I'm not usually one for having wave-cresting ideas so I was quite proud of the one that I had in February 2009 - a free, twitter based, rare bird network. At the time I had only just started getting the hang of the medium and my early ideas were flawed but essentially I tweeted bird info and people followed me. I soon discovered that this was way too much scope. I couldn't possibly live tweet all the news so I downgraded to daily summaries but this too wasn't much cop and I decided to run with just proper BBRC rares and selected other bits of interest.
Occasionally over the last 4 years I have phased and this is certainly a weakness in the service. It is a bloke and a phone and motivation can be difficult so when I got my first iPhone, 3 years ago it made providing the service simplicity itself. More recently as twitter has been properly embraced by the birding community other 'rival' accounts have come into being. Some persisted and others did not but by far the best is Rare Bird Network. I don't have the time to run something on this scale so what is achieved is immense BUT the truely groundbreaking idea was crowd-sourcing info and filtering it with local and mega hashtags. If properly taken up this approach is the future of rare bird news. I said it 4 years ago and this is the next stage. If you are using twitter for posting bird sightings then I urge you to use these hashtags. They are great and a superb way of creating a community where open input is mutually beneficial. And it is free.
Of course there have been criticisms of this type of venture (which certainly for me has no financial benefit and nor is one sought). The main two centre on the reliability of the news and the effects on the wider bird news community i.e. if I just parrot the news, how can I filter it effectively- I could in effect just perpetuate rumour and innuendo and secondly if I provide news for free surely that undermines those services that are paid for, especially if the news originates from them.
I have thought about this long and hard, especially since a barbed conversation with LGRE on twitter and I feel I can answer more fully in this format - hence the post. Firstly I don't think that news on twitter in its wider form needs verification formally. The informal nature of the medium means that context and evidence can be inferred and exercising judgement and qualifiers are probably the best way of proceeding. That said, a network of trusted sources develop and information is graded on that hierarchy initially. Feedback is instant and a mistake can be readily rectified so it is important to be happy and able to admit mistakes in real time to avoid unwanted petrol bills. If people didnt think that I was in essence genuine and thus trustworthy then they would not believe my news and rarevine would be redundant. If somebody is a stringer and tries to hoax me I block them or in other cases laugh at their thoughts. I will get caught out but then all have. I don't just parrot the news but use bird info services and twitter to garner information and if its from a trusted source why would I waste time further vetting it?
Linking the two issues is that of getting news out quickly - Lee accused me of being too indiscriminate to get news out there and as such the bird alerts now go with stuff too soon. Frankly this is laughable - the 2-3 big boys are all in competition to get news out early and they all monitor twitter. I have no advantage other than being up early in the morning with my kids... I am rarely the first to get news but it is nice when it happens. Linked to this was an accusation that twitter feeds will cause RBA and the like to go out of business. Twitter is a medium that relays information that is difficult to manage. Therefore if I hadn't started doing this, somebody else would and in a free market, information with no initial monetary value that is volunteered can remain free with little guilt. I made the point to Lee which largely seemed to bypass him that due to the way business and commerce works then the rare bird news outlets could purchase the hashtags of those free accounts which have large numbers of followers. The retort was that it wasn't worth it. I know this - even if my account was of sufficient quality to make this viable, somebody else would be doing the same in a few weeks and would soon get plenty of followers in a narrower market. I didn't wish to imply that @rarevine was commercially valuable which is seemingly the impression that was taken away. Just that in a free market the wish for the status quo to remain is unlikely to be granted and I imagine the bird news companies understand this.
I don't feel guilty if I cost Birdguides or Rare Bird Alert a penny - I have paid plenty to these companies but using Rare Bird Networks hashtags crowd sourced information on twitter renders the models relied upon obsolete if birders engage. Increasingly they are doing so. If Birdguides, Birdnet and RBA wish to survive another 10 years then adaption of their business models will be important as bird news becomes free. Sharing information will only get easier and as new platforms move on from twitter so will bird news. Protecting rare bird information behind passwords and gateways will no longer keep it hidden and the big boys realise this - often tweeting about megas from their free accounts on twitter. There is simply no point hiding them as people will go elsewhere for their news. The ace that subscription services hold is sub-rares and scarcities. The only way these can be well covered is with nearly every birder on twitter using the hashtag filtering systems to negate the need for retweeting by the mother account. A mere search for #rbnNBL would give me everything seen in Northumberland recently IF people used it. Do it. Make bird news free.