FORUM BASICS: What is the name of your website and a brief description of the theme/topic of the forums. What is the url? My Merry Christmas -- http://mymerrychristmas.com/forum Our site is a Christmas portal, founded first offline in 1991. We cover all things Christmas. We opened our forums in 2000. List some of the most popular forums and describe its discussions. Our most popular forum is the Christmas Countdown, which this year has close to 20,000 posts. Completely user driven, this thread is a traditional daily devotional of simply counting down to Christmas through creative division of the calendar. Conversation often shifts into personal areas. Rarely do we have trouble in the thread and it has to be the most self-policed forum area I've ever seen. We have many popular forum areas inclusive of movies, recipes, shopping, decorating, crafts and other such holiday-centric topic areas. What prompted you to start your forum? What was your launch date? We launched the forums as part of the site in 2000. We did it as a means of answering all the emails we would receive from people asking questions. It took quite a while for the forums to take off. We did well on a seasonal basis that first year but it quickly died down and we questioned whether or not it was worth it. But we had a small core of dedicated individuals, most of which are still around, who insisted that we keep it going. Now we're thriving on a daily basis with Christmas talked about year round in various areas. We continue to be surprised as how the daily interaction continues to grow, even after all these years. Do you have any special forum features or activities? Christmas is all about tradition and we have many. We have our own year round Christmas radio station, our own areas for Christmas videos and games. Our members can sign up for the Annual Christmas Card Exchange, where they can send and receive hundreds of Christmas cards from each other from nearly all points on the globe. We similarly host a Christmas ornament exhange and gift exchange. We have a popular podcast, producing about 15 episodes a year, the most popular of which is the big Christmas show where members send in voice greetings to our toll free number and we edit them. We have many other events we sponsor through-out the year. SOFTWARE: Which software do you use for your forums? We use vBulletin now but actually started out with phpBB (version 1!) and endured several years of integration and security issues. We're on VB 3.8 and holding for now. Do you use any add-ons scripts to enhance your site? Which ones? We use VBTubePro to manage our video areas and VbAdvanced Dynamics to manage our content areas alongside the forums. HARDWARE: What is your current server set-up? Do you have multiple servers for your big board forum? Who manages your servers? We run a dedicated server only managed by LiquidWeb. Due to the seasonality of our site December can be an exciting time, especially with Christmas Eve Santa tracking that spikes traffic to unbelievable levels. We have had some hairy times but have never gone down on these days, a real credit I feel to my team and to LiquidWeb. MEMBERS: Membership stats? How many members? About 8000 members are kept in an active state year round. We traditionally enjoy massive amounts of sign-ups from Sept-Jan each year but the vast majority tend to fade away in the winter months and we prune inactive accounts each spring to keep databases clear. What are the demographics of your site? (Percentage of men, women, age groups, locality related) Women are the dominant gender on our site, by about 70/30. Age groups run the gamut but most are in the 30-50 age bracket. 70% of our traffic is US based with the rest coming from English speaking areas of the UK, Canada, Australia and western Europe. Staff: Tell us a about your staff including how many admins (and their functions), moderators, mentors, web-developers, etc. Explain how your staff is organized. We have a team of about 25 year round who help support the site. Most are forum mods but I have some who serve in very specific functions. Our radio station is completely staffed by volunteers who are site members. I have several writers who are paid but who have come from our user pool. I have three graphic designers, also pulled from the community. Given the nature of our topic we often receive offers of help in different areas from good-hearted folks who just want to be included. REVENUE: How do you generate revenue to cover your expenses? (Ecommerce, subscriptions, advertising, affiliate links, etc) We sell ad space, use AdSense, and offer paid subscriptions. Do you offer upgraded members groups for a fee? What benefits do they get for subscribing/upgrading? Yes, they have expanded forum permissions to access videos, games, special content areas as well as more PM storage, image storage, signature permissions, etc. ADMIN: What is your name? Jeff Westover Please share a few things about yourself. (Bio, family, education, background, hobbies, your favorite pizza topping, your favorite vacation spot, your choice of transportation, etc) I live in Utah, have seven children and work an offline job, too. Along with this site we operate a network of roughly 35 other Christmas-related websites which includes a popular link directory, 3 other niche-within-the-niche forums, blogs, top sites, etc. I am a baseball fanatic, their seasons fit in nicely with my Christmas duties. Vacation? What's that? How do you spend a typical day as admin on your site? What do you enjoy about your job as admin of your site/forums? Do you office in your home or in a separate office space away from your house? It depends on the time of year. I have to wipe all projects off my desk by the end of October and just manage traffic through each Christmas. Issues at that time run the gamut and some aren't fun. The rest of the year I largely drive content creation in the form of an aggressive editorial calendar plus generating the podcasts and radio shows. I office in my home and constantly stay connected via a Blackberry. What has been the biggest obstacle you have faced in starting or running your forums? How did you/do you handle it? Time. We have more ideas than we have time and money to implement them. We try to employ as many folks as we can from our forums and my family is also heavily involved. It is a hot-and-cold kind of existence due to the seasons and we often live in different worlds at different times of the year. We never thought we would reach a state of busy-ness on a year round basis but here we are. Frankly, I enjoy the months outside of Christmas much better than the mass traffic times of the season. What 3 things have helped your forums to be a success? People, inclusion, and tradition. Our topic is naturally warm and infectiously conversational. Everyone has Christmas experiences to share. It is fascinating to have conversations about Christmas with people from other parts of the world. It is a simple topic with lots of different angles to it to explore and people want to talk about all of it from foods to movies to decorating. We learned through tough experience to avoid tangent topics such as politics, religion or even sports some times. We work very hard to keep peace on the forums. Christmas is both a sacred and a secular event and we've got on well since giving up the heavy controversies, especially related to politics. We just don't go there. By maintaining a neutral ground we get a more diverse crowd and for our topic diversity is a real strength. We also saw a good boost in the forums as we reached out to more international audiences. But at the end of the day, like all things Christmas, it is the traditions that keep it and make it a strong subject area. Santa Claus was what started the site when I married and my adopted 5 year old daughter didn't believe in Santa Claus. She received, back in 1991, daily updates from the North Pole from an elf who answered all her Christmas questions and told the story of Santa Claus -- this was on a fax machine, at the time. That morphed into a website as she spread her Santa Updates to her friends and they asked to be included. The Internet took it global and the forums made it all conversational. Folks did not stop at Santa Claus, however. Soon all things Christmas were involved and now when one joins our site they find a number of creative ways to connect and participate in Christmas online -- from the exchanges to the podcasts to, this year, a recipe cookbook we're publishing featuring not-a-word of our own creation, but just user driven content from around the world. These are being sold to support a charity called Santa's Sleigh, which grew from a desire of a group from our membership. It is remarkable and humbling to be where we are at and to witness the power of community on the Internet. We do see, occasionally, some of the less desirable and nefarious elements of the online world from time to time crop up but the good far outweighs the bad in what transpires via the Christmas community online. We recognize we are just a vehicle. The real power comes from folk out there who visit our sites and engage in what they believe in online. It is sometimes a real wonder to witness.