The end of another year, and so I'd like to share some thoughts with you as I look back over the year that was. For me personally it wasn't a great year and it wasn't a bad year, but the good outweighed the bad, so I really can't complain.
One thing that I am really pleased with is the new Dimensions forums that replaced the older board software in the Fall of 2005. We had been using WebBBS for many years, and for a long time it was probably the best there was. But time moves on, and when you notice that even the software's author hasn't updated his own code in three years it's time for a change. So I started looking around for something better. We had been using the UBB bulletin board software for a while, running in parallel, and I had also installed in on the NAAFA website. However, I was never particularly impressed with UBB, and so that was not an option. I thought about some open source software, but was warned about security holes. So eventually I decided on vBulletin, an industry-leading commercial forum software product that I already knew from one of my favorite hobby sites. vBulletin isn't free, but it wasn't terribly expensive either.
I should add that WebBBS falling into obsolescence wasn't the sole impetus for switching software. There were two other factors. One was that WebBBS was an awful resource hog that constantly maxed out our bandwidth. The other was that I wanted to re-establish the free Plus-Size Paysite board that I had temporarily closed down for a variety of reasons. Installing vBulletin and becoming familiar with the basics of its administration was essentially a weeklong process. I didn't get much "real" work done that week, but the install went smoothly and the system came right up. I had asked for, and gotten, some much appreciated advice on how to structure the new boards. Initially I had wanted to bring over at least a few months' worth of old WebBBS posts, to prime the pump, so to speak. It turned out that wasn't possible, and so the Dimensions boards started fresh. The hundreds of thousands of WebBBS posts all live on in archives.
I must say I never expected the new forums to work as well, and take off as quickly, as they did. I love them. In just three months the new boards have accumulated 2,260 threads, 30,000 posts, and almost 1,600 registered members. As many as 484 uses have been online concurrently. And the discussion is lively and varied at all times. Initially I was afraid that I'd miss the "thread-based" display of messages where the sequence of posts and responses was always plainly visible. By default, vBulletin displays messages sequentially, and so debates between individuals do not stand out as much. However, vBulletin does have a "thread-based" display option and I felt that would answer the concerns many had voiced. Turns out that I almost never use the thread display option.
For some reason, the vBulletin format seems more conducive to productive, civilized discussion than WebBBS was. There, each post stood out, for all to see, and that meant every post always made an easy and enticing target. In vBulletin, numerous discussions can go on simultaneously in different threads, and as a result, there is less disruption and more productive conversation.
I was also hugely surprised to see the "main" board quickly become the most active of all. Under WebBBS, the Weight Board and the Plus-Size Paysite boards had been most active. They are very active now, but the main board has by far the most posts, and all sorts of topics are tackled. We also added some new boards. It was suggested that we should have a "Foodee" board where people can discuss their appreciation of fine foods, and that really took off. We replaced the old "Events" section with an "Events & Community" board section on vBulletin. The intent was to provide free space for size-related event promotion and discussion. I am disappointed that until now it's been underused. On the other hand, the "Stories" section is hugely popular. 150 new stories have been posted so far, and it is not unusual for a story to have thousands of views.
Once the new boards were installed, traffic immediately increased. I did some bandwidth re-allocation, giving the main server more bandwidth. That dramatically improved performance, despite the much higher traffic. Since the new forums went online, Dimensions traffic has more than doubled.
The Dimensions Streaming Chat system continues to be a 24/7 party. I don't think I ever stopped by when there weren't at least a few people in there talking. At times almost a hundred hang out in the various rooms. Some people seem to LIVE there. And I both puzzled and delighted over the large number of couples that met in Dimensions chat, then met each other in person and even got married. Way cool. Chat really seems to fill a need for many, and perhaps especially a chat system created to be a safe place for people of size and their admirers.
At times, chat can be a challenge. While the hardware (touch wood) has been remarkably reliable with very little downtime, chat also generates more problems and issues that require attention than any other part of Dimensions. A whole team of moderators, all with names from the fictional world of J.R.R. Tolkien, at times has their hands full to preserve the law of the land and keep it the safe haven it was created to be. Tragedy also struck in the form of first one of the chat ops dying unexpectedly, and then the equally tragic loss of a young chatter and then the companion of another chat regular. That was very hard on everyone, and those left behind have my heartfelt condolences.
If there was a positive in those tragic events it was the realization what a wonderful community Dimensions can be. So many people coming together, all drawn here by having something incommon, and yet all being different. It often really does feel like family.
Speaking of family, as the one who pays the mortgage on the house and handles all the other pesky bills, I really appreciated Heather's help in setting up a voluntary donation system. That had been suggested many times before, but I always stayed away from it. However, while in the past my other ventures subsidized the huge and totally free Dimensions website that doesn't even have popups and other obnoxious commercial nagging other than a couple of banners, those subsidies are no longer available. So a hearty thank you who used the donation system to help Dimensions with the bills. It's greatly appreciated. I really want to keep Dimensions going forever. If there was a slight downer, it was that donations trickled in mostly from people who are already friends and already help out, and very few from the many who use the free Dimensions resources.
If you read last year's "State of Dimensions" message that I put up exactly a year ago, you see that at that time I was still hurting over the disappointing end to my 25 years of service to NAAFA, the National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance. That pain has abated somewhat, though I don't think the hurt will ever go away completely. I guess the art of the deal is to tune out those disappointments and concentrate on the good stuff and all the many wonderful people out there, all the friends I made, and all that we accomplished. Still, yesterday, for the first time in a year or two I went over to the NAAFA website I had built, and found it like a ghost town in a state of near disrepair. Numerous pages go all the way back to the dawn of the web. NAAFA deserves better. That is not the way it should be. Sometimes it's obviously easier to grab power than to exercise it.
There are some projects that are on my agenda for 2006. Some have actually been on my agenda for a while. For example, I still believe that no one has anything meaningful to say to very fat people. Some simply have run out of solutions and they are hurting in many ways. Neither NAAFA nor anyone else in size acceptance has ever had a solution, or at least an agreed-on policy, on what to recommend to the fattest among us. With our combined resources and many among us who do face a severe loss of quality of life due to their size, we must be able to come up with some meaningful information, recommendations and solutions for those who need them so badly.
I also haven't given up the hope to begin creating some sort of print version of Dimensions again, to continue the proud tradition of the almost 90 issues we created over the years, or perhaps a web-based periodical in PDF form. With all the beautiful women who come to Dimensions, and all the valuable opinions voiced here, we could probably do a pretty interesting online publication.
On the hardware side of it all, my resolve last year was not to get caught again with failing equipment. So I built a new server from scratch, a machine that is at least twice as powerful as the one Dimensions uses now. It is up and running, and we'll be switching over sometime soon.
Happy New Year to all of you!!!!!