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The Recreational Flying Story

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Posted (edited)

This site is considered a large one in the forum software industry, not a huge one but still a large one and has been going for some 18 years. It is my passion and for most of it I have spent every waking hour trying to make it better for every one and to maintain its initial objectives. In a software forum that I frequent for help and advice, I was asked for my story of the Recreational Flying site by the management of IPS software for them to add to their own site but now that we are back with XF I didn't think it was appropriate so I just posted it in the general forums of that site for Forum Administrators as I was also asked there why I went back to XF. I am reproducing that post here in the hope that it helps the users of this site understand the reasoning for this site's existence, its objectives and the history this site has seen. My apologies for its length but it may also explain why I believe we need a single repository of everything in recreational aviation to help each other and keep us all safe...hope it helps:

 

Well, I suppose I should put this whole story to bed, but it may be a long story which I hope may help other site owners to learn from my experience, although as we know not all sites are the same.

 

I started Recreational Flying some 18 years ago as many pilots were killing themselves from stupid mistakes and there wasn’t any opportunity for them to learn from each other’s experiences. So, my thought was to try and replicate the flying club clubrooms as an Australia wide clubroom for pilots to learn from each other…Increase their flying skills, learn about proper aircraft maintenance and to be safer in the air. I tried to create an overall single repository of information to help pilots in one single location.

 

It worked, in fact it worked so well that the site grew faster than I could keep up. Being a VB developer and ICT Project Manager I developed my first site myself using of all things a JET backend. I thought that if I got 30 or so pilots and I was able to save at least 1 life it would be a success. But within a couple of months the growth was too much so for speed I went for a COTS product called MegaBB (if my memory serves me). Within a year or so my site outgrew that as pilots from all around Australia were hearing about my site, at the time called Ultralight.net. I then moved to another more featured COTS solution which for the life of me I can’t recall its name (I think it had 2 words both starting with S) but again my user base was growing so fast and needed “more” than just forums.

 

At this point there had been an unprecedented 65% drop in fatal recreational aviation accidents with many pilots crediting the reduction in the ability to at any time of the day or night, and from any location, learn from each other’s flying experiences, good and bad.

 

At this point I needed more from my site, users were demanding more, so it was time to get serious. I moved over to VB v3 and threw all kinds of addons in and the users were lapping it up. I developed myself and paid other developers to create very specific addons, pages, features and functions to build the site up into one hell of an extreme comprehensive single repository of everything to do with recreational aviation. There were all the standard features like forums, gallery etc but also aircraft registration lookups, a weather converter into plain English, an aviation news reader mined the internet on anything to do with recreational aviation etc etc etc.

 

The site had and was costing me thousands and thousands of dollars so the wife said “NO MORE MONEY”…doh? So, as I was now contracting as a PMO Director I had my own private company which I used to set up an online Pilot Supplies shop on the side of my site. For this I used CS-Cart after trying different forum integrated cart addons which were all big problems. I only put small margins on products to offset the costs of my aviation site now called Recreational Flying. The shop is by no means any kind of commercial interest and the time it takes to administer the shop is completely not worth it as there is no personal gain, but it pays for the hosting costs.

 

Vbulletin v4 came out so I upgraded to that however some of my extra site features were dropped due them not being ported to VB v4 by their developers. Remember VBClassifieds and VBGallery? The biggest and greatest addon I used in VB was VBCMS and VBDynamics…they were great addons especially Dynamics as I could create many different instances of it for many different features of my site for pilots. Everything started to go downhill from here as Dynamics had too many issues under VB v4 plus the same for many other addons. I got ripped off a lot of money by developers, but I stayed with VB as long as I could. Then the whole VB v5 fiasco, which I didn’t go to, was the end of the line of vb for me. So, at this stage I had a very troublesome site with less features and functions for the users than before.

 

The question here is if I had just remained default with VB v4 then perhaps I wouldn’t have had so many headaches however if I had not turbo charged my site with so many extras, functions and features for my users would my site had been so successful?

 

Along came Xenforo. WOW, this promised to be something phenomenal and I was in right at the get go. I migrated over to XF even in BETA stage as it was looking so promising with all the posts and talk of what developers were working on and remember this was even before XF’s formal release.

 

Before I go any further, I must stress one extremely important consideration. The average age of my userbase is in the low 60s. At this age people often buy a caravan and travel around or they buy a light aircraft and fly around. Many people of this age were not really introduced to technology so using a site can be very hard and confusing. Even though there are buttons saying Create Thread or Create Post I still continually get asked how to create a post. I get many users saying my site doesn’t work as they get timed out after 15mins even though they are just trying to type a three-line post (it is now 30min time out). Every few days I get an email from a registered user simply saying “Your site doesn’t work”…then we have to go through a long process to resolve the issue like their caps are on trying to put their password in. The one thing the spurred me on was the fact that I was continually getting emails from users saying they would have been killed if not for something they had read on my site…my site was saving lives, it was working. These are extremely important considerations in what follows.

 

The one thing that I found was great with XF was that it was so simple, not just for users but for an Admin to create anything by in many cases simple HTML. The Search function was brilliant so to was the Admin Control Panel, the Template system and most importantly the speed of it. Addons started coming thick and fast and soon some very big addons that I could use. Bob’s great Showcase, Chris’s Media addon and many others. Sure, my XF site started from scratch again with just forums but it wasn’t long before I was building the site back up to its previous glory.

 

Then, it all started falling apart again. The addons were starting to show their true colours with some very good ones and some very bad ones so you didn’t know who to trust other than by wasting money on the bad ones just to find out. The next thing was the VB/XF Court Case. Everything seem to stop, and I was again left with a troublesome and very much incomplete site. Users were starting to baulk saying when are the Classifieds coming back, when is this or that going to be added to the site. I didn’t know what to do other than sit on my hands and become very frustrated and let down by XF. No coms, no advice, no information…do I spend thousands of dollars on a platform that will not eventuate, do I go back to the problems of VB, do I do this or that. The legal issues went on and on and I became very bitter, so much so that I began to hate even looking at my site. I was going to close it so many times but thinking of the lives it was saving I just couldn’t do it.

 

Also, at this time the Light Aircraft Governing Body here in Australia tried everything the could to close me down. Many legal actions against me for the site having posts by users the body didn’t like, they didn’t like the fact that I was giving the industry a voice. They even disallowed my membership, which you must legally have to fly a light aircraft, saying I was “Bringing the Industry into disrepute” by allowing pilots a voice by allowing them to post.

 

The site survived through all the XF/VB legal action, my own legal troubles against me however the site had stagnated. It was getting over 4,000 unique visitors per day, over 600 registered users logging in per day but there was no growth, so I had to do something. With the XF/VB case over I desperately tried to get the site back to its powerful single repository of everything in recreational aviation with addons, features and functionality. The problem of quality yet again rose it ugly head and a lot of money was wasted with no immediate positive outcomes. I kept waiting for XF to grow to the phenomenon that I knew it could grow to but that wasn’t happening. Sure, there was a Resources addon which I believe was driven by XF’s own needs and then XF purchased/took over Chris’s Media addon (which I already had) but it stopped there. XF’s focus, I felt, was purely on a forum solution only solution and developers. I had already felt the wrath of bad developers and had been taken for a ride so many times by them, addon I even paid to be developed were not developed to my specs and were released to the public leaving me without exactly what I paid for but allowed developers to make money off my money.

 

There were developers like 2 shoes with Classifieds (very buggy), Michael with the shop (very buggy and ripped people off on VB then left, moved to XF and ripped people off and left) and many many others. BUT I MUST SAY THERE ARE ALSO SOME VERY GOOD DEVELOPERS LIKE BOB etc.

 

At this time my site had been stagnant for some time and there were many users popping up that seemed heel bent on causing trouble. Armed with a hefty amount of keyboard courage and alpha male attitudes they trolled the site antagonising other users driving many people away or simply scared them out of posting. I took a hard-line approach to drive these troublemakers away however it is very much a “Damned if you do, and Damned if you don’t” scenario. My site became divided plus I couldn’t satisfy my userbase with all the features they once had.

 

Now in comes Facebook. A couple of users from my site started a Facebook Group and with my userbase being of the older generation found Facebook much more convenient as they used Facebook to stay in touch with family and friends anyway. This Facebook Group grew and grew rapidly. I noticed my site’s stats began to drop and saw many of the prolific posters on my site were no longer visiting my site but were posting in the Facebook Group. I have found that users are also divided and that there is still a small amount of those that don’t like Facebook, but they are in the minority.

 

Now in comes all the hype of XF v2. I am stuck between a rock and a hard post, what do I do. I chose to wait for XF2…wrong move. I waited, and waited, and waited and in the end XF v2 was simply all about developers and very little, very little at all for end users. Gone also was the simplicity of XF v1 where you could do just about anything with just a little knowledge of HTML and CSS. When XF v2 was finally released it seemed all the addon developers ran for the life and only little whoopy do addons were created however there was some little core components that were very nice to have. I felt I now had no choice but to go to XF v2 and wait for those addons that I needed to come back…but again I was wrong. Again I had to wait and wait and wait only to see that the addons were not going to eventuate…what was I to do…My site was dying, the Facebook Group was screaming ahead, I hated my site because I was frustrated and after 15 years of putting everything I had into it to help others had nowhere to go but down. Site stats were now under half of what the site once was, I couldn’t do what I wanted to do due to the complexity of XF v2 unless I embarked on a massive learning curve, and at 60 years of age perhaps I was beyond that now.

 

Now in comes IPS. Everything indicated that it promised to be a quick saviour with all that it offered and integrated to boot, WOW. So, I purchased the complete package of all IPS had to offer plus many very well built and looking addons like Classifieds, Suppliers, Clubs, Databases and Pages for anything I wanted to create (like my old VBDynamics). I migrated over to IPS as quick as I could (bad move) but I felt pressured into doing something quickly before my site dived any further. I didn’t take the age group of my user base into consideration and their less acceptance of change but also IPS was more complicated to the user simply because of the great number of features and functionality that it has…it has so much.

 

After a couple of weeks, I found my stats were dropping fast with registered users not even logging in to site…I panicked and quickly went back to XF, wiped the sweat from my brow and started some soul searching. Was I wrong in trying to go back to the success of yesterday by having an all in all comprehensive single repository of everything to do in recreational aviation for my users to help each other? Or, is the time of my site now gone and everything is now Facebook as that Facebook Group was still growing with many users that had over the years before left my site?

 

Determined that I can still help other pilots, help to keep them safe, help them to learn by other pilot’s experiences and in well and properly maintained aircraft I decided to give IPS another try, after all I think I panicked. I engaged a fantastic IPS developer to help me to change the IPS look and feel to XF as much as possible to minimise the “change” to users. I embarked on a big communication program to the site users, took my time getting IPS right, even having IPS example setup for the users to try and advise. The stupid thing is only a couple of users even looked at IPS site. I created videos on the XF now to the IPS change to help show and educate users on the benefits of IPS and much more. When I felt it was ready, I migrated again across to IPS and this time I was at the end anyway so it was a do or die scenario and I promised myself I would give it 6 months.

 

I must say here that one big contributing factor in my decision making was that the XF forums had become so extremely toxic with opinionated trolls who seemed to know more about my site by a couple of lines in a post than I did…it is so toxic that even one moderator I wouldn’t pea on him if he was on fire

 

Anyway, I began with just the same components of XF i.e. Forums, Media (Gallery), Resources (Downloads) etc for a couple of weeks. I then began to turn on some of the other great features and after a few months my site stats were back to what they previously were however still over 50% less than what they were years ago. Over this time users were telling me in private conversations how much they liked the extra features of the site and a poll, even with a small amount of respondents said they preferred IPS to XF, I was also taking note of other stats like users that found the site more complicated. I turned some of the IPS things off like parts of What’s New, the Search function was one area they did complain about as the usage of Search dropped dramatically and many other things. The site still wasn’t growing again though. During the 6 months I thought to expand the site Internationally after all flying a plane is the same in every country. I moved servers to the US LA location and up spec’d the server to counteract some of the latency. This failure for two reasons, one that my site was predominately Australian based users (85%) which deterred the international population and two, even though my new server was extremely powerful IPS still suffered to the existing Australian userbase. The interesting thing is my “Off Topic” XF v2 site didn’t suffer that much. Through server stats I found IPS very resource hungry. I tried to get the server optimised by approaching two IPS server gurus however they declined.

 

After 6 months of IPS use I found many weaknesses in the Admin side of site management which became very frustrating every time you went to do something at the level of my knowledge. Things that I could do so easily in XF I couldn’t do in IPS. I accidentally deleted a whole forum by simply trying to delete all guest posts in that forum (IPS named Guests differently). This was the straw that broke the camels back and at this time BOB had finally released his great Showcase and Articles addons. I then started to look at how I could create what I needed in XF by thinking outside the box.

 

I found that I could create a “On this day in Aviation” section using Andy’s Calendar addon, I could create a better menu system that could single out components of Resources into separate sections like a Clubs and Schools section (this was a big impact to me which previously couldn’t be done) and create a powerful Classifieds section by using mostly core functions with a little extra development. As a final solution I would also pay to get developed all the extra functionality and features that I need to hopefully get aviators back to having and using a comprehensive repository of all the information they need in a single location so they don’t miss some little thing that may save their life.

 

So, that’s my story of my site, it has some half a million posts, 11,000 registered users although that would be around 25,000 if I didn’t cull old users over the last 18 years. Some issues that I need to consider:

  • Facebook is toxic to forum sites and will destroy them unless forum software developers realise that a forum site needs to offer more than a Facebook Group by creating so much more functionality for a site’s users, a “whole web site” like IPS offers and not just a “forum” site (note some subjects are ok in just forums but others are not)
  • The toxic environment at XF needs to be fixed. I am not thick skinned, but no one should be subjected to being attacked for having a different opinion than others and no one knows more about a site than the owner of that site, drop the keyboard courage and alpha male attitudes and HELP each other, that’s why it is called a community
  • Addons are evil but in some cases a necessary evil. You can get robbed, you can get crap addons, and you can as in most cases be left high and dry with a damaged site. Greed has to go, and we have to start helping each other because you never know what damage you are doing to a persons site with your addon an in my case it can cost people their lives by not having a good working resource available to them
  • IPS and XF both have some fantastic advantages and it is very very hard to choose between the two so think about if your site is successful what will the users want and what will protect your site from the vulture of Facebook

Sorry for this being so long and I could even add much more to help others, if my story has helped anyone and yes, I have made some mistakes but I have made some good decisions after all I had an incredible site that helped thousands and I wish I could find the answer to get back to that, but thank you for reading it and I wish you and your site great success

Edited by Admin
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+1 to that. Keep fighting the good fight Ian. Many appreciate this site but not many say so.

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Thanks Ian , I have been around almost all of that time...and complain when you change things....AGE ?..

But through all of your problems with this site I have remained...I don,t comment much b but take it all in .

Bernie .

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CanadaDan learned to fly in his 60's, built his Savannah at 65 and can't wait to get back in the air every spring - this year at 71. Recreational Flying provided the inspiration, a wealth of honest opinion on all flying-related topics to peruse and digest and a good measure of laughter, common sense and companionship.

I'm not sure I could have done it without you.

How can I help?

Dan

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That's really great to hear...Please just keep posting about your flying endeavors and get as many others to join in

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Ian, I very much appreciate all your efforts and tenacity. Although I rarely post, as I don't have anything worthwhile to contribute, I do follow along keenly on the sidelines, enjoying the wealth of experience shared by posters. This site is my cheap vicarious flying enjoyment - I would really miss the experience if it was not here. Thanks again. Cheers John

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I'm useless on IT advice Ian and you know that. We all put effort in but you most of all have a more easily "quantifiable" and LARGE COST input which must concern you at times as to whether it's all worth it. We all go through that process many times in various stages of our lives so it's entirely Normal for you to do it , perhaps many times as your personal and economical circumstances change. We can't all just expect that this facility will continue and be better as good or even worse than now. Your providing this forum is appreciated by me of course but I don't have the right to take it for granted, nor does anyone else. You must get some satisfaction out of it as it is successful certainly but your expectations and targets met are what will count. I'm addicted to many aspects of flying. Many of my mates have had enough of it and given up. There seems to be a lack of expertise in decisions and progressive rule changes. Only experienced pilots know what's really going on at the sharp end (so called )in various corners of the Aviation spectrum. Not sure enough of them are being listened to or permeate the corridors of Power. Thanks for everything, Mr Baker. Nev

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Please let me vent.......................................... I am absolutely F'n sick and tired of people in the forum software industry...I have been trying to get 3 functions developed for the site on the XF platform, spent around $1,400 USD (about $2,000 AUD) and NOT ONE OF THEM HAS BEEN DEVELOPED AND DELIVERED. A waste of money to get a Classifieds system, a Google Earth Airstrips and Clubs/Schools maps and a Facebook/forum integration system. There are many more addons I need developed like a Clubs section, a Suppliers section, a Help Desk system and more but I am getting ripped off losing money every step of the way...F'n TURDS...BASTARDS....I am sick of it, this whole bloody software industry I am so close to just closing the site and going to Facebook which is free What is even more frustrating is that IPS that I tried has a Classifieds system, Clubs section, a Suppliers section and a bloody good on-hand developer in @Ahmed Zayed that did anything I needed, properly and cheap but IPS is so bloody resource hungry and lacks much of the Admin tools that XF has and is more complicated for the end user to use Do we just go to Facebook but then that is so bloody limited with what you can provide I don't want to stuff people around and go to IPS and that also has issues but has everything I don't want to stay with XF and lose thousands of dollars trying to give what I really want to give This world is getting worse and worse with young people's arrogant attitudes and the biggest driver of a person now is PURE GREED

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I have been here all of 10 minutes. One of the reasons is, it’s a forum. I ditched Facebook 2 years ago.

Forums were the only thing 20 years ago and that format worked well for everyone back in the day. Go to Facebook and you have lost control and they keep shifting goal posts.

Maybe you are trying too hard to add new features? All this coming at a big cost imposed by software developers who talk big but don’t deliver. Taking your money under false pretences :-(

A basic discussion forum is fine and maybe the bells and whistles have to fall by the wayside?

 

Cheers,

 

Jack.

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Posted (edited)

Thanks guys, I just had to vent as I lost it when I checked my emails this morning and still no replies to my update requests made nearly a week ago from any of the developers. But still, the question is the problem

Edited by Guest

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It is great just as it is. No further bells and whistles needed. Just let it run for a month then reassess what you want to do.

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Thanks for your efforts and persistence on maintaining the site. Have you considered a Pateron or similar type donation site to raise some revenue? I'm sure many of the site members would donate.

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Donate right here on the site, it’s easy and no third party skims any commission off your donation :-)

 

Cheers,

 

Jack.

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Donate right here on the site, it’s easy and no third party skims any commission off your donation :-)

 

Cheers,

 

Jack.

 

Thanks for that and cheers

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Good products often suffer from poor management and egotistical factions that become destructive influences. I spent 30 years in the IT industry and saw this many times over my career. The company I joined had revenues around 30 million US and my role was to provide the best and most cost effective information solutions to the 1200 staff. When accepting a role as IT Manager I got together with the team and through mutual agreement had my title changed to Information Services Manager as it was the service provided that made the difference. The technology was just a delivery mechanism. In 10 years our revenues had grown to half a billion US, we had some of the best fully integrated information systems operating and were taken over so I took the money and retired at 55. That was the result. The journey was one of continuous battles with egotistical development and software marketers, litigation for contract failures etc. The road is often long and very hard. At the end I was exhausted but a year off & my new life began.

 

The original concept of facebook was good but it soon became a vehicle for trolls and dissenters. I note that shareholders are now trying to oust Zuckerberg due to his failures and poor public relations efforts and the stock value has plummeted.

 

Without doubt this site provides the best services for recreational pilots available and I take my hat off to Ian for his tenacity and dedication over the 18 years. The IPS cf XF issue is one of those battles that had to be fought & we as the end users are the final beneficiaries. The war is obviously far from being completely won and it is always frustrating when promises fail to be delivered in a timely fashion. Keep the pressure on Ian but remember that we as users do not mind delays in enhancements, after all if it wasn't for you we wouldn't be here at all.

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A very interesting read Ian, into a world I have very little knowledge & understanding of. My hat's off to you, for your persistence & for maintaining a fantastic resource for pilots. A very sincere thank you. .. donation following

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It is a daily ritual Ian.

 

A terrific site and yes I contribute to it quite often in tell us about your last flight, incidents and accidents and quite a few others on your terrific site, still sad to see quite a number of contributors on here have since passed, some through stupid risk taking activities and some through bad judgment and bad luck.

Yes I may be vocal at times and straight to the point regarding some accidents, but I’m a realist and sometimes you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to work out how they met their maker, I am with you all the way to try to help people survive the sport and passion we have for aviation.

 

Keep up the great work as hard at it is.

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I won't do facebook. Nev

Neither will I!

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