DFWUrbanWildlife.com has been around in one form or another since 2005. The website is right around eight years old now. Over that time period DFW Urban Wildlife has been through a couple of different iterations.
Originally, DFWUrbanWildlife.com was designed to be mostly an online field guide. Natural histories and objective observations made up the bulk of the content.
Back then, updating the website with new material required that I sit down and write a substantial amount of code. It was a tedious and time consuming process. In those days, I would be doing well if I could update the website once every three months.
In its original incarnation DFWUrbanWildlife.com was structured around the natural history of the animals it documented. What I mean by this is that when you visited the website you would first navigate to a page that contained information about an animal’s description and habits. These articles were often quite detailed.
At the bottom of each Natural history page you could scroll through a list of all observations recorded for a particular critter in thumbnail form. If you found one that looked intriguing you could click a link and go to a gallery browser with all of the pictures and associated observation details.
I loved this first version of the website, and I stuck with it much longer than I probably should have. The problem was that I was spending entirely too much time writing code and otherwise maintaining the website, and not enough time out in the field observing wildlife. Infrequent updates also meant that it was difficult to engage and keep an audience. The whole concept was upside down.
By late 2010 I finally admitted to myself that something needed to change. I knew I did not have the time or resources to implement full fledged and user friendly data entry interface for the website. I began to consider the possibility of using a blogging tool—like WordPress or Blogger—as the foundation for a new version of DFWUrbanWildlife.com.
Blogging applications come with a wealth of add-ons that make developing a website much easier. A large variety of themes, plugins, and widgets are available for free download. A blog can be enhanced quite extensively by using these freebees.
Most importantly, the blogging applications offer a suite of content management tools that make updating and maintaining a website a breeze compared to what I was accustomed to.
The only problem was that the way the original website was structured did not lend itself well to the blogging paradigm. Like I mentioned earlier, the concept was upside down.
I spent a lot of time trying to figure out how I could shoehorn my data in the frame work provided by a blogging tool. I began to search for information about how to code my own plugins and widgets, and otherwise make modifications to a blogging tool’s framework. The bottom line was that it was going to be a lot of work and very time consuming—exactly the things I was trying to free myself from.
Eventually, it dawned on me that if I simply flipped the paradigm I was using for the original website the concept would be much more appropriate for a blog. Now instead of emphasizing natural histories, I would make individual observations the centerpiece of the website. If I made this simple change my data would fit into the blogging model perfectly.
So, in May of 2011, I did just that and DFWUrbanWildlife.com Version 2 was born. Now instead of only being able to update the site once every couple of MONTHS, I was now able to make posts multiple times a DAY if I wanted to!
It was a godsend, and things really began to take off. Suddenly I had the time I needed to get outside and pursue observations. I began to explore new areas in the metroplex and was able to justify purchasing new and better photography equipment.
At the same time, my audience began to grow, indicating the new approach was well received. I began meeting new people through the website and making many important new friendships. All in all it was a very positive change.
Lately though, I have been getting the sense that it may be time for another paradigm shift. It might be time to consider creating DFWUrbanWildlife.com Version 3. Over the past couple of years my content has slowly been trying to shift to a more strictly blogging format. Posts containing stories or long running projects seem to have become preferred over posts documenting just single observations.
Meanwhile, and in spite of my best intentions, the natural history portion of the original site never did make it over into the new version of DFWUrbanWildlife.com. I stayed so busy with daily observations that there was never time to transfer the natural history articles.
Another factor motivating the need for change is the emerging citizen scientist community. There are many websites on the internet that allow the general public to contribute to data collection on many important areas of interest to scientists. Within the structure of these websites average people can contribute in scientifically valuable way.
Websites like ProjectNoah.org, eBird.org, and iNaturalist.org are all examples of citizen scientist portals whose concepts overlap significantly with that of DFWUrbanWildlife.com. The truth is that these sites do a much better job of cataloging raw data than I ever was able to do. There is probably little reason to continue to duplicate the effort here on DFWUrbanWildlife.com
I am still not sure what the new DFWUrbanWildlife.com will look like. But step one in the changeover process was the creation of the DFW Urban Wildlife iNaturalist Project. With this addition, DFW Urban Wildlife Version 3 will likely morph into something designed to support and encourage participation in the iNaturalist project. We will have to see.
I couldn’t be more excited about this new direction. I frequently get emails from my readers with wildlife observations of their own that they want to share. I use as many of these as I can, but the problem has always been a matter of logistics. I haven’t always been able to keep up with them all. Typically, I have had to pick and choose submissions based upon how well they would fit into the existing lineup. Some had to fall by the wayside, and I always felt bad when that happened.
With the DFW Urban Wildlife iNaturalist Project you will now have the power to enter your own observation information. With wildlife observation there is simply no substitute for being at the right place at the right time. More participation by more people means more and better observations!
I can’t wait to see what gets reported with the population at large participating! You can have a look at the project by simply clicking the link at the top of the right-hand column on this webpage. Following this link will take you to the homepage for the DFW Urban Wildlife iNaturalist Project, and from there you can register to join if you would like. Participation is free and easy.
And, to get this thing kicked off in the right way, I will be conducting a giveaway for the first group of people to join the project. Next Friday (November 22, 2013) I will select five new participants at random and offer them a free copy of my book, In Your Backyard: Discovering Urban Wildlife.
Go to it and have fun!