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Custodian's Corner

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I've enjoyed taking some time off and working on the honey-do list and springtime chores, though both are never-ending.  But, I thought it time to provide an update, since it is rainy, and I'm procrastinating going to the garage to work.  In addition to updating the software with new releases, and monitoring my email for "I can't log in" types of things, I have added a few more things to the site:

1.  In addition to the Leaderboard that came with a recent release of the core software, I've implemented a Top Contributors function.  It shows the people who've posted the most content in specific areas, by week, month, year, etc.  There's been discussions in the Executive Committee about possibly setting up a competition (similar to Tractor of the Month) to reward the top contributors.  I also have a programmer looking at taking this module even farther in what it tracks and counts, should we decide to implement a competition.


2.  Due to feedback on the member list that I was using, I had a custom one developed and implemented.  There's still some issues with missing data, but the function seems to be working well, and the plug-in that catches missing mandatory info seems to be working;  

Here's a topic describing it:  https://simpletractors.com/forums/topic/56722-new-member-list/

Here's a direct link to it, underneath the Membership menu:  https://simpletractors.com/mlist/

Note that the amount of information displayed depends upon your access level.  Dues-paying members can see more information.

3. Also based upon requests, I implemented a Member Map that allows you to place a pin on a map identifying the city and state where you live.  (Smart phones will give you the option of using your Location from the phone.)  This could really be helpful in finding people locally who share a similar interest in these old machines. Like most things here, its usefulness depends on the amount of use by others -- and use is optional, since some people are reluctant to share too much information on the web.  

Here's a topic describing it:  https://simpletractors.com/forums/topic/56732-member-map-added/

Here's a direct link to it, also underneath the Membership menu:  https://simpletractors.com/membermap/


Note that if there are multiple members in close proximity, it displays them in a round "cluster" with the number of pins within it shown.  For example, the pic above shows 3 members located near Indianpolis IN.  If you click on that round icon, it will zoom in and show the three individual pins on the map.  


Then, if you click on any one of the pins, it will show the info on that member.  Here's mine, for example:


Hopefully you can see the value of this, in trying to connect with others in the local area.  Now, if only we can encourage more people to add themselves to the map.  sm01 

4  Continuing on that same subject of connecting with other enthusiasts locally, I want to give a sneak preview of a core capability coming in the next major release of the software, due out sometime mid-late 2017.  The new core IPS software will have the capability to create sub-groups and corresponding functions for "Clubs".  Since this entire site is already dedicated to a specific club, this new capability will allow us to then create and support "chapters" within the club, and support those chapters with their own functions unique to them.   Implementing chapters is totally up to us -- should we choose to do so -- but the core capability will be there.  Since this club has always been about encouraging face-to-face meetings with others, there has been discussion of creating chapters since the club was initially formed.  This next release of the software will fully support that -- should we choose to do so....

Here's a look at their default view of clubs (i.e. chapters) from their development/testing server:


As shown, each "chapter" could have its own banner for that area.  It would also show a list of the subset of members that are in that chapter, and each chapter would have "leaders" that can act as moderators for this subgroup. (Anyone identified as admin or moderator for the entire site would still have their same access levels/capabilities within these subgroups.):


We can set this up to control access to these sub-areas or chapters.  See the settings at the top of the list below.  We can also set it up so these chapters can have their own content areas/capabilities from the list at the bottom -- each could have its own forum, gallery, downloads, blogs and calendars to handle their local activities.  If these are set up as either open or public, all club members can see them.  


Here's a glimpse of what those chapter sub-areas could look like:


I'm showing all this to prompt your thinking about the possible creation of club chapters, and to hear your thoughts... 

5.  Continuing with the sneak previews, the next major release of the software will also include many more small enhancements -- I'm not sure what all yet, since they are slowly providing previews.  For example, instead of just the Like button, there will be other Reactions that can be provided for a piece of content, such as a topic or reply


Meanwhile, I need to get back to working on cleaning up the rest of the old Simple trACtors content and republishing it.  I just wanted to provide an update on some of the recent changes and a preview of what's coming.  

Let me know what you think of creating club chapters, please!




Time for another update on this ongoing remodeling project....

1.  I've gotten the majority of the old content from Simple trACtors republished and integrated into the new site.  The old sections that need to be dealt with still are Operation, Service, Do It Yourself, and the old Gallery.  I've moved some of that content out and put it under Reference Info.  I'm working on more, such as Al Eden's Electrical Troubleshooting info and the Simplicitity Hydraulics Training manual.  There's a few more things that are appropriate for that section, such as a Lubrication chart provided by Simplicity.

2.  Some of the old info likely will not be moved into the Research section.  For example, I had posted (in HTML) a Owner's Manual for the Simplicity 515 Loader (Allis L-12 equivalent).  Bob Tiarks has now uploaded a PDF version to the Downloads section, so I see no real need to edit all that old HTML and republish it.  I'm still trying to decide how much to move out of the old Operation section -- where I had sample manuals for mower decks, snowblowers, etc.  Several of those were added years ago, before Simplicity made their Owners Manuals downloadable for free.  How much value do you see in having those readily available, so that they can be linked to, or pictures/diagrams reused?    Here's what's  left to deal with:


3.  Converting the old Gallery will not be a trivial task, since there's over 300 pages, but it is not nearly as complicated nor time consuming as cleaning up all the "danged ole tables" used for specifications, cross-references, and such.  I am SO GLAD to have those in the rear view mirror.   So, this is the last thing on my priority list to move over, since many of the pictures are quite small in size -- do you remember when 640x480 was a big picture to display?  .I do want to move it, it is just at the bottom of the list.

4.  I've updated the site with the latest version of the core software, which hopefully incorporates a permanent fix to the nagging bug in processing credit cards to pay club dues.  It would work some times, in some browsers, only to fail again later.  I've also updated to the new theme/layout that controls the "look and feel."  This, and changing the menu software,  should've fixed the bugs with the menu  display in Internet Explorer v11.  I worked with the developer of this theme to try to create a clean and crisp look -- but also more of an older, more classic feel to match the age of these machines -- as opposed to the latest and greatest look for Windows or the Apple IOS.  Those looks will change -- and relatively soon -- as they try to convince you to buy their "latest and greatest."  I wanted something that hopefully will stand the test of time better... That was the thinking behind this look and feel, and so far I'm pleased with it.  What about you?

5.  I also updated the Classifieds once again, to incorporate the long-promised Trader Feedback system.   Since right now it requires that a purchase has been made through the Classifieds, it is not showing meaningful information for most users.  You may have noticed this below your username in the forums and elsewhere.



6.  Note also below that TRADER FEEDBACK block that 3 Tractors information from my user profile.  That is coming from the latest addition, the new Tractor Registry, showing that I have 3 tractors listed in the Registry.  While it is not 100% functional (there's an issue with adding new entries), I felt compelled to make it live, since I couldn't hide it on this menu.  Using the old menu software, I could make new menu selections visible only to Admins, until I was ready to disclose them and make the visible. But, I can't with this menu software.  So I decided to "announce it" and describe it.

7.  I've implemented a function that pops up a warning message if someone has mandatory information missing from their User Profile.  The people registering for the site do not bring all the required information with them from Facebook.  This will pop up a warning message each time they come on the site telling them that it is required before they can post.

8.  There's a couple remaining bugs that I'm tracking (including the one in the new Registry), but once I get those resolved, I need to take some time off.  I've spent weeks working on this thing,  essentially full-time.  I have a tractor, an ATV, and my VW project all sitting, feeling ignored.  I will continue to work bugs, add/tweak minor things, and work on republishing more content on a "time-available" basis.  Meanwhile I hope you like what this new site has turned into... If you want to help, then add content, whether it be new Articles, representative photos that I requested in the Research section, photo albums of your tractors, or whatever.  

The new infrastructure is largely in place, and it is up to you, the club members, to take it from here....



Another Update on Progress

The long, slow, slog continues....

1.  I've now edited and republished over half of the old content from Simple trACtors, including all the brochures, flyers and tech specs.  I do need to go back, edit and republish the Price Lists for both the old Simplicity and Allis-Chalmers B-series though. I've also converted all the cross-reference info, and am almost complete with converting all the other reference tables such as What Fits, Belt Reference, etc.  I'll be glad to get all these complex tables converted.  I've had to essentially recreate the A-C Backfit information -- the "what fits" for Allis machines, including the adapter kits, etc.  When I finish that section, all the complex tables other than the prices lists will be done, AFAIK.  This has been about as much fun as a dental appointment...Ugh!  But, I am pleased overall with how this new system is supporting all that old content. Not only does it look better, fresher, but having the commenting function, the sharing functions, etc. are all quite valuable additions. I really like the ability for members to post pictures of good examples of specific tractor models to enhance those sections. 

2.  Meanwhile, in working on this old content, I've now "broken" the category structures of that Research database twice. It is broken now, and when that happens all links to that database will give error messages.  The user interface for arranging the sequence and structure of the categories and subcategories is a "drag and drop" and it clearly has some shortcomings.  I've now managed to screw up the structure twice, trying to move or resequence categories and subcategories.  I'm getting the feeling that this database, with its 140+ categories and about 1500 records is likely the largest or most complex that IPS has seen in their software system.  It certainly doesn't handle moving things around very well.  Meanwhile, I wait on a response to my support ticket.... Once I've worked through converting all this old content, I think I'll have a workable category structure set up, and simply adding content in the future should not be as troublesome.

3.  I updated the Classifieds with the latest release, only to spend a couple of days chasing bugs and issues to get it working correctly again.  The developer of that application had to tweak this database, in addition to implementing a patch on his software here.  I'm still waiting on the official "bug-fix release" that incorporates that patch and any others that he has made.  I was in a hurry to implement it, because it addressed the issue of "guests" replying to classified ads and the the email traffic not being routed correctly.  So, not following my own suggestions, I did not wait for others to find these bugs.... Meanwhile, the next release is supposed to include both the long-promised trader feedback system, and the ability for a user to set up a storefront, similar to an eBay store.

4.  I finally have found someone who's actively working on a new Registry application for this new site, built upon data from the one on the old site.  I don't have a firm projected completion date, but he is working on it at least... 

5.  I also have someone working on an add-on for the Treasurer, Mike Biery,that will allow him to record check/money order dues payments. While this software has the basic functionality built in -- it must now be done by an Admin "behind the curtain" and this add-on will let Mike (or whoever the Treasurer might be in the future) do that reporting themselves.

6. I also have someone working on a custom layout theme specifically for this site.  This will clear a couple bugs -- including the Internet Explorer v11 issue with the menu. And, it will let me implement the membership lists, which is now "held up" waiting on a different issue with that menu.  We may have to go back to a "dropdown main menu" like we had on the old site... We'll see!.

7.  I've also had IPS Support actively working bug issues with the credit card processing.  Initially it appeared limited to the Opera browser on Apple devices, but a later error was on a Windows 7 machine. There's an open support ticket there, where they're trying to come up with a permanent fix.

8.  @ZippoVarga has added quite a few of his great videos to that section -- which I think is working out nicely.  So far, the Videos have been viewed over 1,100 times. So, it seems people appreciate them...

Overall, these bugs are a PITA, but we are moving forward, and making progress.   Thank you for your patience and understanding




12/30/16 Making Some Progress

Time for another update...

1. I've added a couple of "cosmetic" type things that I think will improve the overall ease of use, once people get accustomed to them. Basically, I've been "tooling up" for the trudge ahead.....

  • A topic thumbnail for topics in the forums that automatically pull a picture from from a main topic (not a reply) and use it as visual indicator of what the topic is about.  While it doesn't work too well for topics without pictures (I'm using the club logo as a default picture then) it works well with forums whose topics mostly include pictures, such as Show and Tell.  Between the visual indicator of the topic, and the ability to place your cursor on a topic title and get a "preview" of its contents without clicking, as shown below. it makes it pretty easy to see if you're interested in opening the topic for further discussion.
    • I was so impressed with what these topic thumbnails did, that I had the creator of that plug-in make me a custom plug-in that adds thumbnails to pages (records) for use in the Articles and Research sections' database views.  Most of the pages from the old Simple trACtors site have pictures, unless it cross-reference kind of info.  I think these visual indicators really add a lot of value here -- especially if you're just browsing what is in each section (category), and don't want to page through each one.  Unfortunately, there's no "cursor rollover preview" here, like the one shown for the forums above.  I've asked the guy who created this thumbnail plug-in if he's interested in creating one... We'll see...

2.  As I started adding that old content, trying to make it easy to "turn the page" as you browsed through a section, I initially started manually creating "Next Page" links from one page to the next.  Not only was this very time consuming to create and test, but I found it a real PITA if I got a page out of sequence or needed to add a page somewhere.  So, I had the guy who created the custom record/article thumbnail plug-in above create a custom page navigation "widget" for paging forward and back within a category/section.  It required that I add one more custom field to each database record, for "sequence, or Sort".   That's the added, custom field shown in the gray box below the record Title in the view above.  This field is only visible to Admins, but allows me to easily change the sequence in which pages will be listed in lists and displayed individually, as you page through that section.  The widget that really uses the Sort field is the gray pagination button thing in the bottom right of each record display - as shown below.


It automatically calculates how many pages there are in each section, makes the PREV and NEXT buttons work, and hides the PREV button on the first page and the NEXT button on the last page, as shown above.  It works pretty slick.  All I have to do is enter (or edit) the sequence number for each page in a section to establish or change the sequence. That has really sped up my ability to edit, organize and publish the old Simple trACtors content.

3.  While on the subject of adding in the old content, I have to say that I am quite impressed with how IPS handles and automatically resizes pictures and reformats pages to display on tablets and phones. It is really pretty amazing -- and does it much better than a regular desktop/laptop browser does when you resize a page or change a display setting for a smaller/bigger screen.  But -- and that is a big BUT - it requires that all tables used to organize content must be defined as % of screen width instead of a fixed width setting. And, almost every page of content on the old Simple trACtors site has tables in it, to keep the text and pictures in a defined relationship, showing the words that are talking about the closest picture, etc.  Once you look at the pages describing attachments or tractor features, for example, this becomes pretty evident.  Those pages aren't too bad to clean up, even if I am having to change the link to every picture, and remove the formatting from all text in the page, adding back in the bare minimum of unique text formatting for captions, footnotes, etc.  Where it gets really ugly is cleaning up the tables of specifications.  For example, here's a screen shot of the main body of a page from the old site, showing all the formatting that FrontPage added to the HTML.


That list of HTML code scrolls much wider, and farther down the page.  Now, compare that to the HTML here on the new site that is displaying that same page, for the Allis-Chalmers 716-6sp Specs. In addition to making sure it wasn't using fixed widths, I had a LOT of general cleanup to do.


That's why I keep saying that this is tedious and time consuming work.  By the way, here's what it displays: 

  1. 716-6sp-specs.jpg

All I know is that I DO NOT look forward to the tackling the cross-reference or What Fits? section.... Meanwhile, I've almost completed adding the Allis-Chalmers content back in, and am pretty pleased with how it is working.  It seems to be displaying OK, though the specs tables are still a challenge, and there's a few nice added features, such as the "lightbox" that pops up to display the bigger version of pictures.  (Note that I have to add a few words of code to each of those links -- it is not automatic, like done in the forums.). Plus, the new navigation widget actually works much better than the "up and back" navigation required on the old site.  Being able to add brief descriptions of categories/sections also is a nice added touch, IMO... Different, but I think we can get used to it.

4.  Now for some of the "bug" issues.

  • I had two different users report real bugs with making their dues payments on Apple devices using the Opera browser.  I reported this to IPS, who added error tracking code to the site, to trace what was going on, and the second user's errors allowed them to track it down and fix it.
  • There's still the display issues with the menu in IE 11, and it is being worked, but has not been resolved yet.  This did not appear until the last update to the theme (colors, look, etc) that we're using. But, it is the menu code causing the problem.
  • That same update to the theme and display templates also caused display problems with some of the records in the Research section, such as the History section, once someone left a comment.  IPS helped me track that back to the updated template, and I had to revert back to an earlier, more generic template.  To prevent similar things in the future, I'm in discussions with a guy about possibly developing a custom theme and templates for us -- that we can just use, without updates being required, and try to avoid these kinds of issues in the future.
  • The long delayed and long awaited update to the Classifieds is due out next week, finally.  We'll see if he makes it this time.  This will add in feedback on sellers/buyers, and fix the issue with replies to comments or questions not automatically being routed as they should be.
  • I've opened discussions with yet another guy about working on a new Registry, and moving the old records over. Hope this one works out...

5.  Finally, the latest thing added is the Videos section, which will let us catalog existing videos (YouTube, Vimeo, etc.) and make them more readily available for users to find and use.  Knowing that Sean Falls (aka @ZippoVarga ) had an extensive YouTube channel of helpful videos, I asked him if we could link his videos here.  He was so excited about the ability to better organize them that he volunteered to help link them in, after the holidays.  I think this will be a nice added feature, if we can get a big enough library of them cataloged.  Videos are now now just one more type of information (like PDF files, website links, etc.) that can be very helpful once you reach "critical mass."  I think Sean's extensive work will let us do that rather quickly.  Meanwhile, I hope others find and catalog some they've found helpful - I see that @BLT already has...

6.  Thanks for your patience through this evolution and refinement, but I'm growing more and more excited about the potential of this new software system.  The ability to quickly add things like the thumbnails and page navigation widget above is very nice, with the ability to turn them off and on (like the theme that was causing problems) is so very nice -- rather than having those changes embedded in each page of content like the Frontpage formatting example shown above.  Object-oriented server software is pretty danged nice! dOd

Happy New Year to all! I hope Santa was better to you than you deserve -- whatever level that may be -- such as two lumps of coal instead of just one... &:)



12/15/16 One step at a time

Thought I should provide an update on this huge effort...

  1. I've been somewhat "distracted by life" with the goings-on of the wildfires in East Tennessee, but I've been able to devote some time to this ongoing task, in addition to "housekeeping" kinds of tasks, responding to emails, messages from the site, etc.  It seems that the initial flurry of members getting signed on here for the first time is over, and most can now get onto the site.
  2. The dues payment processing seems to be working pretty well, though it is more complex than the old site -- which has generated a few emails/messages.  There have been two separate reports of errors from Apple devices when they tried to process the credit card payment.  I reported this to IPS, and they couldn't determine what happened based on the server logs here, so they installed more error-tracking code to try trapping the error should it happen again. 
  3. I've performed an update to the core software that included adding the Leaderboard function (in addition to updating the underlying PHP language to a newer version, which sped things up a bit), and updated to the latest version of the theme that we are using.  I'm still waiting on the latest release of the Classifieds application.  It was scheduled for release on 12/5, but he didn't make that date due to bug fixes from "beta testers."  Since I'm not running a duplicate test site with this software, I don't do "beta testing" because of the potential problems.  I let others be the "guinea pigs" and wait to see how their efforts go.  For example, I waited on installing the latest release of the core software, v4.1.17 for a few days.  By the time I installed it, they'd implemented fixes to the immediate problems discovered by others, and I installed v4.1.17.1 which corrected those issues. 
  4. I've tested and implemented the advertising functions for the site.  Sponsors ads are being rotated everywhere, while Google Adsense ads are being shown only to Guests or Registered Users.  If you're a dues-paying Club Member, you don't get subjected to all the injected ads.  I needed to get these up and going, since the club pays only about 1/2 of the ongoing server costs. I needed to get the ad revenue going again.. 
  5. I've edited and cleaned up the "B-series" content from the old site, and made it live, so that everyone can become accustomed to how to navigate to it and through it. It is still a tedious, time-consuming editing process with this old content, as I try to make sure all the pictures are there, the links to larger versions are working correctly, and that the formatting will display OK on phones and tablets.  There was a fairly steep learning curve for me with this new software, but I think I now understand how that part of it works fairly well.  There were close to 200 pages that simply did not get converted, and those have to be completely rebuilt using this software. Any page that had "subcategories" underneath it, or multiple pages linking from it simply did not get converted.  This essentially  equates to having to rebuild the first page in each brochure or section of the site  Overall, this software is quite powerful, but not at all user-friendly...
  6. I still haven't found a consultant who's willing/able to tackle moving the Registry over to this new site.  So, I'm going to broaden my search...

Hope that adds perspective to where we are, and where we're trying to go!


Chugging along...

Following up on my last blog entry, about what was coming next/soon, we're still trudging forward...

1. I've implemented the ability to pay club dues, using both manual (check or money order) and credit card processes.  The old PayPal account that we set up for club dues was set up years ago, when there was a different club treasurer, and different software interfacing with PayPal.  They are being a real PITA, requiring all kinds of documentation (in multiple rounds) in order to reestablish that direct link to their payment processing.  I've about come to the conclusion that it would be easier just to set up a new account with them... but we'll keep chipping away. 

2.  The News function was implemented, and I manually moved over all the previous Tractor of the Month entries.  See: 

3.  I think I have the Google Maps API implemented.  It too, was a PITA, likely because I'm not familiar with how Google APIs (stands for Application Programming Interface) works.  First, I had to create and register/submit to them, both a formal Privacy Policy  (http://simpletractors.com/privacy/) and posting Guidelines (http://simpletractors.com/guidelines/), then I had to "prove" that I own and maintain the domain name for simpletractors.com.  Then, I had to activate three separate APIs and obtain an API key, that this IPS software uses to establish a secure link to Google and identify itself.  Short term end result that is that static Google Maps should now be showing up on Classified Ads, showing the item's location. Now, we're ready to proceed with Member Lists and Member Maps. 

Here's what it looks like on my test ad, that I said was located in Somewhere, Alaska. Note that it shows the city and state below the map.


4.  I'm still trying to find a consultant who's willing and able to tackle recreating the Registry and importing the data.  Two different people have declined the project so far, so I'm in discussions with a third....

5.  Kind of like the hassle of implementing a Privacy policy and posting Guidelines, I've spent some significant time trying to get the new site set up and more "friendly" for search engines and their "bots" that index sites on the web, implementing Google Analytics, adding meta-tags, etc.  Though there's no immediately visible results (especially to current users) it is essential so that Google, Bing and other search engines can find, crawl and index the site.

Slow, but hopefully steady progress...



What's coming next/soon?

Just to describe some of the things in the works, in no particular order:

1.  I'm working with the developer of the Classifieds plug-in we're using to coordinate with the guy who created the Trader Feedback System so that we can integrate feedback in the classifieds.  I've already purchased Trader Feedback, and they're working on how to link the two together.  Though it won't work exactly like eBay, it will allow buyers and sellers to provide feedback to each other, and allow potential buyers/sellers to check out the other person's reputation.  This will put feedback on the person's profile, in addition to providing detailed views of it.




Along with this coordination effort, we're waiting to install the latest version of the Classifieds.  That new version will support integration with the Google Maps API, so that we can show a Google Map (down to city and state, NOT street) of where the item in the ad is located.  A user then can quickly click on that map and calculate how far away they are from where the item is located.

2.  Similar to that, having implemented the Google Maps API, we plan to add the functions for lists of members down the road, and to see the members' location pinned on a Google map, so it will easier to find other enthusiasts nearby.

3.  At the top of the priority list is to set up the Dues Payment process, so Members can pay their club dues. That one is in progress now... This software has the built-in capability to handle much/most of that, though the interface you use will be dramatically different. It works more like a storefront and shopping cart.  Invoices are generated, and members can either pay that invoice online, or print it and mail it in with their check. One distinct advantage is that members will be able to see and review their entire history of payments.  The system sends the email dues payment reminders automatically, with links to pay their dues (outstanding invoice), etc.  More complex, but much more powerful -- like many other things in this new software system.

4.  Incorporating a separate News function, similar to the old clubhouse, so that we can announce things like the winner of the Tractor of the Month on the home page...

5.  Meanwhile, I have a consultant looking at how to recreate the Tractor Registry here, and to import the data from the old site.

6. Implement the ability to sign in here using Facebook, Google+, etc in one click.  But, before we can do that, we need to set up automated checks that requires new users to provide all the required background info in their user profiles.  All that information such as address does not come with them if they come from Facebook, for example.  They will still need to update their profile here to add it.

7. Begin the migration and incorporation of the old Simple trACtors content, likely under a menu option titled Research, with categories underneath for Allis-Chalmers, Simplicity, etc.  We had all that content imported first into Wordpress, the most powerful, widely-used blog software out there, cleaned up a bit, and then IPS Support imported that content after they converted the forums.  (All the 7500+ pictures were moved over also.) But, all that content will need to be manually edited, organized so you can navigate from Page 1 > Page 2, and incorporated into the menu structure here.  

8. As a part of that Simple trACtors migration, we have to set up the ability for our club sponsors to place ads in those pages.  Their ads have helped pay for the ongoing server costs to run this site -- while the club (out of club dues) has essentially split that cost.  The goal, as before, is to keep ads out of the forums for dues-paying members, but to use ads in the "background info" to help offset the recurring costs.  It also provides an easy way for members to navigate to their sites to look up parts, buy decals, or whatever -- without having to go to the Links Directory to find a link to them...

9. And, then, in my spare time, I've been thinking of taking up knitting or needle-point... JUST KIDDING!



Musings - why this change, why now?

On my second cup of early morning coffee, checking and replying to emails, I thought about how I might encourage folks to use this Blog feature.  I think it has real potential to add value and interest to the site, if only folks could be prompted to use it...

So, I decided to create my own, just to illustrate how it works... That way, I can address some of the "back story" about what's going on here.

To begin with some history and perspective, the underlying Snitz Forums 2000 software for the old site was a great alternative at the time. It was open-source (meaning no purchase cost) and had strong support from its user community.  It was written in the  "classic ASP" programming language which allowed me -- a non-programmer -- to make minor changes to it when necessary.  


At that point in time (mid-1999), the "Club" had not been officially formed (much less charging dues), I was paying all costs associated with the site out of my own pocket (with some donations from like enthusiasts) so cost was an issue. Similarly, being a "non-coder" I needed an easy-to-use way to create web pages to save and share the information that was starting to be shared or donated by early visitors/members, and Microsoft's FrontPage was about the most powerful, easy-to-use, website creation tool available.  Snitz and FrontPage "played well together" on Windows servers, so I decided to use them.  The site and the Club grew over the years, the Snitz software went through a couple of major new releases and upgrades, and overall the structure served us pretty reliably for 15+ years.

But, time and technology continued to change things, while the volume of information that accumulated here grew larger and larger.  I ran up against the limits of what FrontPage could handle several years ago, Microsoft abandoned the product. and I was basically unable to add any significant new content to the Simple trACtors portion of the site.  So, I started evaluating software called Content Management Systems (CMS).  I've watched that market for several years, watching things come and go, and no software was clearly "winning" in the marketplace.  I experimented with several, and found all were limited, and none did what I really needed/wanted to do.  Meanwhile, Snitz grew less and less popular, with less and less support -- and simply was not responding to the changes in the market.  It, too, became obsolete -- though the code we were running was still chugging along reliably, as limited as it might be/have been..  

I've been monitoring the trends in both "on-line communities" and CMS for at least 10 years or more, and no "clear winners" were emerging.  Two commercial forums -- Invision Power Board and vBulletin -- seemed to have garnered the lion's share of the market, while dozens (if not hundreds) of free/shareware/open-source systems have come and gone.  On the CMS side of the market (for the static, unchanging content like the reference material on Simple trACtors), no "clear winners" were apparent.  Instead, the market seemed to stratify -- with very high-end systems (read that as complex and expensive) run by large corporations, while more entry-level or affordable systems were coming and going.  The two with the largest market share (Joomla and Drupal) are both open-source, as is Wordpress which has grown out of the "blogging" community to try to do all things for all people, including content management and discussion forums.  Those three (with Wordpress having the largest user base) tend to dominate the market of affordable options -- but all three have significant technical issues/limitations.

Meanwhile, smart phones (including tablets) and social media (Facebook, Twitter, etc.) were changing the whole landscape.  All web software packages (including both forums/communities and CMS systems) were struggling to adapt, support and incorporate provisions for those changes.  Now, people were surfing the web with tiny screens, all the time, from everywhere and taking/posting/sharing pictures of everything, including "what's for dinner."  The market leaders in CMS (Joomla. Drupal and Wordpress) are still struggling and adapting to these changes.  However, one of the two leaders in commercial forums/community market, Invision Power Services (formerly Invision Power Board) differentiated itself -- it took the "time-out" to do a total redesign and redevelopment of its core software to address both mobile devices (and their picture-prolific world) and social media.  The others, including vBulletin, rely primarily on a 3rd party package -- Tapatalk -- to provide a mobile interface to their software, or they pay to build a custom "app" for the site, that they make available in the "app stores."   (Note that the whole commercial software vs open-source/free/shareware discussion is too far off subject to address now.) 

The latest version of IPS (version 4.x) which we are running here was designed from the ground up to support mobile devices and social media.


IPS also incorporated CMS capabilities that are totally integrated, though not very user-friendly (at least yet).  Other forum/community software packages largely try to address CMS capabilities by allowing seamless integration with Wordpress, for example, allowing users to log in one time and move forward and back between the forums/community and the static content of the CMS pages without realizing that they are actually using two different software packages.  So, IPS allows us to "depend on" only one company and one software system going forward.  This latest version of IPS has been in the market about 18 months, so the initial flurry of bug fixes is over, the software is relatively stable and bug-free, and many/most of the available 3rd party add-ons have now made the transition to the new version.  Note that we MUST have 3rd party support in order to add functions like the Classifieds.  (No software package out there provides ALL the capabilities that the old Clubhouse had.)

So, now on to the question of "why now?"

As was pretty apparent to anyone watching, many people are moving away from using discussion forums to such "instant gratification" things as Facebook or Twitter.  Snap a picture and share it from anywhere. The old Snitz system did neither thing very well, at all.  Though it would display on the tiny screens, navigation was a real challenge and lots of scrolling was required.  On the whole photo posting issue, it was a total failure, requiring separate actions (and software) of resizing, compressing the files,etc.  In a nutshell, those two issues were calling the whole long-term viability of the club and Clubhouse into question.  Younger users, especially, were simply going elsewhere.

So, the Executive Committee decided to create a Facebook page to serve as the home for the Club there, and to simultaneously start this major upgrade to the Clubhouse to address those issues.  While Facebook has distinct advantages/value, it is an ongoing stream of posts that are poorly organized and difficult to search and find specific information.  How long will Facebook and Twitter be so popular? Who knows what the next "big thing" will be?  Anyone remember MySpace?  That is the real strength of this Club and the Clubhouse -- the combined knowledge of the current members, and the "knowledge-base" that we have built up over almost 18 years.  The reputation as "the place" to check with the experts or find answers to tough questions/problems.  As an example, Al Eden or Dutch's knowledge and expertise is still available here in the archives.  They live on...

Thanks to our loyal members paying their annual $10 dues over the years, the Club now has the financial reserves to pay for this transition, to support the ongoing licensing costs for this commercial IPS software, and to take the next step... while retaining enough savings to ensure our future.