DCSki: Significant upgrade on the way
23 posts
9 users
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Scott - DCSki Editor
May 15, 2004
Member since 10/10/1999
1,096 posts
Hi folks!

I'm currently planning a major overhaul for DCSki over the summer. This upgrade will touch every aspect of DCSki -- from the server hardware to the look and feel of the site.

I hope to improve on many aspects of DCSki while adding additional capabilities.

I know some of DCSki's most loyal readers continue to check in during the summer, so here's your chance to provide some of your own suggestions for improvements. What are five new capabilities you would love to see? (Or what five things would you like to see changed?) Feel free to post your ideas to this message forum.

I received a lot of good feedback from the DCSki Annual Survey, and will also be reviewing that feedback as I plan for the upgrade.

Because this will be a major upgrade, there might be brief periods of time later this summer when DCSki is inaccessible. I'll try to provide some warning in advance if the site will be unavailable.

I may also post questions from time to time here, looking for feedback on specific ideas.

This overhaul will require a significant investment of time and money (I just plunked down over $5k on a new server -- gulp!), but the new server and design should propel DCSki into the future for many years to come.

Thanks,

- Scott
johnfmh - DCSki Columnist
May 15, 2004
Member since 07/18/2001
1,914 posts
Scott:

We need to have the capability to post digital pictures taken by members at local resorts quickly and easily. The current forum provides this capability but it is awkward-photos need to be uploaded to a SEPARATE server such as geocities and linked to DCSki. It would be easier if the new DCSki server allotted space for digital picture uploads and then allowed members to link to those photos in the forum. Do you understand what I am saying? We need an easier methodology for posting our ski photography on the site to share with others.

John Sherwood
KevR
May 17, 2004
Member since 01/27/2004
786 posts
yeah that'd be good, I second that, for what's its worth. I always wanted to be able type in the zip-code or address for the weather/snowmaking predictor...
KevR
May 19, 2004
Member since 01/27/2004
786 posts
Also how 'bout a beginning of season, end of season party!? Ok, that wouldn't have much to do with the website then would it? Overall I think the website is pretty good. I guess perhaps its my total lack of imagination that prevents me with coming up with any brilliant ideas on this area.

I suppose the web site could be a bit easy to navigate in places but off the top of my head I am not sure where that would be.

I do notice that folks tend to post short trip reports, that are still pretty long in the forum. I wonder if the forum couldn't or shouldn't be brought forward a bit more on the site... ?
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johnfmh - DCSki Columnist
May 19, 2004
Member since 07/18/2001
1,914 posts
I agree with Kevin--the forum should command a more prominate place on the first page. The articles are interesting but the forum is what drives the most traffic to the site and therefore it should receive top billing.
KevR
May 19, 2004
Member since 01/27/2004
786 posts
I was perhaps thinking along the lines of slashdot -- using that model. but in a way we are nearly there now. Just a thought!
Scott - DCSki Editor
May 19, 2004
Member since 10/10/1999
1,096 posts
Hi guys,

Thanks for the suggestions -- and keep 'em coming.

Adding the ability to upload photos to DCSki is a definite on my to-do list for the next revision of DCSki. Because there are some risks in allowing this, I will not be able to allow random people to anonymously upload files to the site. (You can imagine someone might try to upload illicit pictures, pirated software, etc.) To get around that problem, what I am thinking of doing is offering an optional "DCSki Membership" or "Subscription" (or some other name). To join this program, readers would contribute what they feel is an appropriate subscription fee, probably through PayPal. In return, they would get access to some additional features on DCSki -- such as a certain amount of personal storage space (e.g., 50 megabytes) they could use to upload ski photos. They might also be identified on the message forums as a DCSki Contributing Member. I'm not looking at this as being a revenue center; the minimum price would probably be very low, like $5 or $10 a year. All of the major features of DCSki would remain free. And contributing writers (such as columnists) would receive a free membership. [Smile]

Comments on this plan -- positive or negative -- are welcome.

The message forum will also be undergoing another upgrade over the summer as I move to the new server, and that will make it easier to integrate the forum more tightly with the rest of the site.

I'm really planning on re-writing DCSki from scratch, starting from the ground up. It's going to be a huge effort, and I have lots of exciting plans for enhancements, but I'm afraid to share too many in case I run out of time to implement them. (Best to underpromise, and overdeliver!) There's quite a few years of crust in DCSki's current code, and it's finally time to start with a clean slate and develop a framework that will be easier to maintain in the long run, while delivering some long-requested features.

Thanks,

- Scott
ski_guy_59
May 19, 2004
Member since 11/9/2001
221 posts
wow Scott, what an undertaking!

Two things that I think would be neat:

-the logo is nice, maybe it could be vamped slightly during the remodel. I think of something sleek and ski like, more than a simple text wave. The current one looks nice though!

-It would be neat to have an archive of all the photos we publish on DCSki. For example, take the '03-'04 season and break it down into months, then by events. Maybe you could make it to where a person is able to view all photos of a particular resort.

What an undertaking! I just finished a short portfolio for my final in art class. I'm learning more and more about Photoshop.

http://www.geocities.com/ski_guy_59/webportfolio.jpg
Scott - DCSki Editor
May 20, 2004
Member since 10/10/1999
1,096 posts
I'm a step ahead of you Jarrett! I agree that a site redesign of this magnitude warrants a new logo, and I've hired a design company to work on a new logo for DCSki. I'm hoping they come up with something good. (And what you describe is similar to what I've been thinking.)
Roy
May 20, 2004
Member since 01/11/2000
609 posts
I would have no problem with the subscription fee at $5 or $10. That's still a bargin considering how much I get out of the site.
johnfmh - DCSki Columnist
May 21, 2004
Member since 07/18/2001
1,914 posts
I think a $5-10 fee for the ability to upload and store 50 megs of photos on the site is worth it. This would be a good way to share ski pictures with forum members and other friends.

I can also foresee a day when people take pictures of a certain trail and chat with the group about the best lines down.
JohnL
May 21, 2004
Member since 01/6/2000
3,509 posts
If feasible, I think it's important to keep the core message board services free. This will facilitate keeping a broad base of participants. (I still think having to register is important.)

A subscription-based service for storing digital pix seems reasonable. In addition to charging for the storage, you may need to charge for the viewing, since "non-premium" DC Ski members will be consuming DC Ski network bandwith. (I believe that's not the case when the pix are posted on a third party site - I haven't looked at the linking in detail.) A "premium" picture/message board may be the solution - lot's of net basketball sites use this approach. It does risk fracturing the community.
JohnL
May 21, 2004
Member since 01/6/2000
3,509 posts
Scott,

Bit of a tech geek tangent. Do you use a single server or do you use clustered servers? Do you host the site at an ISP/ASP or at your house? If at your house, what sort of broadband connectivity can you get to a residence? (Before anyone jumps in about DSL, cable, etc., I'm talking about upload, not download bandwith.)
bawalker
May 21, 2004
Member since 12/1/2003
1,547 posts
Scott,

Some of the things I've thought of you've probably already thought of but they are things I'd like to see. First would be more of a tighter integration of the forum with the main page. Mainly for example with the logins. One reason is that when I log on to check my personal messages I have to go into the forum, then to my profile etc. I think it'd be great when loggin on the cookie logs in for me and a message at the top displays how many new messages I have, how many threads I'm subscribed to, etc.

Secondly would be expanding on local resorts more. A photogallery on your end that has summer, fall, winter, spring photographs of the resorts, their slopes, etc. Call me crazy but I enjoy going to the resorts in the summer/spring/fall because it's like a different world.

Finally is that I own a webhosting business and am a domain registrar so I understand your plight for a possible charge to handle minimal costs. If there is anything I can do for you in the way of server space, gallery space, domain registration or anything don't hesitate to contact me. [Smile] It's my way of helping the great ski community here.

Brad
Scott - DCSki Editor
May 22, 2004
Member since 10/10/1999
1,096 posts
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. [Smile]

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. [Wink]

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!

Thanks,

- Scott
bawalker
May 22, 2004
Member since 12/1/2003
1,547 posts
Scott,

It sounds like great plans are ahead for next winter. As much as I hammered your site this winter craving for information I can only imagine what it'll be like come next november refreshing it 45 times a minute seeing if anyone saw the first snowflake. [Smile]

One suggestion I may make is that when you have the photo upload section is to also make an option for photo's to be linked from other servers that appear as uploaded. That is if that wouldn't consume much bandwidth. The reason for that is for me I'd donate anyway but I do have my own server and would use it's resources for hosting photos and such and let someone else use the space I would have taken.

Also when you upgrade to the latest forum software make sure the posting listings are sorted in a right order this time. Meaning the latest post to a threat is at the bottom with the first being at the top. Talk about it being hard trying to jump in on a conversation and having to gotothe 5th page and work backwards.

I completely understand and DROOL over the hosting setup you are getting especially with the dual G5's. Thats so right it's just wrong. lol Seriously though the webhosting business I started is under the same precept by co-locating using a friends datawarehouse that him and his business parters bought in Redmond, WA. I was able to get in on the ground floor so to speak so I have Dual OC3's at my disposial for a monthly charge of $100. Thats it. I can also resell dedicated server rack space and am a domain registrar etc. Although there is another reason I went with their business. They are looking to build/buy an east coast facility sometime soon in the Leesburg/Alexandria/N. Virginia corridor of which then I'd have more servers installed there just for the ability to walk in and fix it or upgrade or whatever.

Speaking on the Flash idea... or rather expanding on it. Would it be possible to some extent to do a 3D-Virtual tour of the various resorts and some of their slopes. www.skiwinterpark.com where I play to go this year has a good idea on how to do it. I think they basically had someone ski with a good quality cam and film the slopes going down, chairrides up, etc. Being able to have a virtual tour on your site of the resorts I would think would give people a MUCH better idea of what the resorts are like and help make more accurate decisions on where to go etc. I am envisioning now having this Quicktime, WM, or Divx file that shows what it's like going down the Salamander, The Drop, and riding up Silver Queen. [Smile] Who knows maybe start out by only offering one of the most popular green, blue, and black runs at each resort.

Obviously this would require some work on getting the footage and wouldn't really be fully operational till mid-season next winter, but I'm sure the resorts would use their advertising dollars to pay for you to do that. Depending on the agreements you have with them now, I could only imagine that anything that increases their exposure at little effort to them is a huge plus. Plus I'm always up for a run to a resort to be useful for something. lol

Brad
ski_guy_59
May 23, 2004
Member since 11/9/2001
221 posts
Sounds like a great idea Brad, but the 3-D might use up lots of bandwidth. I volunteer to help!

On a different note, I received a letter yesterday saying the National Council of the Boy Scouts of America approved my Eagle Scout Application - I am now an official, bonified Eagle Scout! [Smile]
bawalker
May 23, 2004
Member since 12/1/2003
1,547 posts
Well maybe not a 3D image... maybe using a digital cam with a low resolution like 480x320 or less taking not the highest resolution video while someone is skiing down the slopes. That is going slow to give a user a feel what the slope is like. Maybe stopping and taking shots up the slopes etc. When using Quicktime or other video compression tools a edited video of the salamander should be no more than 10mb long.

I volunteer to take the vids! [Smile]
rmcva
May 24, 2004
Member since 01/28/2004
187 posts
For graphic images, you should also have a way to control or at least specify graphic image format requirements. For example, a full screen image may look great and only be 50k in size while someone else may upload one at 5mb. Publishing some guidelines should also help and include items such as max image pixel sizes, resolution, etc. This could save a lots of server space.
bawalker
May 25, 2004
Member since 12/1/2003
1,547 posts
I agree. Actually I'm sure Scott knows about this but there are resource sites online that have pre-coded scripts and programs just for this very thing. phpresourceindex.com is one of the best ones. He can grab a script, modify it for dcski.com and be ready to go in a short period of time.
myrto
May 25, 2004
Member since 10/4/2001
259 posts
Well I think, and have always maintained (if you look back in the archives from the last time you did this) That the message board is the heart and soul of the Website. I also prefered the way the messages used to run from top to bottom with the start at the top and the most recent at the bottom. While at the time it seemed to make sense to read the most recent post first i think it makes more sense to read the messages in the order the thread evolves. As for photos i think it would be better to have a seperate posting area and leave it up to scott which ones to post to the site. Have a rotation and an incentive, knowing that if your picture somehow was worthy enough it might make it onto DCSKI. If this was too much bureen you could always share this responsibility with some of your faithful contributors.
AND>>>>>>>>THIS IS A BOLD AND BRILLIANT IDEA
Lets use the power of volume and a targeted audience to pull off some DCSKI discounts.
Do like the ski shops whereby DCSKI readers can purchase discounted lift tickets etc. Allow the resorts the opportunities to post specials marketed directly to us. After all they're the ones selling. Instead of us hunting down their deals they should bring them to us. It is free advertising for them, a service for us, and a graet additional feature for DCSKI
JohnL
May 27, 2004
Member since 01/6/2000
3,509 posts
Interesting concept of having DCSki discounts. You'd think the current DCSki advertisers would do a bit more customization of their adds and special deals for DCSki.

DCSki special discounts would be great as long as they wouldn't compromise the independence/frankness of DCSki content and message board posts.
bawalker
May 29, 2004
Member since 12/1/2003
1,547 posts
Hrm, interesting. I don't think having each resort offer various discounts throughout the year tailored just to DCSki.com. Maybe snowshoe could offer 30% off 1-Day lift tickets, or maybe offer a weekend package of $99 for 1 person 2 day ski package. Something that each resort could use a few times a year but still with all the resorts it'd give continous discounts at various mountains giving us the true benefit.

Maybe as a way to use the discounts to drive others to this site... Scott could print up some brochures and give out to sports shops as a way to drive people to the site to get discounts but in the process get them hooked on the great info, forums and more.
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