Submitted by Nigel Whitfield, BLUF webmaster, Nigel, aka SubDirectory (3), 16 June 2014
June 16th 2009 was a fairly significant date for me. It was the day on which Leon, BLUF's founder, asked me to take over running the club so that he could step back after twelve years.
I hope it's not too immodest to say that I'm quite proud of what's been achieved since then. One of the big issues facing the club what that its website hadn't been significantly updated for a long time - it didn't offer user to user messaging, nor could members upload their own photos, for example - and aside from the sign up information pages, it was entirely in English.
The summer of 2009 saw the untimely closure of one of the magazines for which I'd done a lot of work, which freed me to spend time working on a massive overhaul of the BLUF site; over six weeks solid work, plus months of testing and tweaking resulted in the launch of the site we call BLUF 3 in December 2009.
That added things like messaging, photo uploads, a full translation into French and German, plus some of our other new features like member travel plans and profile tags.
Since 2009, the site's been continuously tweaked and though the core is the same, it looks slicker, and has many more features than back in 2009 - so many that I suspect a lot of BLUF members don't realise all the things that it can do.
The web site isn't everything, of course - one of the things that I've tried to do is to ensure that while the site itself remains the members only strict dress code club it's always been, BLUF is also a little more open and engaged with the rest of the leather community, for example through the public event listings, which now include details of much more than just BLUF events.
I've alluded in a recent blog post to the need for technical know-how, and my day job as an IT journalist with a computer science background has certainly helped - the vast majority of the coding for BLUF and its apps is done by me - but there have been many many other people who have helped BLUF to grow and change over the last five years, whether volunteering to help with aspects of the web site, such as updating listings, translating text, or approving photos, or on the ground in cities like Bristol, Chicago, San Francisco, Berlin, Cologne, Essen, Los Angeles and elsewhere. It's those meetings, where members and non-members get together to have a good time in their leather, that are the heart and soul of BLUF, and one of the things that sets us apart from other websites and apps that are focussed on one to one hook-ups.
So, a very big thank you to all the volunteers over the last five years - BLUF simply wouldn't be the same without you.
Five years in is a good point at which to take stock, and make plans. (British readers can start humming the XTC song 'Making plans for Nigel' at this point). We've come a long way; to some this may sound like trumpet blowing, but I think it's worth highlighting some of our achievements, and the things BLUF now has that it didn't five years ago:
A site available in English, French and German
User to user messaging
Advanced search facilities
A mobile version of the site
Apps for Windows and Macintosh desktops
An Android app
A public calendar available to everyone
More active local groups than ever before
Over sixty BLUF events a year, around the world
Over 3000 members
An increasing number of young members
An X Award for the Best Fetish Organisation
An active membership - up to 45% of members sign in at least once a week, and over 60% once a month
A membership card scheme, offering discounts at a range of leather and kink vendors
A seven percent solution
Volunteers help make this possible - so too do donations, and on that front, I do think we could do better. If you're a BLUF member, and you think some of this is worth having, why not make a donation? In the last five years, 225 members have made donations - that's around 7% of the membership. After deducting direct costs (hosting fees, payment processing, and so on), the donations we've received would be sufficient to pay someone for just over fourteen hours of work at minimum wage per month. I can safely say that just for myself, there's a lot more time than that spent on BLUF.
So, perhaps one way that we can mark my first five years in charge of BLUF is by encouraging more people to donate. It would be great, for example, if we had enough spare to reward some of the volunteers and local groups with a gift for their time. Or to invest in the time it would take someone to create an iPhone app for the club, to complement our Android one. We will, at some stage, inevitably need to move to a faster host than the one we've been using for the last five years.
One thing that's abundantly clear to me is that running BLUF is now quite a different job to what it was five years ago. When the site had little public information, and social media was not that widespread, the task of the BLUF webmaster was essentially to approve new members, co-ordinate events, and update a few sections of the web site.
It's now a much broader task than that, and includes the need to keep developing the site and services, so that BLUF remains relevant to leathermen of all ages, as well as day to day admin, and being a public face to the club. As a club like BLUF starts to grow, issues of 'policy' start to become more complicated too - whether it's simple things like dress code requirements, or the need to make ensure that the BLUF logo is only used in appropriate ways, through to trickier issues like how complaints between members should be handled, or the death of a member, and what to do with his profile. But as a club grows, it's best to think about some of these issues first, instead of in a blind panic when something goes wrong.
I'm not proposing to retire any time soon, and I hope that I'll be around to reflect on ten years running BLUF in 2019, when the club itself will be 22 years old. But I do think that over the next five years, we'll need to start thinking about the shape we should take to ensure our future.
At the time I took over, Leon wanted to find someone who could both do the admin, and deal with people, and had the technical knowledge to develop the site. In five more years time, who knows where technology will be? Or how large the club will have become.
Will it be realistic - or even possible - to find one person to fulfil all those roles? And if not, how should things be divided up? Who should have the last say on decisions?
Would BLUF benefit from having a formal structure? We're not incorporated in any official way at the moment. We could become a non-profit, or a Community Interest Company, for example - but some of those options could restrict what we can do.
If the tasks have to be divided up between a committee in future, how will the people there be chosen? Will it be democratically run? If so, who would have a say?
Besides just paying our bills, can we square the need to reward people for the time they give to BLUF with the commitment I've made to keep the site free and without different classes of membership?
There's probably no single right answer to these questions. But I am convinced that they are things that, by the time I pass the mantle on to someone else, will have to have been thought about, and resolved, to ensure that in five or more years, the BLUF I pass on to someone else will be as strong and relevant - both to our own members and to the wider leather community - as I believe it is today.