Introducing the Secrets of

Date: 30 June 2008; Length: 5:02 creator Dr. Todd Curtis reflects on the 12 years that has been in operation, and introduces the "secrets" of, which are the tools, insights, and lessons learned that have been key to the development of the site and its audience.

Audio: MP3


Welcome to the Conversation at, with your host Dr. Todd Curtis.

This is show #52 - Introducing the Secrets of

In this show, I'll reflect on the 12 years that has been in operation, and then I'll spend the rest of this show letting you in on the secrets of, which are the tools, insights, and lessons learned that have been key to the development of the site and its audience.

While the Internet has been around for almost 40 years, the World Wide Web is a more recent invention, having only been around since 1990. It took several years before there were a significant number of aviation safety related web sites up and running, with many of the early sites run by the NTSB, FAA, and other government organizations.

Then as now, these web sites provided tremendous amounts of data, especially about accidents and incidents. These organizations were excellent resources for the news media, the aviation safety community, and for the traveling public.

While these sites had great information in some areas, they didn't have all things for all users. One of those missing resources was a web site that answered basic questions that passengers, and even some industry professionals, had about airline safety, basic questions like "When was the last time that a particular airline had a crash?," or "How many times has a particular aircraft model been in a fatal accident?" I knew there was a need for this kind of resource, because I was frequently asked these kinds of questions by people from all walks of life, and even by many of my colleagues in the aviation safety community.

In 1995 when I came up with the idea of starting the web site, the goal was to answer these kinds of basic questions, especially questions that could be thoroughly answered using publicly available data.

While the idea was a good one, creating a web site back then wasn't easy task. Unlike 2008, where there are many tools available that make it easy for even for a novice to create or modify blogs, web sites, and other online content, the web of 1995 was largely built by hand.

Even basic tasks like obtaining a domain name or finding a company to host a web site was a chore. In spite of these technical hurdles, the web site took shape in the early months of 1996, and it was officially launched on July 3rd, 1996.

Bigger than the technical hurdle of launching the site was the issue of how to get people to visit the site. Addressing this problem was a challenge that was overcome using the first of the major secrets, marketing.

There are many ways to describe what marketing is, with one variation being developing a relationship with customers in order to make some kind of sale. In the context of, the intent wasn't to sell goods and services, but to sell ideas, especially the idea that anyone who has an interest in airline safety issues has the ability to understand basic and even complex ideas about airline risk and safety.

Using marketing techniques was the first big secret of, but making that secret useful took a lot of work. I first identified my key customer groups as being airline passengers, aviation safety professionals, and the news media.

I focused on the last two groups, even though their population was much, much smaller than the population of passengers because these two groups could take actions that would cause the passenger population to visit the site.

I felt like a salesman, writing or calling any member of the media or any aviation safety organization that may have had an interest in what had to offer. Like most salesmen, most of my feedback consisted of outright rejection and unreturned emails and phone calls. The ones that did give me the time of day made all the frustration worthwhile. The occasional newspaper or magazine article would reference the site, and when that happened it would cause significant boosts in traffic. Smaller, more steady increases came when aviation safety web sites would link to my site.

The key for the site's traffic growth was to regularly keep contacting news media and aviation organizations to find people and groups that were willing to work with my site. Contacting individuals, even by email, was a tedious process. It was however a necessary one. As important as traditional media and organizations were for making the public aware of the site, there were many other ways of marketing the site, especially by using search engines, directories, and other online tools.

The next episode in the Secrets of series will focus on those online resources, both past and present, that allowed me to continuously market the site with little or no ongoing effort.

For more information about this show, and about other podcasts, please visit There you will find links to related resources, as well as contact information.

Thanks for listening, and I'll see you next time.

Additional Resources
Secrets of Special Podcast Series
Other Podcast Episodes

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Introducing the Secrets of -- Revised: 30 June 2008