Friday, January 26, 2018

Social Media Mess!

To check the pulse of migration or find rare birds, one can follow what other birders are seeing across Wisconsin through eBird, the email LISTSERV (WISBIRDN), and social media (primarily Facebook). During spring migration, reports from the southern part of the state can be of keen interest to those to the north, and vice versa during fall migration. Naturally, these online tools are equally useful to those who want to pump up their annual county and state lists, which they predictably do year after year.

When I created Wisconsin Birding on Facebook back in 2011, it was my hope to have a centralized social media site analogous to a LISTSERV, but where state reports could include a photograph or two. (Attached image files aren't allowed on most birding LISTSERVs.) Additionally, I wanted it to be a place to help new birders learn how to identify birds. The group ultimately grew to over 6,000 members, but in the early years it didn't take long for a few splinter groups to form. Birding Wisconsin, the first large splinter group, now has close to 7,000 members.

While the first few splinter groups weren't entirely necessary, they came about largely due to personality rifts between birders. It's easy enough to create a new group: invite your friends, create some guidelines, pin a "welcome" post, and you're off the to the races! Though some personality conflicts mellowed over time, new ones formed, and thus, more groups!

I have no idea how many Wisconsin birding groups exist on Facebook today. In addition to 2 or 3 main groups, there's Wild Birds of Wisconsin, Northwest Wisconsin Birding, North Central Wisconsin Birding, Minnesota & Western Wisconsin Birding, Northeast Wisconsin Birding Club, Southern Wisconsin Birdwatching, Wisconsin Bird Watching, Bird Nerds of Wisconsin, Wisconsin Green Birding Challenge, Advanced Birding in Wisconsin, Chequamegon Bay Birding, various Wisconsin CBC groups, Bird Atlas groups, several county and regional groups, bird photography groups, and more.

About a year ago I closed Wisconsin Birding and created Wisconsin Birding Reports. I did this because observational reports in the former group were getting buried by photographs of house sparrows, starlings, woodpeckers, bald eagles, and cardinals. I'm not knocking these birds, but such content defeated the group's original purpose. It became less about birding and more about “Look at my pretty bird photograph!” and how many "likes" one can garner. This might be a reason that other groups were created―other birders lamented the content and went off to start their own thing.

Today I think it's such a convoluted mess that I've decided to give up using Facebook birding groups. In my view the groups are redundant, disconnected, and absurd. The final straw for me was when a Dane County group launched a few weeks ago. Though I live in Dane County, I'm not going to post to or follow yet another Wisconsin birding Facebook group. I don't see why anyone else should, either. It's more work for birders, increases the probability of someone missing a report, and promotes isolation and exclusivity by region or county. I suppose a good bird sighting will eventually trickle through the near endless stream of groups, but efficient it is not.

So, what now?

I've been entering my observations into eBird since 2007 and recently rejoined the Wisconsin Birding Network LISTSERV. Naturally, eBird is probably the best way today to keep abreast of notable and rare birds observed in Wisconsin (and elsewhere). You can check for recent outings via hotspots, or sign up for email needs alerts, or create your own BirdTrax gadget. The state LISTSERV has been around for decades. Sure, it's kind of old-tech and unglamorous, but at least reports are centralized and disseminated in a convenient and timely manner.

Simplicity – more is not always better.

1 comment:

  1. I have lamented the same decision for almost a year in Kansas. There is no easy answer to this or many of the topics birders discuss. Perhaps tomorrow I'll feel differently but for today as it has been for almost 10 years I enjoy considering your perspective and reading your thoughts.