This site started in 1995, although obviously not in its current form. I talked about the origin in more detail on my original About page and will mention it here as well to have all the site history on one page.
I was working as a programmer, so I was always looking to learn new programming languages and related skills to add to my resume. In 1995 the World Wide Web was pretty new, and the public was just starting to get into it. I thought it would be good for me to learn HTML and how to build websites. The best way to do that is to build a site, rather than read a book or watch a video about HTML. And I needed to build a real site for some purpose, not put up a site with random content just to learn the technology.
It took me a while to figure out what to build a site about, since I figured I might end up spending lots of time on it. Making money from a website was a completely foreign concept back then, so I had to find some topic that really interested me, so it could be a passion project.
I started taking flying lessons in November 1995 – I explain why on this page. Some friends asked me how the lessons were going, so after each lesson I would write a short email about it and send to people. After two or three lessons I realized it would make a lot more sense to just put that content on a website where people could go read it when they wanted, rather than emailing it. It was a great website topic for me, since I was passionate about flying. I was taking lessons every week, so there was always something new to write about and no worries about writer’s block. Plus I was writing a continuing story that would eventually have a beginning, middle, and end, rather than a series of random articles about some topic – or worse, pointless articles about what I had for breakfast.
My First Website
My neighborhood back then was one of the first to get the new Roadrunner cable modem Internet service. It was revolutionary. Now it’s just standard broadband service, but you have to realize that back then, almost everyone who even had Internet access was on dialup. That means a modem connected to your home phone line, an actual landline wired into the wall. If you ever think you have a slow connection today, it’s lightning fast compared to dialup. Plus dialup kept your phone line busy, so if you were using the Internet for an hour, you couldn’t use your phone. No cell phones back then, at least not for regular middle class people.
One of the side benefits of the Roadrunner service was that they gave you some free space on the web to build your own site. It wasn’t much space by today’s standards, maybe 10 MB (yes, megabytes), but that’s actually a lot of space when your site is mostly text and small images. The idea of putting a video online, even a short one, would have been crazy. It would have taken all day to upload and except for the few of us with cable Internet, no one would have been able to watch it. The idea of streaming services like Netflix where you can watch a whole movie online and the picture quality was as good or better than cable would have seemed like something from Star Trek.
Domain names were really expensive in 1995. They cost $50 a year, and you had to register for two years at a time. $50 isn’t much if the blog is for business, but this was a hobby site with no thought of ever making money from it. Roadrunner gave a web address with the free space, so there was no real need to get a domain name. The original address of my site was tampabay.rr.com/flyer.
One of the First Blogs in the World
The logical way to present the material I was writing about my flying lessons was to write a few paragraphs about what happened, plus a headline with the date and lesson number, in chronological order.
I didn’t know it at the time, but I was building one of the first blogs in the world. The word blog wasn’t even coined til 1999. It was a shortened version of web log, a phrase that originated in 1997. The first real blog is believed to be one that started in 1994.
I got into a routine of sitting in the airport lobby or my car after a flight, jotting down some notes, then typing them up and converting to HTML when I got home.
I didn’t tell anyone about the site except those few friends. I did nothing to promote it, no ads, no attempts to get links. I did display my email address on the site, and a funny thing happened. I started getting emails from strangers, really nice emails. Sadly I lost them years ago because they were downloaded to the hard drive of my PC that died a few years later, and as much as I liked getting them, I don’t think it ever occurred to me to put them online. Now as a marketer I would know to create a testimonials page for them.
It was great to get emails that said nice side, fun to read, interesting, etc. What was really gratifying was how powerful some of them were. Again, I don’t have the original emails, but this is the kind of messages I got:
I just read your site, and it reminded me of when I started working on my pilot’s license 20 years ago, then stopped halfway through. Now I’m about to go back and finish it.
My teenage son has always been interested in flying, and now that we’ve read your site and know what’s involved, I’m going to get him lessons.
I’m in my 20s and have been wondering what type of career to pursue. I found your site and am now seriously considering aviation.
I’m an airline pilot, and reading your adventures reminds me a lot of the training I went through 25 years ago when I first started. Thanks for the memories.
That was really cool.
I became a private pilot in 1996. I then went on to get my instrument rating and take some other training. I did some specialized flying, like in the mountains of Colorado and some trips to the Bahamas. I also bought a plane. I documented all this on the original site, and eventually I’ll add all that content on this one.
Some time around 2001 I decided to try to monetize The inFrequent Flyer. I finally got a domain name and hosting for it. Originally the site was called The Frequent Flyer, because when I first started taking lessons, I flew a lot. When it came time to get a domain, every name I checked for related to Frequent Flyer was taken and being used for airline frequent flyer programs. So I changed it up a bit and called it The inFrequent Flyer.
My first attempts at making money from the site were various forms of affiliate marketing. That’s the practice of recommending other people’s products or services for a commission. I looked for aviation-related products on amazon.com and promoted a few of them. I started writing reviews of any movies I saw that had something to do with aviation. None of this made much money since I didn’t know what I was doing and the site probably wasn’t getting much traffic. I didn’t know enough to check that in those days.
During the early 2000s I was still flying but not writing about it much on the site because the flights weren’t that interesting. They were fun, but there was nothing special to write about. I was just flying the Cessna 172 I owned, not other aircraft. I wasn’t doing any training or working on any more ratings, so there was nothing to log. It’s just as well I didn’t write about those flights, because there would have been a lot of extremely short entries along the lines of “Today I flew to Ocala for lunch.” A lot of those flights, I didn’t even put in my logbook.
I sold the plane in 2008 because the costs of owning it were too high for the amount of hours I was flying. Owning a plane is similar to owning a boat — it’s expensive even if you don’t use it much, and in most cases it’s cheaper to just rent it those times you use it.
During this period I started making my living online since my programming career ended in late 2001. I did very little with this site because I was busy with other online ventures, and for long periods of time, I forgot about it.
The first thing I successfully did to make money online was publish ebooks. I then got into creating other digital products. I thought about creating something about aviation to promote on this site, but couldn’t think of anything. I didn’t feel motivated to write a book on how to get your pilot’s license, for example.
By 2010 Amazon’s Kindle format had become very popular, and I started publishing ebooks for it. Three of them became number one bestsellers in their categories. I even created a comprehensive course about creating Kindle books and spoke about it at some Internet marketing events.
That gave me an idea — what if I turned The inFrequent Flyer content into a Kindle book, or maybe even a trilogy? I thought the Student Pilot Log could be volume 1, the Instrument Pilot Log could be volume 2, and miscellaneous adventures could be volume 3. These would have been short books in the 99 cent to $2.99 price range.
However there was a hitch. The rules for Kindle books prohibit “freely available web content.” What that means is, if your Kindle book is a collection of content that people can read for free online (such as blog posts), that wasn’t allowed. I’m not sure why that is, but I wanted to comply with the rules. The advice I got was that if you have content like that and want to use it in a Kindle book, take it off your website, wait a while for the search engines to deindex those pages, then publish your book.
So I started down that path. I took down all the pages of The inFrequent Flyer that I planned on using for Kindle. I had them on my hard drive, so I wasn’t concerned.
You can guess what happened next. While waiting for the pages to fall out of the search engines, I got busy with other projects and forgot about The inFrequent Flyer again. Then my PC died, and I could no longer access the hard drive containing all that content. D’oh!
I spent most of this period thinking that most of The inFrequent Flyer content was gone forever, when I thought about it at all. I still had the hard drive, but had switched to laptops and wasn’t able to get the drive working again.
In late 2017, I was getting frustrated with how slow my web hosting was and decided it was time to move all my sites. I’ve done that a few times before. Part of my process is to go through all the sites on the current hosting and decide which ones to move. Usually there are some I’ve abandoned and am no longer interested in. I don’t want to bother moving those to a new host.
When going through my sites, I remembered The inFrequent Flyer again for the first time in years. I was again bummed out by the fact that I had taken down all the good content and lost it.
Then I had an epiphany. I suddenly thought of the Wayback Machine. That’s archive.org, which maintains snapshots of many websites from various points of time. Was The inFrequent Flyer in there? I thought it should be, considering the site was up for several years before I removed those pages.
I picked a date from before I removed the content, and lo and behold, the full website was there in all its glory.
I immediately realized what I should do — restore The inFrequent Flyer to the web, but better before. Instead of the old, ugly design with hundreds of hand-coded HTML pages, I would build the site the same way I do with many of my sites, on WordPress. WordPress powers almost 30% of websites these days. It started as a blogging platform, and that structure was perfect for the chronological nature of most of The inFrequent Flyer content, like I mentioned earlier on this page.
Instead of moving the existing site to the new host, I made a fresh install of WordPress. I pulled the first few posts from the Wayback Machine and put them on the new site to see how they would look. The old site included the dates when most of my adventures took place. Since WordPress lets you put whatever date you want on a post, I knew I needed to post with the original dates. (It wouldn’t make sense to use the dates I put the content on this new site — it would look like I took 5 or 10 lessons in a day. I also wanted to make it clear when the events happened.)
My little test worked like a charm. With the first few flying lessons posted and backdated to when they occurred, I realized what I was really doing was building The inFrequent Flyer as it would have looked if today’s website technology had existed back then. Some people will probably see it and think it was built over 20 years ago in its current form. That’s fine. The point is to show the content in the most useful, practical, and attractive format, and I think that’s what I’ve done.
As I write this page, I’ve restored all of the Student Pilot Log and some of my adventures as a new private pilot before I started working on my instrument rating. I’m pretty happy with how it’s turned out so far. This is a very part-time project, and I’m shooting for having all the content moved over sometime in April 2018. Then I’ll start enhancing, monetizing, and marketing the site.
I’ll update this page as events warrant.
If you’re new to the site, now that you know the history, the best place to continue reading is here.