The History of PopUpPortal

Discussion in 'Web Site Features/Products' started by PopUpSteve, Dec 24, 2010.

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  1. PopUpSteve

    PopUpSteve Administrator

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    The Beginnings
    Created by Bill Gullatt (bgullatt) on Christmas Eve 2002, PopUpPortal was a response to the only other Pop Up camper website, PopUpTimes, transitioning their forum to a paid subscription. The first traffic started hitting the site two days later, after Bill posted an announcement on PopUpTimes about the new free Pop Up Camper forum site.

    • The Early Years
      As with and new website, the first few months were slow. Attracting new members can be difficult without good content. Fortunately many members from the PopUpTimes forum were joining and adding great posts about mods made to their campers and answering the questions posed by members who were new to the world of Pop Up Camping. Also, many personal websites like Natasha's Camping Site (title-3.com) were including the Portal in their link lists which helped to bring more new members to the site.


    • MtnCamper
      Gary Henderson (MntCamper) was probably one of the biggest helps in the early days of the Portal. He was very instrumental in getting others to make the switch and he brought a lot of friends with him from the PopUpTimes forum. Gary always had great advice, his camper mods were legendary and he was liked by all. Gary passed away in December of 2006 from cancer. He is missed by all who known him in both the real and virtual worlds.


    • The Other Site
      When Bill created PopUpPortal, he was restoring a 1974 Rockwood. He was having a difficult time finding parts to complete the project and know from post on the site that others were having the same problem. That’s when he decided to start a companion website, PopUpParts.com.


    • Transfer of the Website
      In the fall of 2004 Bill was working on other interest and could not devote as much time as he would have liked to the websites. He contacted Steve Haenn (popupsteve), who had offered his computer expertise some months earlier, and inquire if he was interested in taking over management of the website. Steve agreed and the website was transferred to him in November of that same year. At the same time Bill sold the PopUpParts website.

    The New Management
    Steve Haenn, who had been a member of the Portal since mid August 2003, immediately started reorganizing the boards of the forum to make it easier to find information. This expanded the site from a dozen or so boards to around forty. He also started modifying the source code of the forum software to include new features such as a photo gallery, a weekly photo contest, and a feature that allowed members to create their own travel maps, like the ones sold at RV dealers.

    One promise which Steve made to himself was that the Portal would, under his leadership, never become a giant billboard of advertisements like so many website tend to become. Members would see only a banner ad at the top of each page and on the forum pages a second banner above the post with a third at the bottom. Most of the funds to operate the site would come from his own pocket and from contributions from the members. Banner ads would not start paying for the upkeep of the Portal until 2008.

    Membership Drives
    To obtain new members, several other new features were added to the website.

    • Monthly Sweepstakes
      In December of 2004, PopUpPortal began a monthly sweepstakes. Prizes were obtained from various sources including manufactures, RV Dealers, and other websites in exchange for advertising. Prizes were also donated by members and purchased using funds from member contributions. Some of the prizes included a Mr Buddy Heater, a BAL Leveler, T-shirts, and various other camping equipment. A one point, the sweepstakes was even used to help Cathey's RV in Tennessee to give away a brand new Pop up Camper.


    • Manuals
      With a large majority of campers being sold used, there was a need for the new owners to be able to obtain the original manuals when the previous owners could not provide them. So the Portal started a library of not only the owner’s manuals but also maintenance manuals and manuals for other popular camping equipment. Stored in PDF form, these manuals were gathered from different sources like from members and from the original equipment manufacturers’ websites. These manuals have also help build the membership by being listed on most of the major search engines.


    • Campground Directory
      In late 2007, the Portal started developing a directory of Campgrounds and RV Dealerships. Unlike most website where the Campgrounds were charged to participate, the goal was to have a list of all the campgrounds in the US and Canada. To do this a contest was created to have the members enter as many campgrounds as possible. The entry form included having the members locate the campgrounds using Google satellite maps, thus recording the exact locations in the database. After running the contest over the course of 2008, members entered some 4824 campgrounds. The winning members were Julie Thomas (jthomas124169) with 3628 entries - $100, Dave Schmude (themanfromvan) with 167 entries - $50, and Doug Rice (Bummer72) with 123 entries - $25. To their credit, each of the winners donated their prize money back to the website. Members continued to add campground to the list long after the contest had ended.


    • Videos
      Using YouTube as a delivery platform, several videos were created by the Portal. Most popular was the video on the proper use of a BAL Leveler. Other videos, obtained from various sources, included the “How It’s Made” video of a of a Fleetwood Pop Up Camper being assembled and an instructional video by Fleetwood on setting up a Pop Up camper.


    • CafePress & Other PUP Products
      Members were always asking for Portal branded items. So in 2004 Items with the PopUpPortal logo were created and sold on CafePress. These items included T-shirts, coffee mugs, hats, bumper stickers, and license plate frames. To keep the price to the members as low as possible, the items on CafePress were marked up only one dollar from the cost, with that dollar going directly toward the upkeep of the website.

      Other items have been developed over the years including a Portal flag, can kozies, and window decals. The flags have been one of the most popular items. Members proudly display their flags on the campers and awnings whenever camping.

    Growing Pains
    When PopUpPortal was first launched, the forum software that was used was Snitz Forums. At that time it was one of the most popular forum-ware and it was free. When the ownership of the website was transferred to Steve Haenn, he started making major modifications to the forum-ware and this made it almost impossible to install any updates from Snitz.

    By the beginning of 2008 the site was becoming slower with each passing day. The growth if the site was crashing the web-server every few weeks. The first attempt to fix the problem was to move the site to a dedicated web-server. This appeared to solve the problem but within a few months it was apparent that a more permanent solution had to be found. A search for a replacement forum-ware was started. In late 2008 Phil Gordemer (pgordemer), who had been a member since April of that year, volunteered his expertise to assist in solving the problem. Phil suggested using Simple Machines Forum (SMF) which he had been using for some time and with which he was very familiar. A new hosting account was setup and Phil started the arduous task of converting the database over to the new forum-ware. On May 1st, 2009 the site was fully converted and running on the new system.

    Over the next year, problems with maintenance on the existing hosting service made it clear that a move to a more SMF friendly host was needed. Again, at the suggestion of Phil, the site was moved in March of 2010 to its current host which allowed more control of daily automated maintenance and multiple daily backups.

    Phil works behind the scenes keeping the website up to date with the latest versions and mods from SMF. He also trains the staff in the functions of SMF, maintains the web server and monitors the daily maintenance and backup routines.

    One drawback to the change from Snitz to SMF was the loss of most of the added features that Steve had developed over the years. These features were written using Active Server Pages (ASP) and the new SMF was written in PHP. Now that the current hosting service does not support ASP, those features will have to be rewritten in PHP.

    Moderators
    With the growth of the website it was becoming more difficult for one person to monitor all the activity. In the spring of 2008, Steve asked Carl Schwaner (digger) to assist as a moderator. Carl was a tremendous help moderating the forum but it quickly became apparent that more assistance was needed. Within a few months Joe Brennan (JoeCamper) joined the staff. Joe was instrumental in organizing the camp rallies which were quickly becoming very popular among the membership. Joe also helped in reviewing the new forum-ware and managing several new sections of the website. In 2009, Lou Demetriou (Storm Trooper) and Joe Leiss (Xolthrax) add their expertise to the staff by moderating various boards and in 2010 Dave Schlosser (dchlosser) volunteered to assist in moderating several new boards including the “Camping Green” board.

    Hybrid Campers
    With many members moving up to Hybrids campers, the need to expand into that format was clear. So in 2009, PopUpPortal began several forum boards which exclusively covered Hybrids campers.

    Camping Rallies
    Beginning in March of 2008, PopUpPortal held the first of its camping rallies. This first rally was held at French Creek State Park in Southeastern Pennsylvania and was a great success. Hosted by Doug Rice (Bummer72), who organized the rally while stationed at the U.S. Coast Guard LORAN Station in Attu Alaska, the rally brought together some seventeen families, about 45 people. Planning started in November of 2007 and included a pot-luck dinner and chili contest. This was also to become an annual event.

    Rallies quickly became very popular among the membership. So in the winter of 2008/2009 Joe Brennan (JoeCamper) became the official Rally Leader for the Portal. Joe was instrumental in organizing many of the rallies in the Mid-Atlantic region and helping other members arrange rallies all across the United States and Canada.

    In the fall of 2009, Joe started plans for what would be known as the first PopUpPortal International Rally. The rally was held in June of 2010, from the 18th thru the 27th at 16 campgrounds in the United States and Canada, with over of 440 members attending.

    In the last summer of 2010, Joe left to pursue other projects and Steve has since been helping members plan and organize PUP rallies.

    Podcasts
    In the summer of 2010, Steve came across a series of podcast created by Ken and Martha Wiseman of RVNavigator.com. Ken and Martha had been posting podcast every month for the previous five years. Their podcasts covered their travels around the world in their 5th-Wheel camper and later their Class-A Motorhome. These inspired Steve to create a series of podcasts for the Portal to cover many of the subject discussed on the site and to provide interviews with members about their travels and experiences in Pop Up/Hybrid Campers. So in the winter of 2011, with about five podcasts recorded and another twenty being planned, the Portal posted its first two podcast. New podcasts were scheduled to be posted every month.

    Membership Totals
    [size=12pt]Monthly Membership Totals (as of 12/31/2010)
    [table]
    [tr]
    [td][/td]
    [td][/td]
    [td]
    2002
    [/td]
    [td]
    2003
    [/td]
    [td]
    2004
    [/td]
    [td]
    2005
    [/td]
    [td]
    2006
    [/td]
    [td]
    2007
    [/td]
    [td]
    2008
    [/td]
    [td]
    2009
    [/td]
    [td]
    2010
    [/td]
    [td][/td]
    [/tr]
    [tr]
    [td]January:[/td]
    [td][/td]
    [td][/td]
    [td]
    42​
    [/td]
    [td]
    46​
    [/td]
    [td]
    23​
    [/td]
    [td]
    449​
    [/td]
    [td]
    135​
    [/td]
    [td]
    156​
    [/td]
    [td]
    217​
    [/td]
    [td]
    180​
    [/td]
    [td][/td]
    [/tr]
    [tr]
    [td]February:[/td]
    [td][/td]
    [td][/td]
    [td]
    19​
    [/td]
    [td]
    24​
    [/td]
    [td]
    34​
    [/td]
    [td]
    183​
    [/td]
    [td]
    174​
    [/td]
    [td]
    206​
    [/td]
    [td]
    302​
    [/td]
    [td]
    176​
    [/td]
    [td][/td]
    [/tr]
    [tr]
    [td]March:[/td]
    [td][/td]
    [td][/td]
    [td]
    66​
    [/td]
    [td]
    35​
    [/td]
    [td]
    88​
    [/td]
    [td]
    194​
    [/td]
    [td]
    267​
    [/td]
    [td]
    275​
    [/td]
    [td]
    457​
    [/td]
    [td]
    323​
    [/td]
    [td][/td]
    [/tr]
    [tr]
    [td]April:[/td]
    [td][/td]
    [td][/td]
    [td]
    53​
    [/td]
    [td]
    33​
    [/td]
    [td]
    92​
    [/td]
    [td]
    214​
    [/td]
    [td]
    305​
    [/td]
    [td]
    450​
    [/td]
    [td]
    464​
    [/td]
    [td]
    373​
    [/td]
    [td][/td]
    [/tr]
    [tr]
    [td]May:[/td]
    [td][/td]
    [td][/td]
    [td]
    39​
    [/td]
    [td]
    40​
    [/td]
    [td]
    135​
    [/td]
    [td]
    245​
    [/td]
    [td]
    440​
    [/td]
    [td]
    511​
    [/td]
    [td]
    816​
    [/td]
    [td]
    479​
    [/td]
    [td][/td]
    [/tr]
    [tr]
    [td]June:[/td]
    [td][/td]
    [td][/td]
    [td]
    62​
    [/td]
    [td]
    60​
    [/td]
    [td]
    201​
    [/td]
    [td]
    246​
    [/td]
    [td]
    421​
    [/td]
    [td]
    587​
    [/td]
    [td]
    592​
    [/td]
    [td]
    533​
    [/td]
    [td][/td]
    [/tr]
    [tr]
    [td]July:[/td]
    [td][/td]
    [td][/td]
    [td]
    69​
    [/td]
    [td]
    29​
    [/td]
    [td]
    172​
    [/td]
    [td]
    301​
    [/td]
    [td]
    492​
    [/td]
    [td]
    677​
    [/td]
    [td]
    729​
    [/td]
    [td]
    666​
    [/td]
    [td][/td]
    [/tr]
    [tr]
    [td]August:[/td]
    [td][/td]
    [td][/td]
    [td]
    99​
    [/td]
    [td]
    37​
    [/td]
    [td]
    148​
    [/td]
    [td]
    228​
    [/td]
    [td]
    377​
    [/td]
    [td]
    558​
    [/td]
    [td]
    528​
    [/td]
    [td]
    743​
    [/td]
    [td][/td]
    [/tr]
    [tr]
    [td]September:[/td]
    [td][/td]
    [td][/td]
    [td]
    52​
    [/td]
    [td]
    39​
    [/td]
    [td]
    101​
    [/td]
    [td]
    196​
    [/td]
    [td]
    277​
    [/td]
    [td]
    382​
    [/td]
    [td]
    296​
    [/td]
    [td]
    531​
    [/td]
    [td][/td]
    [/tr]
    [tr]
    [td]October:[/td]
    [td][/td]
    [td][/td]
    [td]
    44​
    [/td]
    [td]
    51​
    [/td]
    [td]
    146​
    [/td]
    [td]
    154​
    [/td]
    [td]
    217​
    [/td]
    [td]
    241​
    [/td]
    [td]
    178​
    [/td]
    [td]
    424​
    [/td]
    [td][/td]
    [/tr]
    [tr]
    [td]November:[/td]
    [td][/td]
    [td][/td]
    [td]
    32​
    [/td]
    [td]
    20​
    [/td]
    [td]
    56​
    [/td]
    [td]
    73​
    [/td]
    [td]
    157​
    [/td]
    [td]
    148​
    [/td]
    [td]
    113​
    [/td]
    [td]
    318​
    [/td]
    [td][/td]
    [/tr]
    [tr]
    [td]December:[/td]
    [td][/td]
    [td]
    35​
    [/td]
    [td]
    9​
    [/td]
    [td]
    17​
    [/td]
    [td]
    37​
    [/td]
    [td]
    50​
    [/td]
    [td]
    93​
    [/td]
    [td]
    116​
    [/td]
    [td]
    103​
    [/td]
    [td]
    231​
    [/td]
    [td][/td]
    [/tr]
    [tr]
    [td]Totals:[/td]
    [td][/td]
    [td]
    35
    [/td]
    [td]
    586
    [/td]
    [td]
    431
    [/td]
    [td]
    1233
    [/td]
    [td]
    2533
    [/td]
    [td]
    3355
    [/td]
    [td]
    4307
    [/td]
    [td]
    4795
    [/td]
    [td]
    4977
    [/td]
    [td]
    22355
    [/td]
    [/tr]

    [/table]
     
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