An effort to refresh the forums

The PlanetChristmas forums got started way back in 1996 during the early days of the public Internet.  Back then we called it a chatroom or bulletin board.  The website and the chatroom ran off a retired Windows computer parked in the corner of my office and was ‘borrowing’ expensive Internet bandwidth from my company.  I’m pretty sure I was the only one in the PlanetChristmas chatroom for a few months.  Luckily, other Christmas decorators found me and even in those days we had some pretty deep discussions about Christmas lighting.

Then we started to grow…  and grow and grow.  It’s one thing to have less than a dozen people registered in the chatroom but the last time I checked there were over 18,000 in the PlanetChristmas forums.

For the last couple of years I couldn’t help but notice the look and feel of the PlanetChristmas forums was becoming dated.  Behind the scenes the maintenance was also quite challenging.  The forums engine being used had evolved with the times the best it could but let’s just say it was tough to administer.

GrassI is greener on the other side of the fence
Grass is greener on the other side of the fence

I decided it was time for a forums makeover.  I cleverly waited until January when people can get a bit snarky with their posts and temporarily turned off the ability to add anything new.  I then started the search for a new forums engine.  OMG.  What a challenge.  There are plenty of forum engines out there but many struggle with the size of something like PlanetChristmas.  I enlisted the help of a forum guru and we settled on a new engine.  The guru was tasked with migrating all the information from the old forums to the new forums.  After two weeks I knew I was in trouble.  The selected engine could handle the 18,000+ user accounts but couldn’t handle over half a millions posts.  My head was hurting… not to mention my email box was filling up with people wanting the forums turned on.

Is the grass really greener on the other side of the fence?

I refocused the PlanetChristmas forum requirements and finally selected another vendor.  It had plenty of bells/whistles, looked modern and claimed to be able to convert all the data from the old PlanetChristmas forums.  They were right… mostly.  Our old forums were hosted by the vendor on their big computer in the sky and they were encrypting many of the posts going into the database.  Nothing wrong with it but they weren’t too keen on giving me access to the raw PlanetChristmas data when they figured out I wanted to move.  You’ll notice there’s a big hole with thousands of missing posts in 2012, 2013 and 2014… the time period when we were on the encrypted platform.

So… the new forums had a lot of the old messages but there’s a big hole in recent history.  Bummer.

As the new forums rolled out behind the scenes more and more unnatural acts were needed to do the simple stuff like a classified ads section, an easy way to share videos and even a decent way to quickly post pictures.  To add insult to injury, many of the new features cost money with a recurring service contract.  Our old forums had this but it was manageable.  With the new forums everyone had their hand out asking for money.  Let’s just say after >$700 I was starting to have doubts about my forum engine decision.

As the new forum activity picked up I started getting “messages of concern” from the forum host.  Seems the new forum software put a significant load on the computer building pages and constantly accessing the database.  The solution was a more powerful server that cost quite a bit more a month.

There comes a point when no amount of makeup can make a pig look pretty.  I realized PlanetChristmas had taken a step backwards with the new forums.  The new bells and whistles might have been slick but the loss of all the features we had grown used to was unacceptable.

Bottom line:  I screwed up.  The forums have rolled back to the “good old days” and all messages have been restored.

But:  I will be changing the skin and consolidating many of the slow or inactive forums.

Where are the new old forums?  Right where we left them:

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