Excess of Ecosystem

Taxonomy can be tricky business as you nature lovers know. However, we derive great advantage from systems that efficiently and effectively categorize different familes, genera, species, etc. The categorization scheme for members of the Nature Blog Network is also meant to facilitate the identification different blogs in the field. Alas, the classification of nature blogs may require a modern-day Linnaeus.

The problem is an excess of “Ecosystem” blogs. Of the 926 member blogs of the NBN (as of the time of this post) a full 421 of them self-identify as Ecosystem blogs. That’s simply too many. The problem is not that the category is applied erroneously; in fact, I’d wager that even more blogs accurately fall under that expansive umbrella. The issue instead is the mass applicability of the label. If half of all nature blogs fall under one category, the category is too broad to be useful.

So how should we split Ecosystem blogs into discrete, identifiable species? What classifications would serve to separate the vast mass of blogs into more recognizable strata? We welcome any and all suggestions in the comments section!


  1. Jason R
    May 28, 2009 at 6:18 AM | Permalink

    This is the Nature Blog Network but “Nature” is not an option when selecting a focus from the drop down menu. I’d expect that Ecosystem is just the closest substitute.

    Why not just allow binomial/bifocal classification? Have a primary and secondary focus. For instance, I am still cheesed I had to choose between Marine or Mollusk. Why can’t I be both? But seriously, I wondered why Mollusk was teased out for its own focus in the first place and not just lumped under the other invertebrates. Also, I’d change the Flora focus to Plants.

  2. May 28, 2009 at 6:27 AM | Permalink

    Hi, Mike!

    The NBN category quandry sounds like what I go through with my post categories on my Christian Nature blog. Yikes!

    I have visited almost 1,000 blogs on the Nature Blog Network, repeatedly, and the variety can seem OVERWHELMING. Each blog is as individual as its blogger.

    Scientific, Poetic, Photographic, Artistic, Political, Spiritual, Psychological, Environmental, Philosophical, Educational, Regional, Family, Wildlife, Conservation and Pet blogs abound!

    Perhaps the underlying motivation and aim of each blog should serve as a dividing line?

  3. May 28, 2009 at 9:14 AM | Permalink

    I would suggest adding one or more of the following:
    - a category specifically for academic/professional ecology or natural history
    - nature photography or nature art
    - wildlife conservation
    - gardening
    - environmental education

    I would also encourage people to submit to a more specific category that they most identify with. It might help to write category descriptions.

  4. May 28, 2009 at 10:44 AM | Permalink

    How about allowing authors to choose a small number of tags (say up to five or ten) to describe their blog, instead of just one broad category. Perhaps some of those tags could be ecosystem-descriptive: ‘desert’, ‘boreal forest’ ‘montane’ ‘coastal’ ‘tropical’ etc. What about tags for regions / sovereign states too?

    For example, I might tag my blog with ‘temperate’ ‘woodland’ ‘trees’ ‘UK’.

  5. May 28, 2009 at 10:45 AM | Permalink

    In part, my initial reaction was opposed to your whole premise: I think we need to look more at bigger pictures and less at specializations so for me ecosystems is a good choice but I understand why you want to do it.

    I like April’s list of motivations and styles more than the current list of aspects of nature which seems like a random and limited selection. Related to Jason’s comment, perhaps a page of as many descriptive choices as the blogger feels apply when signing up so that clicking on a blog title would give a list.

    I’d like to see a regional sorting such as is done in some blog posts here. And a category for those blogs which are official sites for a place or company.

  6. May 28, 2009 at 11:12 AM | Permalink

    As the one on this blog tasked with picking out the populations from within the populations as it were, I fully endorse more specific tags.

    Those that incorporate the region in which the blog is based would be especially appreciated.

  7. May 28, 2009 at 11:34 AM | Permalink

    It seems to me that if you don’t focus on a particular group of organisms (eg, only birds, or only trees), but you’re interested in nature at a deeper level than simply hiking around outside in it (or maybe you don’t hike but you do still observe), you have no choice left but “ecosystem”. It’s true, however, that within that very broad description there are many types of smaller categories.

    There are the creative endeavours: I think “nature photography” and “nature art” could be two separate categories. There’s also a fair bit of “nature poetry”. I think a “hard science” category would be useful, and perhaps a “science news” category for blogs sharing the latest headlines in the science world.

    I would probably put my blog into a category such as “nature exploration”, with blogs that are more casual about their topics, posting more just on what they’re seeing in their yard or on their hikes, rather than doing investigation to share facts, as “nature observation”. Perhaps a spin-off or a different breed of the latter would be “spiritual” or something of the like.

    I don’t consider my blog science (which I interpret to be more academic or research related), but rather as “nature”, and myself a “naturalist” not a “scientist”. So there needs to be some sort of separation between those two groups.

    And unrelated to either academia or naturalizing is the “conservation” aspect of nature, issues with the “environment”, as well as “wildlife” rescue and rehab.

    Also, I agree with greentangle that it’d be really nice to have the option to include your state/province (if in North America) or country (for elsewhere) so that if you’re interested in finding other blogs from your region it’s easy to narrow them down. There would need to be an option for “traveling” for those blogs that are on the road a lot, too.

  8. May 28, 2009 at 11:40 AM | Permalink

    Thinking more about it, I like Jason’s suggestion of a “binomial” classification – first would be your blogging approach, and second would be your focus: thus my blog would be “nature exploration / ecosystem” whereas something else might be “nature art / birds”. And then you could have the option of searching both/either for the approach and/or the focus.

  9. May 28, 2009 at 12:23 PM | Permalink

    The dialogue here is fantastic. Allow me to respond to some of the suggestions in order to further focus ideas…

    The Nature Blog Network runs on two platforms. The toplist, which is the core of the site, is less robust than the blog. There is no mechanism to allow people to select multiple tags on enrollment. Unless members include keywords in their blog description, they’re limited to a single category.

    The binomial nomenclature idea is interesting, but I fear too unwieldy to implement. Again, the interface is limited so we’d have to designate all the possible permutations. As a consequence, the list of categories would be enormous which might be daunting.

    Every blog in the network must be a nature blog. Thus, including nature in the category name would be redundant. By the same token, this isn’t the right place for blogs that are only science, gardening, or pet blogs. Those wouldn’t be applicable categories.

    Some of the more intriguing ideas would be to parse Ecosystem into different ecosystems (desert, montane, etc.) and locations (Maine, Singapore). Also descriptive would be Photography, Art, Writing, Academia, Tours, Education, and Wildlife Conservation. Are we on the right track with this?

    Also, it seems like you’re in favor of changing Flora to Plants. That’s easy to do. I don’t see why we’d want to separate plants and trees though, especially since this isn’t a gardening toplist.

    Regarding Jason’s question about separating Mollusks from Marine, at the time I was thinking of sites like Aydin’s Snail Tales. I should have kept it in Invertebrates.

  10. May 28, 2009 at 2:43 PM | Permalink

    If we’re limited to one choice, I think I’d like to see ecosystem (or some other generalist substitute) remain as one of the options. I’d be very hard pressed to choose only writing or only conservation or only hiking which is why I picked ecosystem originally.

    I also wouldn’t pick my state as my option if forced to choose between location and something more descriptive of contents so I’m not sure how accurate the location lists would turn out to be.

  11. May 28, 2009 at 3:19 PM | Permalink

    I would have to agree with greentangle regarding including different types of options in the list. Like Jason’s dilemma over which one of two categories to choose, if I had to decide whether to pick “Ontario”, “ecosystem”, “forest” or “education” (would that latter even be the right term for the purpose of my blog? that suggests to me more like day camps or public demonstrations, but I’m not sure what else would fit as the purpose of the blog), I would inevitably revert to “ecosystem” as the term that best encompassed the whole blog.

    Also, with regards to the “science” category, I consider blogs like “Not Exactly Rocket Science” to be more science than nature (indeed, it is self-described as “A science blog that aims to make the latest research in all areas of biology fun and understandable to everyone.”). Although an excellent blog, very little of his content is derived from him going outside and interacting with nature, at least in the way that I define nature.

  12. May 28, 2009 at 4:59 PM | Permalink

    I think Mike’s categories are on the right track (if the ‘tags’ or ‘secondary focus’ concept is unwieldy). Some possible topics seem to be: photography, travel, natural history, conservation, zoology, and maybe ecology in place of ecosystem for those who are really wedded to that nameplate, and maybe some sort of ‘local’ or ‘backyard habitat’ for those solely focused on a very restricted area. But I suspect a lot of bloggers won’t want to be pigeon-holed too tightly!

  13. May 28, 2009 at 5:07 PM | Permalink

    I admit that I accepted some science blogs with limited nature content when I started NBN. That doesn’t happen much anymore and I do believe that the current sci-focused members bring something to the community.

    That desire not to be pigeon-holed is exactly why it’s tough to separate sites in the Ecosystem category. Greentangle and Seabrooke, you both have wide-ranging blogs so maybe you can help get the terminology right. Once it’s understood that both of your blogs are nature blogs, what is the next word or term you would use to classify them? I know it wouldn’t be Ecosystem. Would it be Natural History?

  14. May 28, 2009 at 6:22 PM | Permalink

    I tend to agree with greentangles comments both about ‘ecosystem’ as a choice, and location as something I’d prefer not to use.

    For myself I never look at the categories. When I started I chose ‘birds’ because it seemed best for what I thought I would write. But I debated ‘ecosystem’ because I knew I’d range beyond birds. I don’t think I’ve paid any attention to them since the day I started.

    Instead I peruse the toplist and click on something whose description sounds like it might be interesting. If it is I remember it by name, not by category. That’s always been just fine for me. So from my perspective there is no such thing as ‘too many’ entries under one category. I hope this doesn’t sound critical of the original post and in the long run I’m sure it will have little effect on my personally. I wouldn’t like to be shoeboxed into one little category like ‘nature art/birds’ but then I hope that this would be overcome by readers who are are adventurous enough to choose their reading by something broader than category. Again I hope this doesn’t sound too critical. I’m just not sure that there’s really a problem here.

  15. May 28, 2009 at 7:49 PM | Permalink

    Ken’s comment is in line with what I first thought about “too broad to be useful.” Who are we trying to be useful to? I don’t know if this is what you meant, Mike, but the way I answered it to myself was that you want to make it easier for people to find blogs they’d be interested in. A fine goal, but if we have to label wide-ranging blogs with something that’s only going to appeal to part of the potential audience, is that any more useful to the audience or the blogger?

    I might be too wide-ranging to come up with an answer for you. I remember that when I applied I wasn’t sure I’d even be accepted because my blog is not only a nature blog, certainly not in the sense that most here are. Natural history is certainly part of it, nature writing is a big part of it, hiking is part of it, but ecosystem really might be the word I’d pick. I think it’s an indication that I’m trying to look at the big picture, and the effects of actions, and the relationships between people and other species.

  16. May 28, 2009 at 9:57 PM | Permalink

    While it doesn’t apply to my blog, I could see how a photography category might be useful and appealing to some people. Personally I find natural history to be more descriptive for my blog than Ecosystem. Maybe that’s just because I think of an ecosystem as a construct to describe nature while the phrase natural history has more tradition behind it while describing the study of parts of an ecosystem.

    I didn’t choose another category because my blog is wide ranging and it sounds like a lot of people are in the same boat. We need a category for general “nature” blogs since that is what a lot of them are. Perhaps though, people who are in the ecosystem category who would like a smaller group will have suggestions. Perhaps some people are there just because there were no Geology, Meteorology or Astronomy categories.

  17. May 28, 2009 at 9:59 PM | Permalink

    Part of the problem with having such a large category is that blogs in the top 40-100 or so will be relatively easy to find, but once you get down to the 200th Ecosystem blog (and below), there will be a lot less benefit to the bloggers from being part of the network. More specific categories would benefit less-trafficked blogs by bringing them closer to the top of the category lists where other people can find them. It also makes it easier for members of smaller niches to find each other.

  18. May 28, 2009 at 10:39 PM | Permalink

    Hi there!
    Would like a category list which would include the locality or continent/s where the blogs are based so it’s easier to find blogs about continents that we have a general or special interest in, thanks.

  19. May 28, 2009 at 11:00 PM | Permalink

    Re: what is the purpose of categories on the toplist (the “useful”), I have used them a few times to look for blogs that may share my interests. For instance, in trying to find other blogs on moths I searched the Invertebrates category. It wasn’t a problem to go through the entire toplist back when there were only 100 blogs or so, but now that it’s nearing 1000 I suspect the blogs at the end get buried. Like John says, the only way these blogs are going to see the light of day is probably to place them in narrower categories. Invertebrates still only has a single page of blogs; it’s pretty easy to browse through and check out the entire list.

    The other benefit to narrowing down the Ecosystem category is in trying to find the sort of blog you’re really looking to read. Just because someone’s writing about more than one topic doesn’t necessarily mean they’re going to fit what you’re interested in. For instance, maybe you’re looking for the creative blogs and really aren’t that interested in the ones that go into more factual stuff, or vice versa. It would take you a long time to browse through 420 blogs trying to find the ones who are also artists.

    I still wish there was an easy way to connect with other blogs in my region. I end up doing Google searches for “blog Ontario” but it’s a very hit-or-miss approach. I recognize that the toplist isn’t a very flexible interface, but would it not be possible to add another dropdown or text box? I’m not sure what the limitations are, specifically.

    In response to your question, Mike, I agree Natural History might be a good category label for blogs like mine.

  20. May 29, 2009 at 12:29 PM | Permalink

    “More specific categories would benefit less-trafficked blogs by bringing them closer to the top of the category lists where other people can find them. It also makes it easier for members of smaller niches to find each other.”

    Totally agree with that, John. I’m also in favour of a Natural History category.

  21. May 29, 2009 at 4:11 PM | Permalink

    Yes! Natural History for we generalists who can’t focus on one particular thing!
    “Ecosystem” just doesn’t feel right.

  22. May 30, 2009 at 11:56 AM | Permalink

    I think Natural History is a more accurate or appealing label for a lot of blogs, but I suspect that’s still going to be a very large group.

    After thinking about it, I’d probably be content to go with Nature Writing as my label.

  23. June 4, 2009 at 1:17 PM | Permalink

    I like the idea of a locality-based option. While I post on things that are of more general interest, a lot of my content is very specific to the DC area and the mid-atlantic and it would be nice for my neighbors to be able to find me!

  24. June 4, 2009 at 4:23 PM | Permalink

    I’d like to see Photography in the pull-down list.

  25. June 4, 2009 at 9:06 PM | Permalink

    There’s a reason why I’m not a metadata specialist. Categorizing things is easy in theory and difficult in practice. Particularly when the thing being categorized is a blog, and thus may change its purpose, focus, or just about anything else over time.

    I’m a big believer in pragmatism over cataloging theory. I’m thinking we need a populist method for identifying new categories – a market trends analysis to track what’s of interest, for example. I need to give more thought to just how I’d suggest going about that, but I’m envisioning the electronic equivilant of let students wear a path in the grass and then put in the sidewalks.

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    [...] week, I broached the topic of splitting the Nature Blog Network category of Ecosystem into smaller, more specific categories. That fruitful conversation is still going, so don’t hesitate to add your two cents. But [...]