A decade with GFF
The Global FlyFisher started as a stroke of luck, a flap of a butterfly's wing, a mere coincidence - more than 10 years ago. This is the previously untold story of one of the world's largest and most popular fly fishing web sites: your very own, the Global FlyFisher.
As many other great web sites, The Global FlyFisher was built on good intentions by a bunch of guys who mostly by chance met through the Internet back when that was still a fairly uncommon way of getting in contact.
The gang of four; the GFF partners.
Bob P, Steve S, Bob S and Martin J
Two personal homepages
Back in 1994 and 1995 Steve Schweitzer and Martin Joergensen sat thousands of miles apart and maintained each their personal little addition to the already then growing wealth of web sites out there.
This took place back somewhere in the transition between the years 1994, 1995 and 1996. They had each built a page with information on their home waters: Steve had a site about the US Midwest and Martin a site that dealt with Denmark, the Baltic and Northern Europe.
Now, as people who made websites back then will know: keeping a homepage updated single-handedly in the infancy of the Internet was an odious task. Everything was static HTML and most was hand coded. Maintaining a site meant handling hundreds of documents, using dumb text editors, linking manually, uploading with ftp and going through all sorts of witchery to get the ends to meet.
In other words: it was quite a bit of work.
On top of that were the expenses. There were no cheap web hotels, connection was made through slow telephone dial-up and most software available for the task was commercial and cost money.
So it was work and expenses.
Not a winning combination...
Steve and Martin were both members of the online community FF@ or Flyfish@ - a mailing list run by Danny Walls out of the University of Kentucky. Its history is actually told and compiled very well here by Tim Cavileer.
FF@ was one of the places where fly anglers communicated online. R.o.f.f. was another one - the news group recreation.outdoors.fishing.fly.
Both us guys were rampaging both places on occasion.
These forums were one of the reasons that Fishing Denmark, Martin's site, came to exist at all. Numerous questions from fellow European anglers had made him compile a standard text document entitled Fishing Denmark, which he sent out to people, who asked for advice about his native land.
The document contained advice on tackle, fly patterns, tactics and other things that could come in handy when flyfishing in Denmark.
Having sent out this document to dozens of people over the mail, Martin began to think about creating a web page for the content. He was involved in the creation of the web pages for the computer magazine PC World Denmark, for which he worked.
That gave him not only the knowledge on how to do it, but also the crucial server space needed to host it.
The first ever Fishing Denmark website aired in late 1995 on http://www.idg.dk/mj/ - a humble folder on the hard drive of Martin's employer IDG Denmark's web server, kindly provided by the local web master as a personal favour.
Steve on the other hand approached the subject a little more professionally, albeit in principle being more an amateur than Martin, who was an IT journalist and consultant at the time. After for a short while having run the MidWest Flytier from his provider's URL, Steve rented hosting facilities and registered a domain name for his site, and set up http://www.mwflytyer.com/ as a personal web site concentrating on his favourite subjects of fly tying and stream fishing in the US Midwest.
Both sites soon featured guest writers almost right from the beginning, and particularly Fishing Denmark had early on attracted some well-known people from the fly tying and fly angling community. But the sites also opened their doors to less known writers, who in many cases got their first shot at getting material published to a wider audience.
Handling guest writers editing their scripts, scanning pictures, scanning flies and later on photographing them quickly became a major task in running both sites.
Martin also had many of his articles in both English and Danish, which of course added further to the workload. On top of that he ran a weblog like feature, in which he tried to publish a regular column about the current fishing conditions in the Baltic. And remember that this was 1996! The term weblog was not even coined, and having one has to be one of the web's firsts.
As people who run web sites very well know, keeping a site updated can be quite a bit of work, and as the pages on these two sites were both hand coded in HTML, the job was sometimes too much, and updates could be far apart.
Swimming for the deep end
Even after a short while the Webmaster, who takes on the task of maintaining a web site on his own, will realise that he is swimming towards the deep end and forgot to bring a life vest.
Keeping up with new material coming in, maintaining contact with external writers, scanning flies and photos, handling mail and letters and much more soon becomes more than a man will ask for.
This dawned on both Steve and Martin after a short while.
Being a purely hobby based task for both of them, there was no economic driving force. The only real energy came from the wish to publish and make the information available to the public.
As no money was made - money was actually spent - they both had to cover expenses out of their own pockets and take care of their daytime job to make a living.
I'm in Hartford, CT tonite/tomorrow for biziness. I think it is a grand idea to start migrating our sites together. I will study the structure some more after this trip, but let's shoot for a grand opening at the end of January? I think January 1 is too soon. I also think that we could use the time in person to talk about the little issues and fine tune the site after that. I'm alittle cramped for time up to the show, so I'll probably not do too much to my site.
Steve, Mon, 21 Dec 1998
On top of that Martin had struggled with server facilities. Having been kicked off the original server (kindly, but anyhow), he had moved the site to a new location on his Internet-connection provider's web server. The site lived for a short while on the new address http://hjem.get2net.dk/fishing_denmark/ Sharing this limited space with many other costumers and being restricted in many ways, he soon announced the need for more and better server space on the FF@ mailing list.
Gert Jensen of Danica.com - an immigrant Dane in USA - offered him space on one of his servers, and Fishing Denmark moved once again, this time to http://danica.com/mj/.
Steve and Martin had crossed roads at a fly tying show in New Jersey in late 1997, and had almost felt like they were twins separated at birth. They clicked immediately both introducing other guy as the Webmaster of the second best fly-fishing website in the world.
As their paths separated Steve brought with him the thought of joining forces, and one day in 1998 called Martin on the phone with the suggestion. As Martin did a lot of travelling, he managed to make a stopover at Steve's place in Chicago during a business trip, and the two laid out the strategy for what would eventually become Global FlyFisher.
When Martin returned to Denmark he was carrying with him the blueprint for the new website - the Information Architecture, the basic structure, and a structure which still today is the foundation of The Global FlyFisher.
- 8,642 JPG-files
- 1,885 HTML-files
- 1,349 PHP-files
- 1,039 GIF-files
- 115 TXT-files
- 45 Adobe Acrobat files
- 7 CSS-files
- 6 Video files
- 6 Excel files
- 4 EXE-files
- ...some odds and ends
Steve was the one who coined the name The Global FlyFisher, and both agreed on the suitability and potential brand value in that name. The pair was already global and the existing content was truly from all over the world. With the aim of server all the globe's fly anglers the name was perfect.
The domain name was registered with the proper authorities and in late 1998 Steve set up an account with a hosting service that would provide the disk space and server facilities needed for the site.
Thw two met again at the International Fly Tyers Symposium in New Jersey, USA and laid out the final plans for the site, which at this time was already active, and up-and-running on the web.
When Martin returned back home he commenced work on the logo and a design and the look and feel of the first incarnation of the merged site was created and uploaded to the server during the first months of 1999.
Most content was moved over as it was with very few modifications, and the site was still all static HTML-pages.
The Grand Opening of Global FlyFisher as we know it was announced to the world in April 1999. You can see the "press release" here.
The first part of the job was to get all the existing content to adhere to the first feeble attempts to create a site wide design. That was accomplished partly through simple search-and-replace and partly through a lot of manual work.
At the same time new content started trickling in. Contributors were sworn in from both Europe and the US, and particularly the guest section grew as new material was added, but the rest of the site also expanded with lots of new articles.
One of the things we emphasized from the beginning was good photography. We insisted on that good pictures had to follow every manuscript. We were particularly focussed on the fly pictures, and in many cases we just got the flies in and took the pictures ourselves.
We're roaring! We usually have a bout 6-700 visitors a day, but these last days we have slowly grown to close to a thousand! The 5th was 928, the 6th 911. Let's get it up there! A thousand a day - every day!
Martin, Sat, 8 Jan 2000
Now, a site the size of GFF is not an easy ball to roll. Maintaining all these pages, and particularly the front page and the section front pages manually proved to be a grim task, taking up much too much time compared to the time spent on real publishing.
Meanwhile Martin had been kicked off his day job and started working as an independent consultant. This gave him time to take up an old interest of his: programming.
Being in the Internet age he took up programming on web servers rather than stand alone machines, and selected the Open Source programming language PHP over C++ and Pascal, which he had used before.
He put his newly gained skills into work for GFF and soon all kinds of automation would pop up, amongst other things the ever-popular wallpaper page.
In November 1999 Bob Skehan AKA Raske had had enough of his server blues, being hosted on a free web service, which at one point started charging its users a fee. He also announced his need for web space, we on GFF of course immediately recognised his needs and stretched out an offer.
The addition of the streamers pages was a major one to GFF and Raskes section soon drew its good part of the traffic - and still does.
Steve, Martin and Raske had all recognized Bob Petti as a very talented flytyer and writer, and Bob had already contributed to all our sites.
Still lacking the time to keep up publishing to the level they wanted, the three current partners decided to invite Bob to join in.
Bob agreed - reluctantly, actually, out of modesty - but was eventually persuaded.
He immediately started contributing on a regular basis, and has done that ever since.
Having some quite substantial expenses to run the site and spending an equally substantial amount of time on the site made us think; why not make some money on this?
We didn't want to become a shop, so instead we aimed at the magazine concept and introduced ads on the pages.
During a little less than a year we tried different models of advertizing, banners, sponsored competitions and other semi-commercial activities.
We learned two things:
- People, businesses and other sites wanted to gain access to the 2-4,000 daily visitors we could muster
- Administrating banner ads, setting up competitions and distributing prizes was not really what we wanted spend our time doing
The net result of that venture was that we decided to drop all thoughts of commercialism and just paid the expenses out of our own pockets.
That saved us a lot of fuzz, and spared some energy that we could spend on the fun stuff: publishing.
GFF shop... not
Sometime back before the year 2000 we ventured into an online shop experience in a feeble attempt to raise some money for the expenses that we had (and still have) on GFF. Steve had some caps and shirts done, and we set up an online shop.
The products were really nice and the shopping system simple and smooth. The interest was far from overwhelming, but we did get a few orders in from all kinds of places all over the planet.
The only - and very big - problem was that handling an order for a single cap for 7 US dollars and mailing it off to New Zealand or Sweden was not only a piece of work that none of us needed, but also an expense rather than a source of income.
We never managed to make any money at all on any of our merchandise, but wound up closing down the shop and using the caps for gifts to friends. Both shirts and caps and long since distributed amongst ourselves and good friends, and we are probably not going to enter into an online shop adventure ever again.
GFF caps: Not available any more!
Business as usual
The automatic system has run for a few years now, and has been expanded and tuned to perform well and offer the facilities needed to run a large site.
Our publishing frequency has gone up and down, but since we have no obligations to anybody but ourselves - and about 2,000 daily readers - we are much more at liberty to take a week (or a month) off now and then.
Articles seem to come in waves when one of us gets the time, but the backlog is large enough to satisfy most passers by as well as regular visitors.
The original sites
Steve's page on Midwest flies and fishing
Martin's page on Baltic sea trout fishing - plus a bunch of other things.
Raske's New England Streamer Page
Raske's page with a whole lot of high quality info on North-eastern streamers.
The people behind GFF
Steve Schweitzer, Parker CO, USA, was one of the original founders, contributed content from his Midwest Flytyer web site in 1996. Steve has been a business consultant and has worked in as diverse industries as the glue and adhesive business, telecom and has made his living as an independent contractor in various industries.
Martin Joergensen, Copenhagen, Denmark, the second founder, contributed his web site Fishing Denmark in 1996 to form the first incarnation of Global FlyFisher. Martin is a biologist (almost, short of a thesis) from the University in Copenhagen, but has always made his living as an IT consultant and journalist. After a short stop as the editor-in-chief of the Danish PC World he is now back in consulting specializing in web site project management and Content Management Systems.
Bob Skehan AKA Raske, Benton, ME, USA, merged his popular site Raske's New England Streamer, Page with GFF 1999 and became a fourth member of the staff. Raske works as an engineer specializing in road construction.
Bob Petti, Kerhonkson, NY, USA, joined the GFF staff by invitation in 1998 after having contributed to both Fishing Denmark and The Midwest Flytyer. Bob is a software engineer with IBM and has been that for as long as anybody remembers.
We have visitors from all over the globe, but our prime groups are people from the US and the Western European countries. We do get hits and comments from more exotic parts of the world, and mails from Argentina, Chile, Taiwan, Russia and many remote parts of the world just confirms that we do live up to the Global in our name.
Our contributors also come from all over and even though they are predominantly American and European, we do cover the whole fly fishing world regarding content.
The Global FlyFisher has grown constantly during the last 10 years and will continue to do so. We are adding new material with uneven intervals, but we are adding material. We have no publishing plans as such, but just a list of stuff that we want to finish and get on the air, which seem to ever so often be exchanged between us.
We all have tonnes of books that needs to be reviewed.
We all have dozens of patterns, which we want to tell you about.
We all have contacts to people who want to contribute.
We also recieve the occasional gadget or gizmo that we find it interesting to try and test.
The only thing we don't get is more time. None of us have the time we need to finish all the stuff that we have in the pipeline.
What is in the pipeline?
Things which may or may not appear in a near (or far) future
And your stories! If you want to contribute, let us know. We always welcome authors; beginners, amateurs, seasoned semi pro's and hardcore professionals. All have equal space, and all get the same payment as we do: nothing!
But you can get your stuff online on one of the world's top fly fishing web sites. And ain't that something to strive for?
The hidden gold nuggets
There are still a lot of strange little corners of this site, which are rarely visited and sometimes completely forgotten for months on end.
The structure of GFF
Early on the Global FlyFisher grew so large that even we started loosing control. We would occasionally find stuff that we had forgotten, which for some reason was not linked to other pages, and because of that was lost.
We did several attempts to create a sitemap manually, but the first real overview was created with the automated publishing system. Now all major articles should be in the sitemap, and linked into the site in such a way, that they can be found.