Newsgroups, Forums and Email Lists
A useful way to keep up to date and share ideas is to contribute to the various online discussion facilities. They act as a forum for the discussion of many topics where beekeepers from all over the world give useful input and suggestions. Many academics and established beekeepers are members of these discussion groups and give much help, encouragement and stimulation to others.
An online facility in some ways is similar to gaining information from elsewhere, such as a local BKA meeting. You will get a variety of answers and you may need to use your own intelligence and experience to work out if an answer or a point is sound and can be used by you in your situation.
It should be understood by all that no question is ever "dumb", although I have seen beginners ask the usual elementary questions that beginners are concerned about, then been shot down by those who were asking similar questions just a short time before. It's amazing how "clever" some people can become after a very short time, but it's just like the local BKA!
Some facilities are moderated, others aren't. The standard of moderation varies, with some being very good, yet others awful.
I think online discussion has a place in beekeeping and a good facility is very useful, but the overall quality will depend on the questions asked and the soundness of the answers.
You don't have to contribute and many beekeepers don't. I suspect there are many more who log on to see what is being discussed than take part. In internet culture they are called "lurkers". I am a moderator of a beekeeping forum and I don't have a problem with lurking, although some see it as a number of people taking a free ride. I'm pleased to be helping beekeepers learn and it is no different than someone visiting this website and not sending any contributions. I'm always advising beekeepers that observation is a major part of beekeeping, whatever it is.
Online discussion facilities can be compared to newspapers, where they appeal to different audiences. There are some that suit you and some that don't. Like newspapers, those who have the highest number of readers aren't likely to provide the best quality of information. Have a look at whatever is available and make your mind up which one(s) to support by the quality of the questions and the answers.
Experience (or lack of it) is no bar and on some facilities there are different categories for levels of knowledge or specialist interests.
Some forums are well run and well moderated, so they are pleasant places for members to enjoy discussion with others. There is often a bit of friendly banter and there have been many long term beekeeping friendships started via the keyboard and screen.
If you want to know the answer to something unusual, such as information about an old piece of equipment, or a management technique that has fallen out of favour, then asking online may bring results.
Some answers come "straight out of the book", rather than from experience. This is rather pointless as the questioner could consult the book in the first place.
A problem seen in a colony can be posted very quickly and a response may be fairly quick.
Photo's can be displayed.
It is a quick way of distributing the latest information.
The best facilities are usually run and moderated by experienced and well respected beekeepers. They want to provide a good service that beekeepers enjoy and like to take part in. They will usually nip any problems in the bud. Objectionable people can be banned.
There is usually a personal message facility (known as "PM"), so individuals can email each other. This is useful if there is a local issue that doesn't concern others.
One common failing is that answers aren't always given based on the locality or situation of the questioner. There are some things in beekeeping that are fairly constant wherever the location, but others vary depending on such things as the climate and legislation.
Sadly there are some facilities that attract people who seem to spend a lot of time making unhelpful contributions, starting arguments, making inflammatory posts, taking discussion off topic and being generally disruptive. They are called "trolls" and very often have pseudonyms, so they can't be identified. In a good facility the moderators will sort them out sharpish, but often not before they have upset a number of people.
The inexperienced beekeeper may not know the level of knowledge of a poster, so may find it difficult to spot inexperienced people giving "advice".
The internet gives an opportunity to those trying to make a name for themselves or have a single issue to force down everyone elses throats, where a magazine editor would ignore them.
Thuggish beahaviour in the form of personal abuse and bullying can occasionally be a problem. Most of what I have seen has come from people with single issues, or those with little or no knowledge of beekeeping. If this happens it is usually down to poor moderation.
Hints for using online discussion facilities.
Keep things simple to start with. If you aren't fully up to speed with software it may take you time to use the facility well.
You will probably be taken more seriously if you use your own name. Just ask yourself why someone would want to hide? It could be for a genuine reason, such as the poster may be concerned by a possible conflict of interest, but may be so a poster can say what they may not say if everyone knew who they were.
If there is a facility for giving your location it will help others when answering your question to know roughly where your bees are. Occasionally I see such daft things as "planet earth" or "east of Chicago, west of Warsaw", but how does that help someone answer your question?
There is usually a search facility, so search the archives before asking a question. Many questions are time related and the chances are that yours has been asked 1,2,3 or more years ago at roughly the same time of year. By searching you may have the answer without posting, or perhaps you can add to the existing post by asking a related question.
Read all the previous posts in a thread, so you don't repeat what is in a previous post. Agree with them by all means.
Disagreement is acceptable, but don't rubbish what others say. Give a reasoned argument or reference for your response.
If you aren't sure about the knowledge or experience of a poster, then have a look at their past posts. If they are posting in an authoritative manner in the "advanced" section you know you have a problem if 6 months earlier they are posting in the "beginners" section - "Hi everybody, I'm a newbie........", or a short while ago they posted - "My mentor says.......".
People usually ask a question because they want a sensible answer. If you reply you need to take into account which section it is in. If a question is in the "beginners" section, then you may need to give a more thorough answer than if it is in the "advanced" section.
Most facilities have an "edit" facility. Use this to make any minor changes, such as spelling or to make your point more clearly. Don't change the content of the post if someone has answered that point.
Read your post before pressing the "submit" button. Make sure you have said all the things you need to and there are no spelling mistakes. If you are disagreeing with someone, then make sure what you write can't be taken as being offensive.
Remember when posting that many beekeepers will have been taught by someone who they probably respect, even though you may think they have been given poor advice. You may need to be careful with your wording, so you don't discredit the teacher.
Don't take up valuable space with pointless messages. It might appear to be mannerable, but to simply say "thanks" in response to an answer means that many others will have to read it, which in a long thread can be annoying.
When asking a question make sure you give all the information. When answering look for any possible omissions. Occasionally the wrong advice is given because the original poster hasn't included something that is important.
It may take a little time to get used to the culture of an online facility, but overall I think the good facilities are worth supporting, as you can often pick up little gems you may not find in books.
If there are problems you don't have to get involved. In most facilities there are problems from time to time. I have been involved with the BBKA Discussion Forum for several years and at one time we had a massive problem. Through being tough and dealing with troublemakers we have turned it into a very pleasant facility. We had one person who seemed to be permanently waiting online for people to post and slap down if they asked a simple question. We had another that would appear to be responding from a base of good knowledge, but was copying straight from Manley's books!
If you don't like what is there the best thing is to leave it and go where you are welcome and can have some sensible discussion with sensible people. There can sometimes be perpetual moaners and they can be tiresome. Don't abandon the online community just because you have had one bad experience, but you may improve the quality of your own enjoyment by walking away and joining something else.
The buttons on the top left are a small selection of what I think are good facilities. I contribute to some and lurk on others. I put a few notes below that may help you.
BBKA (British Beekeepers Association) Discussion Forum. This is hosted on the BBKA website and although it is intended for BBKA members others are welcome. There were some problems in the past that were caused by a small number of members. This has now been rectified and is offering good sound advice. It is a pleasant place for beekeepers of all abilities to post. I am one of the moderators.
SBA (Scottish Beekeepers Association) Discussion Forum. This is hosted on SBA website and is well run and moderated. It has a Scottish flavour, but contributors come from outside Scotland. There are a number of Amm beekeepers who contribute.
Beesource is largely American, but with a wide variety of content. I use it regularly for finding information for this website. You must remember that some information may not be best suited to you and as you would expect with a large facility some information is very good, yet other not so good.
BEE-L is American, but is applicable to all beekeepers. Has a high level of scientific content.
Biobees Forum is well run and moderated, but concentrates on "natural" beekeeping. There is still a lot to learn for conventional beekeepers though.
New Zealand Forum is what it suggests. I find it very useful and although quite small it seems to keep active.
Beemaster. An American facility that doesn't get the publicity others do. I like it, but as always there is some careful selection needed.