DON'T BE A TWIT- TWITTER!
THE NEW BIRD INFORMATION SERVICE FROM BIRDNET
by Ian McKerchar
Pagers are soooo last year darlings. No longer is it cool to pull out your pager in your local bird hide or to wander around with the infernal beeping from your pocket shattering the science. In fact you're more likely to be laughed and pointed at by cool, young, hip birders like myself. For we (the young, hip...okay so I'm over 40) now Twitter!
There are several methods in which you can currently receive your bird news. The incredibly rich or perhaps confirmed medically insane might still use the premium rate telephone services or do we even still remember those? Individuals wanting to receive their news later than anyone else, pay through the nose for a texting service or be led astray by 'duff gen' might want to try Birdguides (okay, so they're not always getting it wrong but their recent Black Redstart at Pennington Flash which was actually a Black-necked Grebe and was never corrected, I mean, come on!). You could even go 'old school' and just have mates that give you a ring when there's something about, though of course modern birding isn't about having real mates anymore is it? The remaining options are products from the 'big two' Rare Bird Alert and Birdnet Information and this has always primarily entailed having a pager.
Pagers are on the whole very good indeed, pros and cons, like 'em or loath 'em and are covered in sufficient detail here. I have had a pager on and off since the mid-1990's but have, in more recent years, been inclined to leave it at home and just check it sporadically through the day. That sort of defeats the object of having one though I suppose, but I'm no twitcher ('clean' now for 12 years) and use it instead to give me an idea of what's about, what to perhaps expect, where to go tomorrow and indeed, where to avoid the crowds! I do however use my mobile 'phone an awful lot (saaaaddo) and many years ago I utilised a free system from Focalpoint which sent bird information via messages to my phone. It was an excellent idea, the answer to my prayers and I really liked it. Unfortunately, not only did you not get any messages at all, ever, on weekends or bank holidays (!) but after a while changes to the mobile networks meant it could no longer be free and it was doomed to become an exceedingly costly viability, which is sort of about the time I stopped using it.
Times and technology move on though, waiting for no man and so it was that I was recently contacted by Birdnet Birdinformation who enlightened me to their new Twitter service. Bird information sent to your mobile 'phone. Could it be? Yes, it seemed it could. Unfortunately though I'm not terribly familiar with these internet things, I 'don't do' Twitter or Facebook nor any other similar type of internet nerdity. They are surely usually reserved for those with nothing better to do with their lives than sit around in their underpants all day 'chatting' to people they'll never meet other than as a pseudonym on the screen of their computer or perhaps eagerly waiting for the next time their favourite television celebrity lets the world know via a tweet that he's just been for his third No.2 of the day. I mean, what's that all about? However, after some very simple instruction from Birdnet's infamous Mr. McKinney it became rapidly apparent that their new system was undeniably the answer to my quest for a reliable, easily accessible, up-to-the minute and of course, cheap, bird information supply. Twitter indeed!
Twitter is actually some kind of internet magic. I don't understand it, nor want to. They say it's a 'free social networking and microblogging service' but that's about as understandable as the state of current hybrid Caspian Gull identification. All I need to know is that it works a treat and takes the press of only one button on my 'phone but for those who seek eternal enlightenment, check this utter nonsense out here.
All you will need is a mobile 'phone capable of receiving Twitter for which there are a large quantity of 'smartphones' out there (these are only a small selection of such devices and prices and there is of course the Apple iPhone too) which are available on contract or indeed pay-as-you-go (here). Then a Twitter account is required, which is free and ridiculously easy to set up. If you need proof, I managed it!
The crux of the matter with this service for me personally, is this;
The downsides? Well, if you like to hear a little beep seventy times a day when a message comes in then you could be disappointed. Similarly, if you like to clip your pager on your waist belt and fanatically check each individual message that accompanies every little beep even whilst in the middle of the bread isle at Asda's, pretending to be an on-call doctor or maybe a rapid response special forces operative then you might want to give it a miss too and perhaps get yourself directly to the 'get a life' isle instead. Other than that, after using the service for a good while now I have found no downsides. Sure, I'm bias you're all shouting. It is true that I do indeed hold Birdnet in high regard but as for my reviews, they are genuinely an un-bias opinion, reflecting my own personal judgment based from the rigorous testing only a brainless, inbred, technologically under endowed thug could achieve.
Some might also view the fact that a 'smartphone' being necessary in the first place is a downside. For those skinflint text only ("ring me back") merchants on a bog-standard mobile ☺ then yes, you're going to have to upgrade your handset. This will entail either purchasing a handset outright and sticking with pay-as-you-go or swapping to a monthly tariff. The cheapest pay monthly tariffs can be had for atleast as little as £20 a month complete with all singing all dancing smartphone and 500 anytime/any network minutes, 500 texts and 500Mb of internet usage (which is more than you'll need!). Consider too that these 'phones are really more like mini computers in all reality. They allow seamless swift internet access, easy viewing of photographs, have inbuilt decent quality cameras, video recorders, large high resolution screens and MP3 players plus access to thousands of useful (and some not so useful!) applications. If you would rather stay PAYG then excellent 'smartphone' handsets capable of receiving Twitter (and so, so much more) such as this can be had for as little as £30 from major outlets such as Argos. So perhaps, on balance, there's no downside where this point is concerned after all?
Don't forget two other important points here either:
Above: Twitter on my iPhone 4 mobile telephone. The Echofon application (second row from the top on the far left) is just the application I use to access Twitter, though I could just as easily use Twitter's application itself. One click on the button opens up straight to the messages as seen below which automatically update every time I open it.
Above: How your tweets (no, no, messages, messages) appear on your 'phone. The 41 by the home button (bottom left) indicates that there are 41 new messages since I last opened up the application which always automatically opens starting with the oldest unread message. Messages are generated from regions which cover the entire UK and Ireland. I have them all but you can easily turn off or add regions as and when you see fit for no extra cost. The regional messages cover every species, from common to locally scarce/rares to national megas. You can also just receive 'birdnational' reports (national rarities only) or birdmega reports (holy crap where are my car keys rarities) should you so wish.
Above: Just some of the regions you can receive messages for. You can tailor the service to suit your requirements and also set the system to send you a text for any regions you want which comes off your monthly mobile allowance set by your tariff. Only really want be alerted for a mega? No problem. Going to Norfolk for the weekend and want to be alerted whenever a sighting comes in for that region? Simply set the text alerts for the East Anglian region and hey presto! All this can be achieved effortlessly from your 'phone too.
Above: Messages are well presented, easily identified to region and are effortlessly readable. They are accompanied by a timeline notifying you when the message was sent.
Above: The arrows to the right of each message allow you to read it in full large format if necessary. Often messages include a 'read more at...' note which allows you to access full and often lengthy details for directions etc on another page. This method allows the initial screen (as above) to remain uncluttered, succinct and rapidly readable yet for those requiring more detail it is still available and only ever one press away.
So, the Birdnet Birdinformation Twitter bird news service comprehensively ticks all my personal boxes and provides me with an absolutely ideal service. It could well be all you need too but either way, Kate Humble has just tweeted on her own Twitter page that her poor little dog is having x-rays for a wonky back leg. Marvellous!
For more information please ring the Birdinformation team on 0115 871 2888 or email email@example.com
Ian McKerchar, July 2010