Many of our readers are familiar with InsideFlyer’s sister Web site, flyertalk.com. But you might not know much about its history through the eyes of Randy Petersen:
The original FlyerTalk concept of a bulletin board for frequent flyers was launched on Sept. 22, 1995, with the formal launch of WebFlyer.com. InsideFlyer had been publishing frequent flyer information online since 1987 with NewsNet and CompuServe, and in 1995 we were working on a launch as the official frequent flyer portal for AOL, a relative newcomer in the business at that time. The original WebFlyer.com launch was seen as online content for InsideFlyer magazine because at that time we really had no idea of how or why we would publish the entire magazine online.
The concept of FlyerTalk was seen as a way for readers of InsideFlyer to share additional comments and feedback on the topic. In the early part of 1995, the commercial World Wide Web was still very much unknown (most of the attention still went to Prodigy, AOL and CompuServe). We saw a small number of chat boards out there and thought it might be a good platform to extend InsideFlyer reader interaction. We could not find any reasonable commercial software at the time so we commissioned a Web development company called Netgrafix to custom build the code and application for our bulletin board. It cost some money but we got it done and it was included in the original WebFlyer.com, though interestingly enough, we did not even feature it because of the low-level interest in such a thing at the time.
It was pretty slow starting and it took about two months before we saw any activity at all (let’s remember, there was not a whole lot of you out there on the Web in 1995….). I’m thinking perhaps three to four posts a day (these days we do that every minute, 24 hours a day). In the third month, we started to notice an interesting increase in posts — problem posts. In no time at all, we were still getting three to four posts a day about frequent flyer topics, but 10-15 and then 20-30 a day were from people looking for the “party” and asking if there were any “chicks” who wanted to talk. Almost all of these types of posts came from people in the Scandinavian countries. Looking back, we tried too hard to make search terms like “chat” the prominent feature and that was the buzzword for looking for girls. After about five to six weeks of daily editing out a majority of posts because of content and profanity, my team leader at the time asked me to please pull the plug. My grand idea to extend InsideFlyer and create reader interaction was clearly a failure. So I did. At the time, I’m remembering we had a grand total of 112 good posts.
Years go by and WebFlyer is doing very well as it was the first — and at the time only — frequent flyer portal (remember that word?). Anyway, in the back of my mind, (I really hate to have something not work), I never forgot about our chat idea and I continued on my own to research applications for a new bulletin board that was commercially available and noticed that there was a building buzz about chat boards. I did my research and decided upon UBB. Despite protests from my Interactive team who were managing the AOL portal we had going, I decided to restart FlyerTalk, again under the umbrella of WebFlyer.com.
So, the readers of InsideFlyer were once again invited to participate in a new bulletin board designed to help members share experiences and tips with other readers of the magazine. We opened our doors again on May 5, 1998. After six months we noticed that a few of the new posters were not subscribers to InsideFlyer and I decided to gamble and welcome them as well. From that point forward, growth has been organic. We’ve not spent a single dollar toward marketing the Web site and today it ranks among the top, if not the top, bulletin board in the world for number of posts and activity on the topic of travel and certainly the hub for frequent flyers around the globe.
I have often joked and it actually is true that one of the major factors in launching the concept was that even back in the early days, I was having trouble answering the many letters (yes, actually physical letters) and faxes from readers asking for advice for their miles and points. FlyerTalk was a concept that allowed me to utilize the knowledge of my readers who had followed my advice and allowed them to share their experiences with others. Only a small percentage of today’s FlyerTalkers are readers of InsideFlyer, but I think it is fair to say that many owe thanks to the magazine.
Along the way there have been several interesting historical aspects, such as in July 2001 when FlyerTalk acquired another Web bulletin board called Flyers’ Places. This was a popular bulletin board started by a member of FlyerTalk, Dorian, who thought there should be a sort of Zagat-type guide to restaurants from a frequent flyer’s perspective and today much of the success of Travel&Dining on FlyerTalk can be traced back to Dorian.
We’ve also had the development of several real personalities on FlyerTalk, such as Doc who in the early years showed a tremendous propensity for posting and today still has more than 45,000 posts. And of course the evolution of a member-elected TalkBoard whose first president was cigarman and we owe a great deal to the overwhelming generosity of our volunteer moderators. We had others representing our members early on. Who could forget the contributions of appointees svpii, Punki and Rudi? Svpii was actually the first president in a non-member elected capacity and Punki contributed in that role for a short period. And who could forget the very first public “Do” — the Party in Paradise in Hawaii?
One of the most important dates in FlyerTalk history is Nov. 4, 1999. On that date, members Catman, NJDavid and Rudi presented me with the official URL of FlyerTalk.com and we moved away from the shadow of WebFlyer.com so that the site could make a name for itself. I can easily say that these three members — Catman, NJDavid and Rudi were very, very important in the first two years of FlyerTalk — and still are important to me today.
If memory serves, our first full year had 102,000 posts total and today we’re closing in on 7 million. But I’ll never forget that the true history of FlyerTalk is all about those who have contributed the information that make it so valuable.