Monday, 23 April 2018

Are Facebook groups bad for our hobby?



There once was a time when information was passed onto beginners by experienced Fishkeepers. Eventually our hobby was filled with reference books packed with information about newly discovered species and how to care for them in the home aquarium. With the establishment of aquarist societies up and down the country, our hobby was in safe hands. We could meet Fishkeepers in person and share our experiences - good and bad!

The fishkeeping hobby grew from strength to strength with the development of technology offering easier and more effective ways to cater for more and more fish being introduced to the hobby year upon year. Aquarist societies were holding events with lots of members coming along and overall things were going great. Some may say that these days were the best days, the golden era of fish keeping.

Then came along the internet!

Suddenly information was available to anyone prepared to search for it on their computer. This came mainly in the form of the Forums.Websites with chat rooms all dedicated and ran by very experienced Fishkeepers with a passion to talk to other likewise hobbyists all in the name of fishkeeping. In these forums you would have dedicated rooms for breeding, feeding, health and any other topic that came up. Forums took dedication to run and to get involved in the conversations it was often based around a fee or membership method of participation. Only serious Fishkeepers with a genuine interest or question would take the time to register, be approved and pay the membership fee. A process that preserved the quality of conversation to some extent. 

The internet has also come a long way since it started and how Fishkeepers use the internet to benefit their hobby has also changed. Now we can buy/sell our fish and everything we need to enjoy our hobby to the fullest all from the comfort of our home. Anything we want is available online from ultra rare corals to jellyfish. just visit one of the hundreds of websites and place your order. 

We have also changed the way we talk to other Fishkeepers online thanks to Facebook. Only a few of the great forums have survived the social media tidal wave and withstood the test of time. Forums such as www.planetpleco.com are still a strong favourite amongst catfish keepers and I can't see that ever changing. the information that has been logged over the years is mind blowing. This is something just not available yet within the facebook groups. 

The more recent version of online communities come in the form of facebook groups. There are a lot of groups on facebook now dedicated to pretty much every area of our hobby. These groups can be ran by traditional aquarist societies, local fish shops and very often Fishkeepers that are unaffiliated to any society at all. Facebook groups are free and because most people have facebook on their phones, the conversations can be instant.

The point of this blog is to focus on the facebook groups and the effect they have on our hobby. Now before I get into this, I have to say I do run my own fishkeeping group on Facebook and I have done for over 4 years now. I can look at the positives of these groups but also respect that there are negative elements of the groups too.

First of all lets look at the negatives. 
  • Fishkeepers of any level of experience can hand out advice based on very little information from the person in need of help. This inaccurate advice can and often does lead to more problems.
  • Everyone has an opinion and us Fishkeepers can get a little too enthusiastic when it comes to getting our point across. Facebook groups can result in large scale arguments.
  • It can be difficult to find good quality groups with experienced members willing to share their advise. all too often when the right advice is shared, its drowned in a sea of chat or silly inaccurate advice. This can make experienced Fishkeepers genuinely wanting to help, very wary of ever posting anything.
  • Groups can become boring and filled with generic sales posts from its members. Not very appealing to read through.
Now the positives.
  • Easy to access 
  • A great way to share photos of your fish.
  • Handy for meeting local Fishkeepers and exchanging young fish etc
  • Quick method of locating breeders in your area 
  • if you group is connected to a club, facebook is a very effective way of sharing club information with your members.
  • Promoting your shop to a live customer base  is free and very effective if done right.
There are probably other negative sides to the facebook groups but I think this covers the basics. Also These are just a list of the things I consider to be a positive way of using facebook groups in the fishkeeping hobby.

During the four years I have been running Lothian Fishkeepers, I have come across a lot of issues and some harder than others to overcome. I do believe facebook groups can work alongside existing societies and not against them. I also feel that if done correctly, groups can benefit the societies in many ways. It is important to all remember that every single one of us are either in our club, on our forum or chatting on our facebook groups because we love fishkeeping.

There is a lot of things that the societies and clubs to do to benefit Lothian Fishkeepers. Their experience and resources could transform any event I plan. But I do think there is lots of things groups could do to benefit the local societies too. Promoting each society on groups, leasing with their members to assure there is adequate time between each other events and offering support by sharing sponsors could also work, but we all need to be communicating and working together for that to happen.

Nothing every stays the same. We have to find ways to integrate the new ideal into the traditional ways that our hobby has developed over the years. Why? because the next generation of Fishkeepers are going to be far more used to an online community that we will ever be. We should be building the foundation of a fishkeeping community that is thriving in the clubs and providing accurate, respectful advice to online members who are just looking to get the same experience out of their hobby as everyone else. 

My advice to any members of the fishkeeping community that has come across problems within the groups, is to speak with their admins and put across ways for them to develop a more effective experience to their members. I know I personally appreciate it when members of Lothian Fishkeepers take the time to contact me with any concerns they have regarding the group. Its important to listen and take on board the things that are not working well. 

Just like every other 'era' in our hobby past, Facebook groups have to be shaped into a community that will work for our hobby just like books and forums in the past. 

I invite all of you to think about how you use your facebook group wether your an admin or member. get in touch to share your ideas about how to improve everyones experience. Maybe working together instead of against each other we can make our community a little less divided.

Thanks for reading guys

John


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