Monday, October 22, 2012

Facebook Groups and Listservs

Recently, there was a discussion on the Ohio birding listserv [see October 17th for the beginning of the thread] pertaining to value (or lack thereof) of using Facebook to report bird sightings on birding groups. One person stated that it's "sad that Ohio rare bird reports are now showing up on facebook before they do on the listserve." I've observed this for Wisconsin, too, but I disagree that it's sad. Another criticism I read is that you can't get notifications of Facebook via email. That's simply not true. Just modify your personal group settings and you can receive post notifications to your email address.

A fair point, someone lamented that Facebook is blocked by some employers (I'm fortunate that being active on Facebook is an aspect of my job). Though employers may block access to Facebook, the Wisconsin Birding Facebook group has an RSS feed that is accessible from virtually anywhere.

Others mentioned cross-posting reports, which is easy to do. In fact, every Facebook group has an email address for publishing content. If you're a member of a Facebook group and a listserv, simply include both email addresses in your reports. I know some birders in the Wisconsin Birding group who do just that; their reports show up on both platforms by sending one email message.

One of the rarest birds to visit Wisconsin in the past few years was initially reported to Facebook: the Middleton Golden-crowned Sparrow of December 2010. It was only a matter of minutes for first birder to show up to see it. Word spread quickly and over 300 birders were able to add this bird to their personal records over the course of the 10 days it was present.

I agree with what Kim Kaufman wrote about the Ohio Birding Facebook group, specifically where she stated: "It [Facebook] allows us to share information in more of a conversational style that can be very helpful for beginners." So very true, and I see this as one of its greatest strengths. My Mom would have never joined a birding listserv, but she enjoys reading the posts and looking at the photographs of birds from all around Wisconsin via Facebook. That being said, it's interesting that some of the old-timer birders refuse to use Facebook out of privacy concerns. There are a billion people on Facebook and perhaps we're not as important, individually, as we think we are. If someone wants to find something out about you, the Interwebz are full of resources beyond Facebook to achieve that. But why would they want to?

I also agree with the comment Peter Fissel made on the Wisconsin listserv that birders in our state do a good job at spreading the word whenever rare bird observations are made. In any given engineering problem, redundancy is often as important as efficiency, so long as one doesn't take away the strengths or benefits of the other. Beyond our computer screens, there are still a lot of phone calls being placed from the field. Though I didn't see the bird myself, when a Black-throated Gray Warbler was spotted at Pheasant Branch, I made sure that a few birders who were only minutes away from the conservancy were aware of it by calling them on my cell phone, to which they were very grateful.

Facebook Groups? Listservs? Cell Phones? Pony Express? What are your thoughts?

Link: Wisconsin Birding on Facebook


  1. In the places I live, the listserv has been the primary source for reporting sightings and it is convenient to have one main source for this information. Yet I don't begrudge the relevance of social media in the process of sharing interesting sightings. I know a few birders have a selective phone tree, but I've not been invited into those groups yet.

  2. As an avid Facebook user I agree with much of your post- although with Facebook recently going public and the corporatization really starting to show (paid promotion of pages having an effect on how frequently you see your 'favorite' page updates in your timeline), I wonder if it's just a matter of time before many of us jump ship.... we're in uncharted territory so we'll just have to wait and see.

  3. David,

    I have a lot of control over what I see and don't see on my Facebook page and timeline. As a Chrome user, there are many extensions available to block unwanted content on Facebook.