ACT bird books and replying to COG line

To: "'Julian Robinson'" <>, <>
Subject: ACT bird books and replying to COG line
From: "Geoffrey Dabb" <>
Date: Fri, 6 Oct 2006 20:30:08 +1000

This subject is pretty basic to the way this list operates.  Julian makes some fair points.


I would argue for the present arrangement.


(1)     Julian’s example of ‘I think I saw a Grey Goshawk’ is not typical.  Of course there were others who, tantalized, wanted to know the answer.  It was understandable that those who said ‘No it’s not’ replied directly.  I sent Julian a scan of the HANZAB/Debus guide pics of the relevant underviews – maybe 500kb.  I wasn’t going to send that to the list.


(2)     When a message is headed “COG Waterbird Outing” there is no way you are going to know that a reply headed “COG Waterbird Outing” will just say “Please book me on the outing”.   Headings are a poor guide to content.


(3)      I won’t bore you with my own experience of ‘other groups’.  All groups have their own cultures, needs and aspirations.


(4)     The main reason I usually ‘reply direct’ – and will do so even if there’s a change in the protocol -  is because of the common practice of ‘lateral sniping’.  This, in my view, is unproductive, and takes many forms.  For example, in the message Julian mentions I gave my view on the most useful places to find info on the seasonal movements of Canberra birds.  This led to a protracted exchange on what was wrong with other books, and what books were good, or not good, for any purpose at all.  It even led to a message about who’d lend anyone else a copy of their HANZAB (a partial answer to which is that copies can be consulted at eg the National and Woden Libraries). 


From: Julian Robinson [
Sent: Friday, October 06, 2006 12:19 PM
Subject: Re: [canberrabirds] ACT bird books and replying to COG line


This is about "replying to COG line", not "ACT bird books".

While I understand Ian's points about the dangers of inadvertently replying to the list with a (sometimes very) personal communication - most of us have done this at some time or other - the current system does have significant side-effects that get referred to regularly by frustrated users.  In particular the suggested and current usage leads to the following time-consuming and unnecessary chores:

- when I ask a question on the list, I usually get most of the answers privately (emails 'A' -- let's say 4 emails).  I also receive around the same number saying "what a good question, thanks for posting it, I feel so dumb asking questions on this list and no-one seems to answer them" (emails 'B') and another group saying "can you tell me what responses you got" (emails 'C'). 

- then I need to collate all the answers and send them off to each of the 'C' s (emails 'D').

- then I should write a summary of what I learned and post it to the list (email 'E').

All in all, 17 emails if I am diligent, and that's without replying to the 'B's out of courtesy.

This is a heavy penalty for the advantage of saving us from a few inadvertent emails that could be avoided by training ourselves, as 99.999% of other email lists have done.

In addition to above costs, perhaps even more significant is the number of people who assumed there were no responses, or few, or who didn't bother to write to me to solicit the responses, or who didn't want to bother me, or who just didn't think they were particularly interested in the topic but would have been fascinated to read what was actually said -- if they had known. 

A good example of the latter is Geoffrey's recent response to Julienne on Gang-gangs and King Parrots.  I saw the question and was interested in the answer but my interest would not have been enough to write to Julienne requesting the usual on-forwarding of answers, mainly because of the inconvenience to her.  But I was delighted to see Geoffrey's atypically public and very interesting answer that in passing filled in a few gaps that I had pondered at one time or another.  The point is, this on-list responding was a rare event that ideally should be the norm.

Many people (sorry I know this is getting long, but it seems to be an important matter judging by the number of emails of above type I've received) will argue that multiple answers get out of control and clog up the list.  To some extent this may be true, but it is EASY for people to ignore the increased traffic just by not reading emails with that subject header.   Skimming subjects is an easily acquired skill.

Regarding on-list correction of people's mistakes -- for myself, if I write to list that "I think this is a Gosshawk" spelt incorrectly and identified incorrectly, I am perfectly happy for on-list correction of both since importantly in this process other people of similar skill level can learn something.  It would also, in this example, save THREE people from writing to me to correct my spelling, since the first of four would have been public.  And it would have saved FOUR people from writing informationally so fully since they would not have needed to duplicate what others had written.

None of the above prevents people replying personally (i.e. off-list) to questions that clearly have no public benefit.

I don't know what the solution is to keep everyone happy, but there is surely some message in the fact that although these exact problems exist in all group email lists, every other one that I know of has opted to remain in the 'standard' configuration and accept the higher volume (and VERY occasional embarrassment) that results. It is possible that Canberra Birdos are astonishingly different from other special-interest group members, but I don't think so.  If we don't change the reply mechanism, we really do need to work out a means of successfully encouraging people to reply to questions on-list, as the cost in terms of effort and missed information under the current system is actually very high.


At 04:32 PM 29/09/06, Ian Fraser wrote:

>wonder if it cannot be changed, so that replies go to the list by default...
Oh no John, no John, no...  Sorry, but I speak as the leading idiot who was responsible for the compassionate list manager changing the system from that one, having embarrassed myself on more than one occasion by carelessly hitting reply and passing a private observation to the world at large. (Not that I was quite the only one!)

Quite a few requests are only of relevance to the person asking, and it can be exasperating to have to read personal conversations which could as well be carried on in private. (And unless the Subject line makes it clear, we do have to check.)

Also, for myself, I find it more courteous to reply privately to a question like Julian's most recent one, when I believe his "I think this is a ...." is wrong. I see no need to tell the world that. In that situation it's then up to Julian to choose whether to synthesise the information he has gleaned and pass it on. It's also up to others to signal that they are interested in the replies. I must say that one of the several things I like about this line is the consideration and courtesy shown (as evidenced, inter alia, by restraint) on on it.

Having said all that, both you and Julian make good points - of course! - and I'm sure we'll all consider more carefully how to reply to what in future.

Re the books - not sure that the wonderful Atlas is still in print, but I assume that Carol Macleay (who runs the COG book stall) could tell you. See her too for Steve Wilson's truly excellent Birds of the ACT. Contact Philip Veerman directly (you'll find his address in your cog-line In Box) for his version of the GBS data.

happy weekend birding all


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