Getting out key details on rare birds in a timely fashion is crucial to allowing as many people to see the birds as possible. In Pennsylvania we have been using the GroupMe (iOS app) service for several years for localized RBA’s and recently switched the state RBA to this service, just in time for all the rarities associated with Hurricane Sandy. For the most part it has been a huge success, allowing lots of people to easily share rare bird info in real-time. Many areas would benefit from a service like this, even if it is rarely used, but it usually takes someone to manage the group. GroupMe makes it much easier to manage a text message RBA by making the set up simple and adding new users very easy.
GroupMe has several advantages over other texting services that are popular with birders.
- Free with no advertising (other than charges free your carrier for text messages depending on your plan)
- Fast and reliable
- No keyword to remember
- Apps for most smart phones (iPhone/iPad/iPod Touch, Android, Blackberry and Windows Phone)
- using the app enables several great features including photo and location sharing and push notifications instead of texts (free on any plan)
- Post from the web as well as any phone (smart or not)
- A name is associated with every account so no anonymous reports
There are also some disadvantages or non-ideal features of GroupMe.
- Alerts every time a new user joins or someone leaves the group which can quickly rack up charges for people without texting plans (unless you are using the smartphone app)
- The service is constantly evolving, so new features appear and change without any warning. Sometimes this is great, other times it can be an inconvenience to figure out why something isn’t working.
Some tips for setting up your own group
- The GroupMe service gives each person a phone number that they text to send out a message to the group. This is not the same number for each user. Just save the number that you are receiving the alerts from or log in to GroupMe.com to find the number you should use.
- Make sure everyone knows the guidelines for posting. If the group is just for rarities, you don’t want to be woken up at 2am because someone wanted to report the goldfinches coming to their feeder that day.