I feel compelled to write up any site that makes me laugh. Berkeley and Craig Newmark (he of Craigslist) have gotten together to create an online game that points a camera out in Craig’s backyard, takes pictures of, and identifies wild birds. You can play Cone Sutro Forest at http://cone.berkeley.edu/ .
The first order of business is registering with the site, which requires a username, e-mail address, and password. (Note that you have to come up with a username, but when you sign in you use your e-mail address. Whatever…) Once you’re registered and have confirmed your registration, you’ll log in and be presented with a closeup view of some bird feeders and a wider view of Craig Newmark’s back yard (which is absolutely beautiful.) You’ll need to have Java for this to work.
You can move the camera around by drawing boxes and by using a set of arrow controls. I found the arrow controls easiest — I ended up drawing boxes all over the place and not figuring out how to aim them at a particular area. There are also multiple people controlling the camera — if there are multiple people playing, you can just watch people move the camera around and focus on birds (hopefully they’re better at it than I am.)
Hang out and look for birds. The video is really good. Watching the site for 15 minutes or so I saw plenty of birds, though sometimes they came and left before I could get them into focus. (I imagine with several people playing this could get to be a problem — everybody spots the bird at the same time and jumps on the camera controls.)
Find a bird? Zoom in (or let somebody else do it) and click on the TAKE SNAPSHOT button. A picture of the bird ends up in your gallery page, where you can go back and review it. You can take up to ten pictures a day but can clear out some pictures on your “daily roll” to make room for others. If you can identify the bird in your picture, click on it and slowly type in the name (so the database for the site can make a suggestion.)
Your My Gallery pictures also end up in the Public Gallery, so be sure to junk blurry/empty/bad pictures. Browse the picture gallery to see what other folks have found — I saw several sparrows, jays, hummingbirds, and at least two upside-down squirrels.
This isn’t going to be for everybody, but I was very impressed by the technology and there were enough birds flying in and out to keep me entertained.