||Why Did I Start This Site?
When my family moved to Livermore in 1992, we relied on newspaper listings to find valley homes decorated with holiday lights my family could visit and admire. The local newspaper, which listed the street addresses of "decorated homes" was helpful but many times we would get lost or, worse yet, stumble on a "stinker". What may be excellent and beautiful to me may not be for the next person, I thought. People sometimes nominate their neighbor or themselves just for the heck of it - just to see their address in the newspaper.
So, what I thought people needed were maps and pictures to determine for themselves which houses were worth a visit. With that idea in mind and 20 hours (initially) of work, I created Lights of the Valley (lightsofthevalley.com) and published it on the World Wide Web December 11, 1999.
Once completed, I sent out an email to about 25 people I knew in the Tri-Valley to announce the site and within 24 hours I was getting visits from as far away as Australia and Japan – which showed the power and speed of the Internet in action. KKIQ radio promoted the site by talking about it for several days running, and the local newspapers included the URL as a part of their decorated homes lists.
I originally started with about 30 homes in Livermore and Pleasanton on the Web site. Some features of the site included the ability to click on small photos of the houses to yield a larger view, while addresses below the "thumbnail" images provided links to on-line maps.
Some of the original images included cartoon characters on Leland Way and on Candy Court in Livermore. There were the animated figures of Bob's World on Calle Reynoso in Pleasanton. And of course, I had to include valley fixture Deacon Dave's home. In 1999 his home had 193,000-lights (over 210,000 for the 2001 season). Two years before, PG&E installed a special power transformer for Deacon Dave, just so he could power all those lights without using multiple gasoline generators.
In 1999 over 9,400 visitors, including a few from Japan, the UK, Sweden and the Cocos (Keeling) Islands, reviewed the 30 homes listed in Livermore and Pleasanton. Many of those visitors suggested other homes that would be included on the Web site. 9418 users
For the 2000 holiday season, the site started off with over 40 homes, including new listings in Danville, Dublin and San Ramon. Tracy joined us on December 12th of that year. 5499 users.
New for 2001 is a "let 'em know" feature, where site visitors can use an automated system to notify their friends about the site. Also for 2001, listed homes were given 12" by 24" signs stating "My house is featured on lightsofthevalley.com". 2001 had over 23,000 visitors to the site! In 2001 I also added homes in Lathrop and Fremont and ended the year with about 90 homes on display. 23135 users
In our 4th year (2002), we had over 28,000 visitors bringing our grand total since 1999 to over 66,000. Visitors to the Web site can preview almost 120 houses with holiday decorations before rounding up the family and hopping in the car. In 2002 we added homes in Alamo, Concord, Hayward, Manteca, Milpitas and Stockton. We are growing by leaps and bounds. We ended the year with over 125 homes being listed. 28468 users
2003 starts our site with a complete make-over. We got rid of the frames we were using & started to use a decorative template, rather than the plain vanilla white pages. Why? Well, as more and more people access the Web with broadband, we can fancy up the site a bit without making them wait too long to download it. We also pared down our list to 75 homes. Many of those reductions are attributed to homes that were never verified as being decorated last year. This year we added homes in Martinez, Clayton and Walnut Creek. Our record so far - 36679 users.
2004 had us featured in Valley Lifestyles Magazine and being promoted on San Francisco radio station KOIT, which plays Christmas music 24/7 between Thanksgiving and New Years. We added homes from the communities of Bethel Island, Antioch, Pleasant Hill and Novato to our listings. Midway through the 2004 Christmas season we also added an on-line survey asking people how they found the site, if they liked it, and other related questions. 19997 users
2005 had a really late start. Our kid's swim team, Tsunami Aquatics, hosted its first meet in November and as meet director, that took most of my time since September. Letters to houses listed on the site that normally are mailed around November 15th did not go out until after Thanksgiving. Its hoped that all the listings will be updated by December 6th. Brentwood, Pittsburg, Folsom, Rio Vista and Vacaville were added this year. San Francisco radio station KFOG found us and put us on their blog. Various other San Francisco Bay Area radio stations including KKDV, KUIC, KDFC and KZBR began to promote Lights of the Valley this year. 24486 users
2006 marks our 8th year of providing this community service website. This year we added Sunnyvale, San Lorenzo, San Leandro, Palo Alto, Alameda and San Jose to the ever growing list of communities listed on Lights of the Valley. The site has become really popular, creating several new records for usage: December 23 had 2,296 unique visitors, creating 339,839 hits and downloading over 845 MB of images and data.
Date Range: 12/17/2006 - 12/23/2006
Total Sessions 11,676.00
Total Pageviews 91,884.00
Total Hits 1,550,842.00
Total Bytes Transferred 3.83 GB
2006 was our 2nd best year - 2003 still has the record # of users. 36,330 users. We ended the year with 122 houses in 32 communities and 6 counties.
2007 represents a new era in Lights of the Valley. The third complete overhaul of the website with dynamically displayed, database driven pages. At the end of last year we searched high and low across Northern California for other homes that would "qualify" for a coveted spot on the Lights of the Valley website. We start this year with almost 300 homes - yes, more than double from the year before - in 69 communities and 14 counties! We also added a "House of the Day" feature so that "hand chosen" houses from the database are automatically displayed as the House of the Day between November 23 and January 1. Then we made that process even better. We created a special page and some coding so that anyone could use one line of code from our site and display a thumbnail image of the House of the Day on their own site ! 2007 ended with a massive 123,293 unique visitors - and a whopping 9 year total of 307,372 unique visitors. More people used LOTV in 2007 than in the previous 4 years combined !!!! The site ended with 432 houses in 96 cities in 20 counties across Northern California. We had more press and radio coverage this year than in any previous year, with the HOTD featured on the home page of various Bay Area radio stations and dozens of other websites as well.
The 2008 season started later than usual - due to the date of Thanksgiving. Even though the official visitor count only started on November 29th, the first week's trend showed more visitor sessions per day than the previous year at the same time. KGO radio in San Francisco conducted a phone interview with me and it aired on December 3, 2008. Later in the month I was interviewed by KCBS radio, along with Bob Stanley and Bob Widmer (Bob's worlds one and two) of Pleasanton. Several versions of the interview played all day long on the radio. The House of the Day feature continues to be popular, with KKIQ, KKDV, KUIC and KCBS, the San Jose POA, San Francisco POA and Alameda County Sheriff DSA sites also participating this year. The year ended with 200,118 unique visitors for a 10 year total of 507,490. A total of 498 homes in 110 cities / 21 counties were displayed in 2008.
During 2009 my programmers have been working overtime making a number of significant changes to the site:
- The site layout is now wider - to be more in line with today's standards of webpage width, and provide more information.
- We added a Google™ Mapping feature to the site for all Cities, so you can see the locations of the Properties, and get Directions.
- We added a Communities overview Page, with a Google™ Map of all Community Locations
- The individual house pages now have all images viewable, as well as allow an interactive display of larger size images.
- We installed a "star rating system", similar to that on Amazon and YouTube. You can now rate the individual houses, which will make the site that much more interactive and fun to use.
- We expanded the Quick View options to include all categories of listings
- We provided for a Printable Listing of all Property Locations in any City, so you can program your GPS
- FreeFind.com provided us with an internal search engine so that you can find houses based on a description.
- We added Google™ Street View maps on both the Community Routing section and on the individual display / house page.
- Our Webhost, Infoquest Technologies, moved the site to a newer, faster server - so that you can have a better experience.
Looks like we will start out the year with about 460 homes in 105 cities. Those that have not responded or been confirmed in the past few years were dropped from display, and I anticipate that several more will be dropped before the kickoff on the day after Thanksgiving. By December 12th, more houses, particularly those from 2007 that have not been verified this year, were dropped, so for 2009 we have 320 houses (270 confirmed - 84%) in 85 cities. Alex was interviewed on KKIQ / KKDV and was featured on European TV network NOVA. Here is how the various radio stations have promoted the site: KKIQ KOIT KCBS
In 2010 we started with "only" 335 houses (91 cities) and just before Thanksgiving a bit over 49% (164 houses) were confirmed. That is much better than past years at the same time. No significant changes were made to the site this year. The year topped out with about 350 houses / 300 confirmed - a pretty good percentage (86%), but Christmas time, I removed all the houses that had not been confirmed for 2010, thus the total came down to about 315 - 96% confirmed. Alex Dourov was interviewed on KFBK and KGO. CBS Radio and TV (KCBS and KPIX) posted a homepage article about LOTV. The site was featured in Elk Grove, SFGate, City's Best, Pleasanton Weekly, Bay Citizen. The year ended with 163,965 visitors for a total of 932,348 since the site was started. I had hoped to break 1 million this year, but the visitor stats were way down the first couple of weeks. I ended with 340 Houses (328 confirmed), in 94 Cities, in 26 Counties in Northern and Central California. I created a small Facebook presence to which about 60 people became friends or "liked" the site.
2011 started with 487 homes, then dropped to 475 as a number of long time displayers did not plan to have lights this year due to deaths, illnesses or injuries. On the other hand, a number of houses that were "dark" last year came back! The week after Christmas is when I usually spend lots of time scouring every news source in Northern / Central California in my attempt to find more homes to add to the website. Of those 487 homes are about 125 that I found as "potential" homes to list from various newspapers and other sources. This search for new houses to add brought the city total up to 124. We started out with 48% confirmed by Thanksgiving - or 63% of the previous year's listings. I was also able to obtain the domain name of CaliforniaChristmasLights com/net/org/us/ca and this year became the transition year where the site will switch from Lights of the Valley to California Christmas Lights - a more "fitting" name since the site has expanded so much these past 12 years - well beyond "the valley".
2012 was a good year, with over 350 confirmed houses. Probably the best ever in terms of total percentage of confirmed versus total houses submitted. The term "California Christmas Lights" became more universal, though Lights of the Valley is still considered the primary domain. Over 200,000 people used the website - not the highest ever, but still pretty good. We kept promoting the site via Facebook and accomplished over 1,000 likes on the Facebook page. Alex Dourov was interviewed on radio station KFBK again this year, and a number of radio stations ran free promotional announcements about the site. KPIX - CBS 5 of San Francisco used photos from the website almost every day during December as a place to visit and always mentioned or had an image of the California Christmas Lights website during that broadcast. Good Morning Sacramento ran a full length feature on one of the houses in Tracy and mentioned this website several times during that broadcast.
2013 will be a short season - with Thanksgiving being late this year. By November 7th over 20% of the homes were confirmed - that is a good start. I also contacted all the major TV, radio and newspapers throughout the state reminding them about the existence of the CCL website along with a request for promotion, as many of them have done in the past.
LOTV is now using Google maps V3 for all site pages. It took most of 2 weeks to upgrade it to V3, since the new API is radically different from the V2 API (and the V2 API will no longer be supported by Google). About 35 key site pages were affected (one of which then updates the ~ 115 city pages to use V3).
Fortunately we did not "lose" any functionality and in some pages even picked up a few new ones to enhance the map functionality especially the Directions page which can now optimize a route. The one new limitation in V3 is the Directions service now allows a maximum or 10 points. The city pages now include code to advise users of the limit, and prevent going over it.
Two houses that are featured on this website - one a long-timer, one relativlye new, where chosen from a nationwide search to be on an ABC TV show called The Great Christmas Light Fight. They are two of only 20 houses chosen nationwide!. Here is the press release from ABC about it. The houses: The Mickey Mouse Christmas House in San Rafael http://www.lightsofthevalley.com/Properties/Detail.asp?i=230 and the Simmons Family’s Dancing Christmas Lights Show in Cathedral City http://www.lightsofthevalley.com/Properties/Detail.asp?i=931
A few days before this year's late Thanksgiving, we already had 52% of the current houses confirmed. This year (luckily) I only had to do snail mail confirmations to less than 10% of the houses. By December 15th, 98.5% of houses were confirmed - a record percentage. Unconfirmed houses were permanently removed to keep the accuracy and relevance of the site as high as possible.
The year ended with 352 houses, 118 cities and 34 counties represented in California. In spite of the late starting season, 281,422 unique visitors were logged onto the site, with a record number of 18,342 using the site on December 23, 2013.
Other stats: 540 GB of data transferred, 14,858,779 hits with 1,394,607 pageviews.
What originally started out as a “fun thing to do” project became more “spiritual”. I received about 350 emails telling me how valuable the site was to them. What really touched my heart were emails from people who told me it was especially meaningful to the people that are unable to get out and enjoy the lights, they can just enjoy them at home.
Year after year, this Web site has been featured in the Tri-Valley Herald, the Contra Costa Valley Times, the Independent News, The Pleasanton Weekly and on radio stations KKIQ, KOIT and KCBS. I can't thank them enough for their support of this "community service" project of mine.
I have truly enjoyed myself these past nine Christmas seasons by putting together this site. I was overwhelmed at the kind comments that I have received from many of you telling me how much this site has helped you, or how it even helps "shut-ins" be able to get a virtual tour of the Bay Area's best Christmas light displays.
One final note - this site is strictly a "one-man" voluntary, community service operation. It is not a commercial site, I do not charge anything for listings nor do I award prizes of any kind. I decide what houses should be listed - based on my personal tastes - and what I think the community at large will be interested in seeing.