[Tweeters] eBird to remain free – good news and bad

Matt Bartels mattxyz at earthlink.net
Sun Apr 1 04:16:32 PDT 2018

eBird announced Sunday that it would remain a free service. After years of considering moving to a paid subscription model to cover costs, eBird has partnered with Facebook to maintain the free access to its service. Beginning today, eBird will show begin showing ads to users and revenue generated by targeted advertising is expected to be sufficient to maintain eBird into the future.

The partnership raises questions in the wake of the recent news about how Facebook has made user data available in questionable ways. Now eBird data from its users will be subject to the same analytics that allow for more targeted ad generation on Facebook. In the beginning, as the algorithms are learning, expect ads to mostly reflect demographic information (easily gleaned by cross-referencing with Facebook data). But before long, eBird users should begin to experience the power of the AI as their birding destinations reveal patterns and allow advertisers to accurately place ads for the most likely next destinations on your itinerary.

Marshall Iliff of eBird enthusiastically noted: “Think of it. Before long, the ad software will be powerful enough to combine demographic info, bird checklist data, and news of recent sightings around the world to accurately predict where any birder is likely to go next and send helpful advertisements from that location. Advertising revenue will remain robust because of the ability to accurately target only those users likely to be in a region.”

I can see how this might play out in Washington for better and for worse. Looking at this coming weekend, I might still be unsure whether to, say, head south to look for early spring migrants, or if it might be more fun to get a glimpse of shrub steppe birds in eastern Washington. A quick look at the ads served up to me on eBird could reveal that, in fact, I’m most likely to head to the San Juan Islands – decision made! Sure, it is a little creepy to know how much of our lives is revealed online, but it might be a price worth paying to have help selecting a destination!

For those, like me, who don’t actually enter data into eBird, you aren’t spared: Searches for recent sightings are also tracked and incorporated into the overall snapshot that eBird now offers to advertisers. It has long been understood that Birder’s Dashboard also earned significant revenue through this model – now the two platforms will be more formally integrated for advertisers’ benefit.

eBird’s Iliff notes that eventually this should result in a better experience for birders: “At first, the increased revenue will allow us to improve the quality of our offerings to our users, the advertisers. But down the road, we hope to use a portion of our profits to enhance the ability of birders, our product, to learn about and find birds.”

Matt Bartels

Seattle, WA

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