Re. Birdstack

Subject: Re. Birdstack
From: "David J. Ringer" <>
Date: Mon, 21 Jan 2008 15:36:02 -0600
Hi all,

I haven't had the privilege of spending too much time in Australia,
but I have many memories from the few days I have spent there (from my
first Crimson Rosellas in the Blue Mountains to locking myself out of
my Sydney hotel room without any pants on). I hope to come back soon
-- perhaps even later this year.

Curtis and I have been very interested to follow this thread (thanks
to Duncan for getting it started), and we hope you don't mind if I
offer a few thoughts in response to your excellent questions.

1. Taxonomy and names.

Both the Clements list and the Howard and Moore list are tied up (as
far as we could tell) with ownership and copyright restrictions. They
are not freely available online in their entirety, as far as we could
discover. The Sibley and Monroe list, published in the early 1990s, is
now pretty badly out-of-date in every respect. The IOC list, which IS
freely available online in its entirety, is not as well known as the
other lists, as some of you have pointed out. We were initially
skeptical of using it for just that reason. But, it's got an
impressive team behind it, it's under active development, and most
authorities around the world seem to be acknowledging that it's
something worth paying attention to, even if no one quite knows what
to do with it yet.

Some of the names it uses are unfamiliar, yes. North Americans have to
put up with Black-necked Grebe (we call it Eared); Europeans have to
put up with Horned Grebe (they call it Slavonian). There are some
interesting differences for Australasian avifauna too, perhaps most
notably among the satinbirds (Antenna Satinbird??). But these hiccups
are inherent in any such endeavor, as you are all well aware. I will
probably continue saying "Eared Grebe" even though my life list now
says "Black-necked Grebe," and I won't feel the least bit threatened.

Plus, as Duncan has pointed out, Birdstack contains features for
recording alternate names and cases in which names are used for more
than one species. These systems are user-driven, so I'll just be bold
and put out a call to Australia -- please help fill the alternate
names for your birds!

2. Competition and local databases.

"Given that there are several other online databases around, what
prompted these people to create another?  Did they not know about the
others?  Did they think the others weren't good enough?"

Good questions. We thought long and hard about whether Birdstack would
fill a need in the birding world. We are convinced that it does.
Frankly, Birdstack took seven months of very hard work and
negotiations with many people in the birding community and the
technical community. I'm not about to waste my time like that if
there's something that already works. I have too much else to do, and
too many birds to see! Neither Curtis nor I believes in duplication of
effort or fragmentation of data. Quite the opposite in fact; after
all, we are children of the digital age.

Though there are many very excellent regional databases around the
world (we are most familiar with eBird in North America of course), we
couldn't find a satisfactory web-based, community-oriented solution
for world birders. Birdstack's scope is the planet, and it
incorporates many modern web technologies and approaches -- comments,
feeds, widgets, mashups, etc., with plans for a whole lot more.

Sharing data with scientific and research organizations is very, very
important to us. We have no desire to pull data away from such places
by offering a "duplicate" service.

We are concluding negotiations with the eBird project leaders here in
the States on the first phase of a system that will allow Birdstack
users to contribute relevant, qualifying data to eBird. eBird is
designed as a scientific database, not primarily as a personal listing
program, so the requirements and functionality it offers are different
from Birdstack's, but obviously not incompatible.

We had hoped that regional database administrators in other parts of
the world would be interested in talking with us too, and it sounds as
if Australia is interested! Please, we want to hear from you about how
to integrate with the primary Australian data collection project.
(Would that be Birdata, or am I treading on thin ice?) Ideally, we
would like to see a system built into Birdstack that would allow users
to submit all relevant and qualifying data to the Australian
database(s) with one or two clicks. With whom should we discuss such

We can't promise to have it done next week, but we will work with you
if you will talk with us.

3. Project viability, data security, and finances.

As one commentator implied, I could be crushed to death by a semi on
my way to work tomorrow (and wouldn't that be a shame). Concerns about
the long-term plans for and viability of such a project are perfectly

First, any data you put into Birdstack is immediately available to you
in CSV (more than 60 columns of data for each record) and XML formats.
It's not locked into Birdstack at all, so in one sense, if you lose
it, it's your own fault. If you're worried about losing your data,
then download your observations regularly. (By all means, do it even
if you aren't worried!) We have automated daily backups in place
already, and we are getting things in place to run two off-site
backups as well.

We are keenly aware of the importance of your observational data to
you. We are birders too, after all, and our own personal data is very
important to us.

We have big dreams for Birdstack, and we hope there will be sufficient
interest from the international birding community to carry them
through. We don't plan on disappearing any time soon, and given our
age (we are in our 20s), statistics are on our side. But then, who can
tell the future?

Some of you seemed curious about money, so I'll tell you. We'd planned
to go with a cheap shared hosting plan, but during beta testing, it
gave such rubbish performance that we switched to a dedicated host
that costs us $40 (US) a month. That's nearly $500 (US) a year. Not
exactly cheap and easy, but then, the sort of powerful data
manipulation we are doing isn't cheap and easy either. At the moment,
we're paying out of our pockets. And if we ever need to increase
bandwidth, storage space, and server resources (see section below on
pictures), we could be looking at a very significant financial

Will we ever start charging for basic Birdstack features? No. Will we
ever ask for voluntary donations to help defray expenses? Yes, we may
very well do that, but we've decided not to do it for now. Will we
ever agree to run tasteful ads for products that interest our users
from companies we believe are trustworthy? It's a possibility, sure.
Frankly, we don't know. We are less than 24 hours old, and we're
waiting with excitement to see what will unfold.

4. Photographs.

I am familiar with the excellent Australian Bird Image Database. I've
used it extensively and have contributed several images from PNG.

One commentator suggested that Birdstack should consider hosting
images. We'd love to. We think it'd be great. But it's a major
investment in a number of ways, and we're not rushing into things just
yet. Maybe someday we can offer photo capabilities. I for one sure
hope can.

Thank you for all of your thoughts and questions. Keep them coming. We
do hope that some of you will sign up and give Birdstack a try. We can
import observations in bulk from CSV files, so that would be a good
way to get started!


To unsubscribe from this mailing list, 
send the message:
(in the body of the message, with no Subject line)

<Prev in Thread] Current Thread [Next in Thread>

The University of NSW School of Computer and Engineering takes no responsibility for the contents of this archive. It is purely a compilation of material sent by many people to the birding-aus mailing list. It has not been checked for accuracy nor its content verified in any way. If you wish to get material removed from the archive or have other queries about the archive e-mail Andrew Taylor at this address: andrewt@cse.unsw.EDU.AU