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Top 100

posted by CarlIngwell at
on Friday, January 7, 2011 

When eBird came out with their "Top 100" feature, I was pretty angry. I didn't want anyone to be able to view how many birds I had on my year list, life list, county or state list. I think it is a pointless feature on a great citizen science tool. I don't post to eBird to be able to compare myself with others, or to have others compare themselves with me. I list my sightings on eBird because my data is a valuable resource for scientists to collect and analyze. It's also a great tool for novice birders (such as myself) to look up distributions, first and last dates of a particular species, hotspot reports, etc. With all the great features that eBird has to offer, I think that the "Top 100" function has no place on the website.

When eBird first came up with the "Top 100," I was mad. I didn't want others to be able to look at my stats, and I didn't want to look at anyone else's stats. To throw everyone off my scent, I changed my name to "Manny Ramirez." I'm sure that I didn't fool anyone with the name change, and that my point was completely missed.

After changing my name (taking on the identity of a steroid fueled baseball player turned birder), I decided that that wasn't enough. I started to protest eBird by not entering my lists. I told myself that as long as they were doing the "Top 100," I wasn't going to take part in their project. I mean, what kind of science cares about comparing one birder to another? I stopped entering my lists in April 2009, and haven't entered regularly since.

So why do I care so much? After all, listing and competition could get people excited about birding, and conservation issues, it fuels the economy through tourism dollars, it helps fund our state and national parks, and it gives people a hobby. I see all those points, and I agree with them. However, I've seen competitive birding turn the nicest 70 year old men into complete spiteful, arrogant jerkoffs. I've heard stories of birders not reporting a rare bird because they don't want their competition to see it. I (just like most everyone else, I'm sure) have been yelled at by self-righteous competitive birders over an ID call. Listen, I don't care if you bird competitively, I just don't want any part of it. I just don't bird competitively; I bird to learn more about myself and the world I live in. I don't want to be a part of a trivial numbers game because it doesn't matter to me. I know, I know, I realize that I have some deep seeded emotional issues, and I've been scarred by the local birding Gods. It's just not my thing. It seems to me that the "Top 100" feature is a kind of progress chart to keep tabs on whether or not you're keeping up with the birding Joneses. If that's not what it's supposed to be used for, I'd like to know its functional value.

I've been thinking a lot lately about the value of eBird. There aren't enough field biologists, or enough funding dollars to collect the data that eBird has collected over the years. Not only do they do a great job collecting all the data, but they make it easily accessible to the general public. The website has to be the greatest citizen science project that has ever been created. I realize that I couldn't collect as good of data over a lifetime that eBird probably collects during a ten second period on any given day. The minute that a species declines, expands its range, etc. eBird will be the first to know about it. I can't praise the website, or its creators, enough.

Now that I've confused you with two contradictory messages, I'll get to the point of this post. Here it is: I am a selfish jerk. eBird is the greatest collection of avian data that will ever be known to man, and for the past two years I have been boycotting it because I care about other people looking at a my meaningless life list. I missed out on some great citizen science opportunities because I wanted to stick it to people that are doing great things for the world. eBird is important, and if others are using the "Top 100" feature to compare themselves with me, it is them that are using the website for the wrong reasons. I still feel that the feature is pointless, and it should be taken off the site, but it will no longer keep me from listing on eBird.

<3 Manny Ramirez

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Blogger Tim Avery said...

Carl my good friend. I remember when you changed your name to Manny--I started cracking up pretty good because it was the Carl thing to do.

You really hit on it at the end of that post:

"if others are using the "Top 100" feature to compare themselves with me, it is them that are using the website for the wrong reasons"

I don't particularly care about the Top 100 feature. I have clicked around on it a couple times to see where my list was for the year compared to other birder--not so that I could catch up to them, but because I was interested. If there really are people out there who use the feature to be competitive, then yes they are missing the point of eBird. At the same time for some people that is what is fun for them.

I always look at it like this. I use eBird to track my sightings for me. The data I collect becomes part of a greater pool of data that has meaningful relevance. Everyone is entitled to use the program as they want and how they do doesn't matter to me. And at the end of the day I don't care if someone is comparing their list to mine--cause it doesn't matter, it's just a list, and birds are birds!

January 7, 2011 at 11:37 AM  
Blogger Ryan O'Donnell said...

From the other side of the coin . . . I love the Top 100 feature. I'm competitive by nature, and to me the Top 100 list is a motivator to get out and find more birds. "Competitive" is unfortunately often synonymous with "Jerk," and I hope that comparison will never be valid for me, but the fact is that I do take pride in the birds I've seen, without feeling any shame about those I've missed. To me, the Top 100 feature is a fun way for me to see how I'm doing and to encourage me to contribute even more to eBird.

That said, I completely understand that not everyone is motivated by competition - some people are even demotivated by it. It seems like it would be an easy matter to give users the option to opt out of the Top 100 list, or at least to be listed as "anonymous". Your data is still yours, and eBird should have the capability to keep your lists private.

January 7, 2011 at 1:23 PM  
Anonymous Jerry Liguori said...

Regarding the Top 100 feature, I really think eBird was trying to come up with just another way to get people interested and involved so that they will post their sightings.


January 7, 2011 at 2:18 PM  
Blogger CarlIngwell said...

Ryan, that's actually all I'd want was a little anonymity. If some choose to participate in the Top 100, I'm perfectly fine with it, and I understand that it can be used as a motivator. What bothers me about it is that I have no choice in the matter & I really don't want to be a part of it... oh well. I was on eBird today and realized that i'd changed my name to "Cedar Pete." Don't tell anyone.

January 7, 2011 at 3:05 PM  
Blogger Birding is Fun! said...

Great post! I enjoy eBird, first because it tracks my data, second because I like knowing it contributes to science, and third because I like the competition. I love repeating "birders should not judge other birders on what is considered birding fun" - as long as birds are not being harmed. I thought I had read somewhere that eBird was working on letting people opt out and be anonynmous both on the Top 100 as well as on the maps.

January 7, 2011 at 3:19 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ah, privacy. eBird creeped me out a bit at first, when I discovered that my real name + "My Backyard" + pin on a map = holy crap, why don't I just post my home address all over cyberspace, for crying out loud?! [Not anymore -- pin has been moved to the middle of a local intersection...]

But I'm with Ryan and Robert of BIF when it comes to the Top 100. I like it a lot. I have no illusions about my low-to-average birding skillz, but the Top 100 is a great motivator, I love that it contributes to science, and my New Year's resolution to post one eBird list a day [thanks, Robert!] is making me a more active and observant birder.

If eBird allows listers to opt out of the Top 100, I hope it will mean that their species numbers are still listed. [The only difference, in other words, would be that under Observer, we'd see Anonymous.] Keep the numbers public, please, eBird! It would not be cool to see my name in the top 50 and wonder whether I'm really county eBirder #183.

Excellent post!

Luisa S

January 8, 2011 at 1:15 PM  

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