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To that great archive in the sky

June 15, 2012
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I assume you don’t spend as much time perusing bird listservs as I do.  My weekly responsibility to round up rare birds for the ABA Blog has be working the links at the invaluable Birdingonthe.net on a weekly basis.  Trust me, there are a lot of them and it takes a good amount of time to get through them.  And while it’s sort of cool to know what people are saying about a whole host of vagrants or various birding conversations in various birding mini-cultures across the continent, it isn’t anything to brag about.  Because, trust me, you really don’t want to do that.  You know the lady that posts about the common birds at her feeder?  The seemingly inane ID question from the birder who clearly hasn’t taken the time to think about it?  The admonishments about cats or hunting or politics?  Yeah, that stuff is everywhere, and it clutters up the rare bird news in one state or province as much as it does anywhere else.

But every once in a while I’m surprised by something not related to an impressive sighting.  And this week, while cruising through the reports I find that one of the grand old listservs, a vibrant community, has pulled up stakes and moved on to where this blog title refers too. MDOsprey, the listserv of Maryland and DC, is no more.

There’s the well-worn line from Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina (which I haven’t read or anything so don’t get ideas) about happy families being alike and unhappy families being unhappy in their own way.  Perhaps that can apply to listservs, too. Maryland’s was like that too, in the sense that it had a hard cap of 600 members, no more, and serious MD birders had to get on a waiting list to be able to receive and contribute to, their own state’s birding community.  There is a fairly good reason for this, in that the listserv was hosted by an individual who paid a not insignificant amount of money to keep it running (you other listserv users in other states may not know that typically these things are hosted by university servers which have a much larger capacity).  But still, it’s really weird to not be able to contribute to your own listserv, and does sort of inadvertently foster the sort of exclusionary atmosphere which can, and in this case apparently did, nurture resentments.

I’ve written before on the question of whether listservs serve a useful purpose anymore.  I think state and local listservs absolutely do, but national ones hardly at all.  As one who relies on listservs to find rare bird sightings, I have more respect for them than perhaps I did before. They’re a great resource, even if searching their archives is next to impossible and you occasionally find yourself in the middle of a raging flame war.   Such as, for instance, the last days of Maryland’s listserv, which went down in a blaze so bright it could probably be seen from space. Seriously, check it out.

Of course, now I have to find another resource for rare birds and vagrants in Maryland.  Fortunately, out of the wreckage of Osprey comes some sort of phoenix in Maryland Birding.  But lesson learned, folks.  Push too hard on the cat thing and the whole ball of wax comes apart.

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3 Comments
  1. June 15, 2012 10:46 am

    When I was working in the east coast for a few months a couple years ago, I subscribed to the MDO and I was shocked at how strict they were, but it seemed to be a good listserv with great reports. I didn’t know they capped the number of subscribers, so I don’t know how I got in when I did.

    Utah has three main listservs. They are all good, but have a different approach. BirdNet is design for rare bird reports only. BirdTalk is for posting sightings and discussing birding related topics, but has strict limits on posting links to blogs with ads and not all topics are allowed to be discussed. UBird arose about a year and half ago which allows discussion of everything, no limits. I prefer UBird as I enjoy sharing my enthusiasm for birding through my blog. UBird participants have generally been great and the discussions don’t very often deviate to the cringe-worthy.

    My favorite listserv has to be IBLE (Idaho Birders Linked Electronically). It is an open and friendly forum and Cliff Weisse, the administrator quickly puts an end to personal attacks that very rarely occur.

    I do subscribe to BirdChat, which has a larger continent or global forum. I enjoy about 10% of the posts there.

    No matter the listserv, I hit the delete button on my email service a lot after a quick scan, but feel the good out-weighs the bad.

  2. June 15, 2012 4:16 pm

    The concept of limited enrollment seems insane to me. With that said, I would have blown it up like that if it was my list. I’ve spent a week or two here and there moderating a statewide list and it’s not fun. It’s amazing how many people are clueless about technology (and how many others are crazy in how they want things run).

    Somewhat related, a year or two ago I started to draft a proposal on why the ABA should offer to host lists. Think it’s worth dusting off and finishing up?

    • Nate permalink*
      June 21, 2012 9:53 pm

      Yeah. Definitely. I’d like to see that published, I’ll be Ted Floyd or Michael Retter might be interested

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