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A tenuous balance: Blogs and Listservs

October 21, 2010

This is probably what you would consider to be a “meta” post.

Most of us are probably members of our local or state listservs, as it’s a great way to keep up with recent sightings, trends, and the odd in-depth discussion.  I’m a fairly regular contributor to my state listserv, or at least I was when I was getting out more and seeing rarer birds, but these days my contributions are fewer and farther between even though I’m regularly writing on birds and birding on my blog.  Even so, that’s a line I don’t like to cross.

Sure, I have my blog URL prominently displayed under my name when I do post, and on the occasion that I find a bird that would be of interest to the broader community, especially if I have photos, I’ll direct people to the appropriate post.  I’ve even crowd-sourced a ID when I needed help.  I think that’s a pretty well-established way to bridge the gap and generally is within the run of conversation.  On the other hand, if you have a history of listserv posts intended to spark a certain kind of discussion and decided to take that conversation to a blog, noting that move would be within the realm of reasonable references.  But beyond that, I’ve never been comfortable using the listserv specifically for the sake of plugging my blog and nothing more.  I never felt that was particularly appropriate but, of course, your mileage may vary.

Of course, if someone else were to find one of my posts and use it as a jumping off point to inspire discussion on a listserv that’s fine, and I’ve been fortunate enough for that to happen and thank those that think enough of what I wrote to do that.  I’ve found that this sort of traffic burns hot and fast however, and while it’s exciting and can be addicting, it rarely inspires the sort of long term growth that anyone looking to expand their blog’s reach is probably looking for.  That sort of  growth is only achievable the hard way unfortunately, through consistent and quality content over a long period of time and some clever search engine optimization.  And I say that as someone who has had to grow a blog twice.  First, the original Drinking Bird on blogspot, and second, this wordpress based blog when I switched over last year (which still hasn’t reached the peak of the blogspot site).  So even if I were to plug my blog on a listserv, it’s unlikely to mean anything to my traffic, and more likely to annoy people.   Which is not really what I want to do, but I could just be overly sensitive about that sort of thing.

Anyway, that’s just my opinion.  I’m legitimately curious as to how other bird bloggers handle this issue, as the listserv/blog dichotomy seems to be unique to bird and nature blogs as other communities haven’t taken the listserv model far as birders have.

So what do you think?

  1. October 21, 2010 7:49 am

    It sounds like your blog/listserv interface is about where mine is. I will, however, rarely put a link directly to a post that features pictures of a regional rarity or something else of interest.

    For example, a day or two after I had posted a blog post with photos of crippling looks at wood-warblers in NYC I had a birding outing that netted me some birds worth reporting to the NYC listserv. I made my report, and, because several emails had already gone to listserv about the amazing looks available at Bryant Park, I put a link to my Bryant Park photo post.

    The problem comes, as you said, when people feel it is alright to send emails with just a link to a blog post without any reason for it other than naked self-promotion. That is, or should be, regarded as spam, and listserv moderators/owners seem to universally dislike it and usually the rules of the listserv say it is not allowed. Of course, enforcement of such rules varies.

    Netiquette. We need more of it.

  2. October 21, 2010 8:00 am

    I am not blogging anymore, as my blogging skills were mediocre at best, and that my type of birding does not provide a lot of exciting things to talk about. I mean, not too many people would be interested in sharing my excitement to add one more data point to the ebird bar chart, and later checking it the next day to admire -for 5 full minutes – that very cool one-week-extension of the American Tree Sparrow bar, for the hotspot that is only hot for a couple of other birders.

    But I used too, and I shared your point. And I also noticed that the peaks that occurs after such a message “hey come to my blog, I found something very cool” are only very temporary.

    But I can’t help but to think that the more people have the chance to check out your blog, the more (even if it’s a tiny percentage) people are going to like it and stick around. Specially in your case, because it is a great blog. And leaving your blog URL under your name everytime you post to a listserv is not a big deal anyway, people have the choice to click on it or not.

    And if you find something really cool, or want to tell others about an extensive trip you did, just posting a short abstract of your trip, and directing the readers to your blog can only save time to most people (they will only read a short abstract and not an extensive email). It might also make the length of the daily reports (most people can’t handle so many emails in a day, and choose to only receive one daily report) a little bit shorter.

  3. October 21, 2010 9:55 am

    I never minded anyone pimping anything bird related on our local listservs whether it be blogs or tours, but others on the list did. And usually when there was a complaint, it was more that some old timer held a grudge against the poster. I rarely posted a link to my blog, but I did include the link in my sig file. One night, one of the listserv moderators called me to ask how much money I made when someone clicks onto my blog because they were thinking of banning links to personal websites in sig files. Ah, if only making money on blogs were that easy!

    I unsubscribed in 2009 before going to Guatemala and never reupped after I returned. I did check the digest once a week. But I find myself using the listserv less and less. The clubs that offer bird programs I am interested in now have Facebook pages and create invites for events and the BirdsEye app alerts me to what birds are being seen. I get the info I used to get from listservs but without the troll factor that seems to come along with listservs.

  4. Nate permalink*
    October 21, 2010 10:19 am

    @Corey- I guess I don’t like anything on the listserv that’s not in context. I generally feel the same way about eBird lists sent by themselves too. Not useful. Though I admit that the delete key is right there (and even the report spam button if I’m feeling especially crotchety). There’s no established netiquette, and it doesn’t help that technology goes so fast that it’s hard to keep up.

    @Laurent- That’s a good point, and I don’t have any issue with people saying, “Hey, I went birding here (at a place of local interest) and here’s a write up at my blog”. That’s totally cool and I’ve done that. I guess the distinction would be posting a link to a post, as opposed to the blog itself. That’s the important difference as I see it.

    @Sharon- I could see that working, and I definitely think Birdeye is the future, but it would require statewide eBird use. I’ve had trouble getting the hard-core birdfinders to use it in my state. Regarding the monetization of your sigfile, wow. I wish that worked…

  5. October 21, 2010 1:04 pm

    Nate, interesting discussion and a dilemma I have had as well…at least I was concerned whether or not my fellow Idaho birders felt it was a problem or not.

    IBLE (Idaho Birders Linked Electronically) is the listserv I used for Idaho. I always have my web link under my signature too. I only promoted items on my blog there when I had info that benefited the greater bird community rather than just my blog. When I had an i.d. question, I posted it to my blog and posted a link to IBLE and asked for help. I held an eBird competition earlier this year and posted the leaderboard on my blog, and again posted a link to it on IBLE. I host a photo competition for Idaho birds too. I post notices to IBLE inviting participation. The same thing for the Birder Profiles I have been doing. I haven’t had any complaints come my way that I was abusing IBLE membership to drive traffic to my blog. Whenever I meet fellow IBLE’ers, they are always gracious and supportive of my blog efforts. Many comment that I was able to pull the separate parts of Idaho together in one birding family. I’m sure my regular listserv notes leading people to my blog irritated a few, but never enough for them to complain to me about it. The listserv moderators were always very supportive of my blogging efforts. I guess it all comes down to whether or not we are serving the birding community or serving our own vain ambition.

    Now that I have gone more global with, I have lost many of my Idaho readers as well as my world-wide followers. A short-term sacrifice I felt was worth it. Now its time to rediscover my own bird blogger voice in the wake of bird blogger consolidations.

  6. Nate permalink*
    October 21, 2010 1:43 pm

    @Robert- I think you’ve hit it. How is the blog post on the listserv serving the birding community? Because there really is a place for both blogs and listservs as a way to bring people together, and they both do different things well. Your blog in particular, if you don’t mind me saying so, was an excellent example of how a site can serve the greater community through community building and going beyond the conventional way blogs are used, as an outlet for trip reports and the like.

    I hope you find your niche, and I hope the consolidation of bird blogs will bring more attention to the greater bird blog community, because there are a lot of people who deserve that attention.

  7. October 21, 2010 6:01 pm

    And now I’ve gone and twitched a Prothonotary and pimped my blog post on the NYC listserv. But people definitely needed to see this bird…right?

  8. October 21, 2010 6:02 pm

    And what are the rules for pushing links in blog comments? And did I just break them?

  9. October 21, 2010 7:04 pm

    Well, this is a good and timely discussion. What is left out is discussion forums. I run two forums: The North American Birders’ Forum ( ) and the Illinois Birders’ Forum ( ).

    I don’t necessarily think that the tenuous balance is between blogs and listserves, because they are inherently different. Blogs are one-to-many. Meaning you have one person who is broadcasting what they have to say to many people. Yes, there are comments sections like this one, but it’s not the same dynamic as a listserve.

    Listserve is many-to-many. That very fact is also their Achilles Heel. Postings to the listserve just come barreling through to your inbox until you wind up with a subject line like “RE: RE: RE: RE: RE: RE: RE: RE: RE: RE: RE: RE: RE: RE: warbler…”

    Enter the forum. On a forum you can go as deep as you like, the conversation can go out-of-bounds and back again, driven by it’s members. Through “notification”…really just a name for “subscription”, you can subscribe to boards, topics or individual threads. You can unsubscribe with a click. And you can unsubscribe with a click.

    Plus…and this is the HUGE one: you can attach and embed photos or video in your forum post. Try that on your listserve. For ID discussions, a forum is absolutely the way to go.

    Anyway, I don’t think that blogs will be the ultimate doom of listserves. I think it will be the forum. And, for big, multi-author blogs (like the one I’m due to launch at the end of this month), the forum serves as the comments area…on steroids.

  10. Nate permalink*
    October 21, 2010 7:22 pm

    @Corey- I don’t see a link like that any different than a link to a flickr site or something. Totally acceptable. This is my final analysis. Links to posts- OK. Links to blogs – not OK. Blogs in signature files- totally fine. Write it in binary and bring it down from the mountain.

    As for links in blog comments, I’ll let it slide…. this time…

    @Greg- Forums are great and while I’m pretty ignorant of their ins and outs I can see that if they build momentum I absolutely agree that they can be more useful than listservs. Though around here, Carolinabirds has been trying to build a forum for ages and it just doesn’t get used. But you’re right, attaching photos is a huuuuge no-no on a listserv.

    I look forward to seeing your new blog!

  11. October 21, 2010 10:15 pm

    @Nate- The Illinois forum took about a year to take hold…then another 6 months or so to gain critical mass. It was through borderline obnoxiousness that I kept the IL listserve going to the forum, but today they live side-by-side in happiness. Pretty much every member of the listserve is a forum member and it’s kind of broken out like this:

    If someone is posting, “hey! I had my first Hermit Thrush of the fall…” they do so on the listserve. If they are posting about a gull they can’t identify, they do it on the forum. And so on. One neat thing that has happened on the Illinois forum (that is unique, as far as I can tell) is that people have been posting their daily sightings “blog-style”…meaning illustrated stories of the day’s adventure.

    But one thing that I found out pretty quickly is that there was a lot of talk going on (on the forum) about birding outside Illinois. I had the idea for the North American Forum first, but decided to start with Illinois and use it as a test bunny.

    In hindsight, I should have done the NA forum first. People will post on the IL forum asking for info and suggestions for birding in Texas, for example. Some IL birders who have been to Texas will respond…sometimes with more than enough info.

    But how wonderful will it be when 10 birders in Texas respond with detailed info for someone visiting from Maine. THAT is where the North American forum will shine…

  12. October 22, 2010 1:26 am

    As a receiver of TexBirds, a Blogger, and a very active Forum Member, I can say that I do not feel comfortable posting on a Texbirds, and if I did, would only post with something that I thought was important enough to post on the listserv. There is alot that gets posted that does not seem important to me, and is actually self-serving, and a very well-known birder was kicked off because he was promoting his business despite being several warnings, which tells me that they take an anti-marketting stance very seriously. I feel that passive marketting, like your address in your signature, is less invasive and acceptable in my eyes.

    It’s funny, but as a fellow ex-Birder’s World Forum member, I remember that you never marketted your blog until the past year. I didn’t have a problem doing it myself, because I was talking to my friends. I don’t remember how I found out about your blog, but I don’t think that it was through anything that you had on the forum. Personally, I think that you should have started doing so earlier.You need to market yourself, if you don’t, who will (besides me of course)?

    So do you market The Drinking Bird on your posts with the ABA or 10,000 Birds? As a fellow Blogger, I am a participant on Greg’s Blog and Forums and have my personal blog’s signature on the forums, but will not reference it on the big blog.

  13. October 22, 2010 7:21 am

    My listserv and blog activities are relatively separate. When I post on the state listserv (JerseyBirds) I have a link to my bird blog in my sig file, but I don’t promote it by announcing new posts on the listserv. I do announce new blog posts on my Twitter account, which is where I also post notes that I don’t think are important enough to bother the listserv with (relatively common birds around the yard). Part of the reason I don’t promote the blog much is because it’s not terribly active right now (though I am trying to get back into the swing of posting more regularly). Even if I do achieve a more regular posting schedule with the blog, I doubt I will be announcing new blog posts on the listserv; I guess I feel like it would be spamming the listserv.

  14. October 22, 2010 7:58 am

    I have on occasion put links to posts on the NJ listserv but it’s only been for trip reports. I usually do a summary of the highlights and then add the link with more details and photos. I don’t do this all the time, only if I got a photo or had something interesting to share.

    So where does my shameless self-promotion on Twitter and FB play into this? I think those tools are more geared to self-promotion.

  15. October 22, 2010 8:18 am

    What a timely email! I just got my email with the TexBirds digest and what do I find but a shortcut to a blog. I hdn’t noticed this before, and may have missed this type of entry 1 He also has a shortcut to this blog on his page

  16. Nate permalink*
    October 22, 2010 9:13 am

    @Greg- Interesting thoughts. You look at something like BirdForum and ask why couldn’t something like that work in North America. That’s a pretty thriving community. I wonder, though, whether the UK had as strong a listserv based culture as we do here. In any case, there’s no reason why it shouldn’t work.

    @Dave- I do market myself to some extent, though the fact that I’m generally uncomfortable doing so has more to do with my personality than any lack of opportunity to do so. For what it’s worth, both my posts at 10k Birds and the ABA blog direct back to here.

    @Jennifer- Your experiences and practices are very similar to my own, with the exception that I obviously post on my blog pretty regularly. 🙂

    @Pat- The way I see it, Twitter and FB are practically made for self-promotion. I see no issue with doing so in those venues.

  17. October 22, 2010 8:33 pm

    @Nate- well, I’m working very hard to make it happen. I think it’s just a matter of time.

  18. October 22, 2010 9:00 pm

    Not a fan of forums, I’d rather have my own copy of the discussion and not worry about what happens if the forum vanishes. Also find email is still the fastest to go through, I can read or ignore in a split second where the forum requires waiting for each page to load.

    I think there’s actually a spot for the ABA or someone to offer list and photo hosting specifically for birders (or naturalists). Bet it would be pretty easy to add an address to email photos to and that saves the photos and inserts a link and passes it on to the regular list.

  19. October 27, 2010 8:30 pm

    I generally don’t promote my blog on the state listserv unless there is something specific that other birders will want to see, like photos of a rare bird – and those occasions are very rare for my blog. Actually, I’ve found the state listserv less and less useful for bird finding. The best tips for new life birds or state birds have come from Twitter, blogs, and Birdseye.

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