29th August. Bird News Via Twitter

Rare Bird News Via Twitter

It seems like only yesterday since I took delivery of my very first pager from Birdnet. I recall that it was something the size of a fag packet that required funny sized batteries and didn't have the ability to be switched to silent so had to be stuck in a draw when you didn't want disturbing. I can even remember the very first message - 1st Winter Glaucous Gull (back when we called juv's 1st winters) at Broomhill Flash! Things moved on a bit with a pager that displayed more information took regular AAA batteries and had the ability to be set to silent during unsociable hours. This was all very modern in the early nineties, the internet was very young and even mobile phones were few and far between.
The pager was a revolution in birding. No more 0898 numbers (unless you didn't have a girlfriend, which many birders didn't) to the Norfolk rare bird cartel. You simply stuck it in your pocket and it fed your dirty rare bird habit. The pager had it's downsides, poor reception in some of the country's premier bird areas for one - though i most instances this has been solved it does mean that if you miss a message then you miss it completely!
Twenty years on since I first opened that jiffy bag from Buxton the technology hasn't moved on much at all. Whilst the pager has stood still mobile phones and the Internet have advanced at an alarming rate to the point at which you can't take a piss without someone 500 miles away knowing about it. After 16 years I finally became divorced from, among other things, my pager. It was a hard decision to make but I knew that something else would come along - something that would take its place and satisfy me just as much perhaps even more. It wasn't the cost that made me give her the push it was the outdated technology and constant breakdowns - I needed something fresh, something sexy and modern - the iphone.
The iphone gave me the ability to surf the rare bird websites, so I kept my RBA subscription going. It wasn't ideal. Unlike the pager I had to log on and browse, a much longer process than just scanning through the pager. Another downside was with the pager I had it set to alert me when a mega turned up, which meant that I could leave it on my desk and sometimes not look at it for days without getting paranoid. Had I made a mistake, had I been too hasty? I discovered the Birdguides email service at just a fiver per month. An excellent service with a great filtering system all I have to do is check my emails. I've used Birdguides with the iPhone for six months now and I like it. There is however a downside and none of them are the fault of Birdguides. Firstly If I just want notifying of megas I can set a filter to just notify me of them. There is nothing that I can do to set my email to just notify me of the megas but store lesser rares where I can browse them at my leisure. Like most birders I get a little excited at this time of year and it's good to know what's happening around the UK. To just keep the mega notification would mean me reverting to Birdguides website, again a bit of a pain particularly in poor reception areas. The main problem is that on the whole iphones email is slow and many occasions the fetch doesn't fetch and the push won't push. Jo's Blackberry email is quicker, but what I really want is an alert for megas and the rest of the info at my fingers quickly and without logging on. I'd conceded that this was how it was going to be until during a moment of boredom I logged on to Bird Boredom and discovered THIS
I've never used Twitter and probably never would, that is until now. In a nutshell the Twitter service, when used on the iphone or Blackberry is exactly like the pager. It doesn't alert you like a pager but you can set it up to text you for any of the regional, national or mega alerts. Texts from Twitter/Birdnet are free but your provider might charge your allowance per text. I've set mine to only text me for megas, but I can add texting at anytime. For instance if I was on the east coast for the day I could set up text alert in seconds and receive an audible alert for reports from the northeast region until I switched it off. Many mobile contracts and some pay as you go option have unlimited text so in theory you don't run the risk of exceeding your allowance.

The info is clear and in the same format as the pager service.
I chose National News, Megas and Northeast but you can choose all the available regions if you wish and unlike your pager there's no need to send your phone back to be reprogrammed when you want to switch regions.

Three screen shots. 1st shows how easy it is to switch the texts on via the Twitter website. 2nd The texts as you receive them. 3rd simply lick the 'stop texts' and you won't get anymore.


This is really what I've been waiting for everything that the pager did and more - no missing messages as even in poor reception areas you'll still receive them once you get your signal back. But best of all I won't be getting paranoid wondering what's about as a simple text will alert me of the latest mega.

I won't go into which service provides the most up to date or accurate info - I'll leave that kind of bitching to Bird Forum. For me they all have the good points and bad points, but if you are worried about the quality of this information you need worry no more. The information is provided by Birdnet, it's the same as what goes out on their pager service but at a fraction of the cost.

I haven't been paid for this or offered a free service, David Marshall, of Birdnet, gave me a weeks trial if you're interested give him a call on 01158712888


John Hague said...

Hi Mark,

I think you've helped me make up my mind about what to do next. I've notified RBA that I would be ending my subscription and Dag was talking to me about the new Birdnet service (his oppo was also plying me with free beer) looks like Birdnet it is from now for me!


Yorkslister said...

Good innit, I can see lots of people switching over to this it seems to me to be about as perfect as it can get.

alan tilmouth said...

Whilst I can see how the format is attractive I do wonder about the long term viability of using Twitter as the basis of a profitable business. How long before birders realise they can re-tweet to mates without mates having to pay and organise themselves into discreet groups only paying one membership?
From Birdnet's perspective they must also have some nervousness that their service performance is outside of their control, if Twitter gets attacked virally or goes down there is little they can do, if Twitter adopts an in-message advertising policy or brings in some form of charge, again nothing Birdnet can do

Mark said...

I can see what you mean Alan, however how many birders out in the field will want to re tweet messages to their mates etc? I certainly can't be bothered doing that. What's to stop me forwarding emails or texts in the same way or cutting and pasting the message body from RBA or Birdguides and posting it the same way.
Not sure what Birdnets future plans are but for now I'll be sticking with it.

Colin said...

I remember the days when you sent postcards (at 3 "old pence" a time) to inform your mates about a rarity. Royal Mail was more efficient then, and they usually arrived within two days.

We all saw fewer rarities, but enjoyed what we did see much more. Didn't even have a land-line then and mobiles weren't invented.

Happy days!

alan tilmouth said...

I think that forwarding emails and texts happens to a degree, what makes it more likely with Twitter IMO is that it can be done to multiple individuals with two key taps, much simpler and therefore less hassle in the field.

Yorkslister said...

You can't retweet birdnet messages they are protected that's why you have to be added as a follower by them rather than just adding yourself as a follower.....or so I believe

Anonymous said...

I think you will find you can sort your e-mails by using so-called Message Rules. I use it for most things and feel sure you could adapt it for your requirements?

Mark said...

I think I covered the fact that you can filter the Birdguides messages. The problem that I have with email on the iphone is that it's not instant and often it takes a while to come through. The Twitter service can be set to text alert in an instant (well as long as it takes to connect to Twitter). Last week at Spurn it worked very well with the Yorkshire stuff coming through on text. During the first weekend of my trial I did have the Twitter service and Birdguides running together. I was very impressed with the Twitters ease of use and decided to sign up. There's very little between them price wise you choose.