1. Knockout post, Gavan.

    A couple of thoughts from the peanut gallery:

    Non-subscribers can get Ontbirds listings through the web-archive, which is updated at least daily. So there isn’t even the need for that minimum commitment.

    I also wonder if Ontbirds’ “just the facts, ma’am” posting rules are part of this complex issue. There is little room for actual conversation in it, and postings that deviate even slightly from the what-where-when format get reprimanded by the moderator. In that context there isn’t really any way for subscribers to become a community. Social relationships within the forum instead derive from the different sub-groups that use it (OFO/local field naturalists, photographers’ forums, Flickr users, etc). Some of these are inevitably less aware of birding ethics, ecology, or good practices than others.

    • I wonder if this is a weakness of the listserv structure itself. That subscribers get pushed sightings (via email) means lots of noise with little value beyond the information shared (nevermind the “Please unsubscribe me” emails that people post). So any attempt at discussion is just seen as more noise and squashed. The sites that I see “sharing” the Ontbirds sightings do little more than re-post—kind of like a newsgroup without opportunity for reply.

      The question may be would a different reporting method (oh, I’ll go ahead and say Twitter) change the ratio of signal to noise, OR is the network of reporting birds so entrenched and devoid of personal story that it, in a sense, it mandates the use of a similarly inflexible technology?

      The danger, in my mind, is that this just reinforces the fact that birding is about sightings and collection (for collection’s sake). There is no story officially allowed, just who, what & where (which, I’ll say is a kind of narrative, but a pretty impoverished one). The interesting thing that I’ve noticed is that there are some times when different narratives do leak out into the listserv. But I’m going off topic…

      The community that pops up elsewhere on-line (like Flickr) is an interesting point. I’ve always felt that Flickr could provide us with a different take on “wildlife photography”—the fact that people can story the photographs means that humans aren’t “disappeared” from the photos and (at its best) re-stories the encounter.

  2. Hey Gav,

    I think this is really interesting, and perhaps my comments come from my own lack of knowledge about birding, birders, or other ideas you’ve already written about. It seems that acceptance into the traditional boundaries of the birding community required some criteria of character that could be also considered matters of class, education, or other privileged status… and given that information about birds ought to continue to be free (oughtn’t it?), it seems mostly a matter of educating those who are ALREADY members of the community and having discussions about privilege that might break those barriers.

    I guess what I’m getting at, is that creating a cost for information takes any of the responsibility off the shoulders of those who currently control the means of access — people who can afford the time and money it takes to go out birding now know where birds are and can tell other people that fit their own criteria. I had a student in the Bronx who liked going birding with me, I gave him a pair of binoculars and taught him what little I knew — he never would have afforded the cost of entry into a pay-for-info birding site. Perhaps what needs to be done might involve some sort of tutorial to be passed, where information about ethical birding needs to be read and a “quiz” passed to gain entry? Just an idea…

    Very interesting, as usual.


    • I suspect that restricting access would have negative effects. But, just for argument’s sake daily access to the Internet is a fairly large barrier to begin with, as are binoculars (and most I spoke with say they began being birders when they got bins).

      This is where *who* is a birder gets interesting. The bird rescuers that I spoke with don’t see themselves as birders, but if you look at what they do (literally collect birds) you could say it’s not that different from birding. What I would suggest is different is the ethical space that they’re operating in: their collection of birds comes from a different ontological space and operates at a different physical scale.

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