also allow Flash ads for the first time this winter. Anyway, through Flash or traditional means, I'm hoping to generate a nice "Resort Central" type place where one can quickly view and compare stats for various resorts, including real-time info such as current conditions, new snow, etc. But I don't want to promise too many things yet.
I'm hoping the company in Annapolis works out to be a great place to co-locate my server, but if that doesn't work out, I might drop you a note, Brad!