Birders getting social
fo·rum n. pl. fo·rums also fo·ra
a. The public square or marketplace of an ancient Roman city that was the assembly place for judicial activity and public business.
b. A public meeting place for open discussion.
c. A medium for open discussion or voicing of ideas, such as a newspaper, a radio or television program, or a website.
One of the more exciting and gratifying aspects of birding involves community. Birders, simply put, are social creatures. We want to know what others are seeing, where to go to see what they’re seeing, what gear to buy…and on and on.
In the dark ages, we went to bird club meetings and actually talked to one another face to face, or used a thing called the telephone. This ancient equipment was tethered to the wall, and could often be found in public places, where you would drop things called coins into them, and be able to talk to another birder. In the mid 1990s, the telephone was largely replaced by the Listserve.
The Listserve allowed large numbers of birders to send messages to a pre-defined group of enthusiasts via electronic mail, or email. There are now listserves for every facet of birding, and every region in the world. If you live in California, for example, there are a dozen or so listserves you can join to read all about birding in your section of the state. If you’re interested in learning how to digiscope and want to ask questions, join the digiscoping list. Going to Maine on vacation? Join the ME list so you can find out what’s being seen before you go, or while you’re on the road.
Once you’ve subscribed to all the lists that interest you, you can expect dozens of new messages in your inbox every day! From drop-everything rarities to someone who wants to know how to keep House Sparrows off their feeders. It’ll all be there. All you have to do is open and glance at each one to know if you’re interested in reading further. It works. But it’s work.
What’s a forum?
A public meeting place for open discussion.
In the forum, birders could ask questions, answer said questions, share the day’s sightings and all of the other things you can do via a listserve. But things are arranged and organized. You don’t need to read through 30 messages saying “I saw it…it was so cool!”, to find out where it actually is. And new doors were opened. Birders could now share pictures, maps, movies and sound files. You can tell the world you saw a good bird, include a picture of it and insert a map.
This digital meeting place is easy to peruse. Topics are arranged in boards, such as sightings, conservation, gear, books, identification, and so on. If you are interested in knowing what rare birds have been seen lately, simply go to the Rare Birds board and browse. Nothing about House Sparrows there (unless the report comes from the Aleutian Islands).
Get more value from the forum – how to best use it.
- JOIN. But for a new user, a forum can be a little bit overwhelming. There’s a lot going on. Luckily, forum software is designed to make it easy to leaf through the sections and topics. After logging in—actually, that brings up a good point. While you can read most forums without being a member, you can’t interact or use any of the tools I’m going to talk about here. You’re just a lurker. So go ahead and join…you’ll be glad you did.After logging in, a whole host of tools become available to you. The first thing you’ll notice is that the forum recognizes you and says “hello!”
See? Very friendly.
- UNREAD POSTS AND REPLIES. Right up there where it says hello, it also has a couple of very useful links: “show unread posts since last visit” and “show new replies to your posts“. These two little guys are very powerful. In one click, you can see everything that’s been posted since your last visit or see replies to topics you’ve posted in. A large part of forum browsing and interaction can take place right there.
- NOTIFY. But there’s more. Another very powerful tool is the NOTIFY button. Notify sends you an email when a new post has been made in a board that you want to watch. So let’s say that you want to know immediately when someone posts in the “Rare Birds” section. Notify will send you an email as soon as that happens, and could even send it to your cell phone. But Notify is also contextual. It can alert you to a new post on a board you’re watching, or just within a single topic.
- RSS. Then there’s RSS: Really Simple Syndication. Each board has it’s own RSS feed that can deliver the new posts to your email inbox, or are accessible through any of the many RSS readers out there, including Yahoo!, Google and MSN. For a simple, easy to understand walk-through of how to use RSS from cNet, click here.
- BROWSING. Browsing a forum can be more fun than simply reading the messages as they come through, too. You can sort and re-order the posts by author, popularity, number of replies, date and so on. So if you’re browsing the Identification board and want to see which topic generated the most discussion, you can do that with one click.
- SHARING. For sharing information online, forums are unmatched. You can post a simple message, or you can assemble an elaborately illustrated post with photos, video and attached files (and links that don’t get broken or reformatted!). You can embed Google Maps, making it easy to share good birding locations very accurately. Discussing tough ID problems is a lot easier when you can share a picture, and then describe directly under it the problem. People responding can “quote” your image to point out something you might not have noticed, and everything is archived and searchable.
The big 3 bird forums
So what now? Go check out a forum, of course. Here are the “big three”:
This forum is part of the excellent Surfbirds web site. The scope of the forum is worldwide, but the bulk of the members and as a result the discussion, is based in the U.K. and mainland Europe.
Birdforum bills itself as “the net’s largest birding community”, and it very well may be. Like Surfbirds, its scope is worldwide. Also like Surfbirds, the members and discussions are largely European.
North American Birding
As the name would imply, this forum’s focus is on birds and birding in North America, including Mexico (and occasionally Hawaii). This forum includes eBird notable sightings feeds for all 50 of the United States, and the Listers’ Central database, where members can share their list totals.