I have an admission to make: I've only been keeping reefs for a few months. Yet, in this short amount of time, I have managed to acquire an amazing amount of knowledge about reef systems, which would have usually taken years of experience, learning and (gasp!) trial and error.
What's my not-so-secret weapon? I draw upon the collective knowledge of literally thousands of reefkeepers of all levels of experience and expertise every day. And you can, too.
The Internet is well-established as one of the best sources of information- and misinformation- in the world. So, what are the best ways to use the Internet? Let's say you want to find out about the suitability of a gorgeous coral you've come across- for example, a Heliofungia species.
Certainly, you can search the entire Internet and sift through thousands of bad links, outdated information and personal web pages. However, I prefer to hit the forums (see table 2). These diverse communities are the keys to everything you will ever want to know about our hobby, now and in the future. Breakthroughs are made often in this wonderful pastime, and being on the cutting edge will allow you to use the best possible methods available, at all times. Following are ways to make the most of these valuable forums.
It's Easier Than It Looks.
Those new to discussion forums may be overwhelmed: Links everywhere! How does it work? You really only need to know four things to get started: point, click, search and your web browsers back button. The rest will come in time. And no, you cant break anything.
Search Is Your Friend.
Upon completing a simple registration form, you'll be able to post your question to the reefing community. Don't do it! Not yet, at least. Instead, find in small print somewhere on the main forum page the word Search Your new best friend. Click it. Now, type in Heliofungia. Surprise! You've probably just found at least ten to twenty Threads (discussion topics) either about, or at least mentioning, this gorgeous cnidarian. Read them all. You'll most likely find the answers to your questions within, and save yourself the time of asking and waiting for replies. More importantly, you've saved everyone else from having to type the same answer they've already been kind enough to give, possibly several times. The regular members will appreciate your having looked. Many questions, such as do I really need a protein skimmer and Is silica sand okay to use even go totally ignored by these communities, because quite frankly they've given the answer dozens of times, are bored of the discussion, and know for a fact you have-not done your homework before asking.
Okay, NOW You Can Ask.
Didn't find the answer you were looking for? Now's your chance to pose the question to your community. If you've searched and still have-not found your answer, you're doing everyone a favor by asking now. The regulars will enjoy the conversation while possibly learning something new. People will share their knowledge. And future members will find your thread upon searching. This is the essence and beauty of the discussion community.
Learning Who The Players Are.
Soon enough, you'll begin browsing all of the topics, finding ones that interest you and picking up knowledge just for the sake of learning. When you encounter a reply from someone who is obviously well-informed, take a look at their user name and how many posts they've logged, usually to the left of their message. Learn whoops been around for a while, who always gives helpful answers, and yes, learn who doesn't know what he's talking about. Anyone can post, and it's up to you to figure out which advice to act upon.
Let The Majority Rule. Usually.
Not a steadfast rule, but overall a good way to go. If three people say Heliofungia (capitalized) are easy to keep and twenty-seven say they're difficult and time-consuming, listen to the majority. Some people get lucky. Some people have an above-average system. Some people proudly post success stories days before their prized Heliofungia recede and die. The majority of people don't, so listen to them.
Follow The Links.
One great forum leads to another, and before you know it you'll have several well-populated forums from which to choose. Use them all. Following the same above rules, do a similar search for Heliofungia on three or four of the forums. See what the majority say. Record or make a mental note of an insightful tip someone mentions for keeping them healthy. Follow more links. Read the articles, visit the web sites, and please, shop the sponsors.
Browse, Browse, Browse!
Now that you've found the answer you're looking for, ites time to learn all kinds of stuff you didn't even know you wanted to know. What are some hardier types of Caulerpa? How often should you dose phytoplankton and what is the best brand? How can you build your own calcium reactor? Can you keep a 55-gallon tank on the second floor of your house? Who are some good online coral vendors? The answers are all there, and the more you read, the more you learn.
Don't be shy. As you acquire knowledge, share it. That's what the forums are all about. So, when the next unknowing soul comes along and posts the topic, Are Heliofungia easy to keep you can share what you've learned. You can point them to a search, link to the existing topics, or just tell them what you know. It'll be fun, I promise.
Find Your Home.
You'll discover a couple of huge forums with thousands of members, paid experts and hundreds of new topics every day. Priceless sources of information, but the community aspect often gets lost in the grandness of it all. There are, however, smaller more close-knit discussion sites with a few dedicated resident experts and many others of varying levels. I have chosen one of these smaller sites as my home, the place where I read and post most actively. I search this site first, and if I don't find my answer, I go search the big guys. I know the people on my site I know who I can trust, who's always good for a laugh, and who can benefit from my knowledge. When I feel like doing some serious reading, I hit the big guys for a while and take what I've learned back to my home to share with the others. My home is listed in table 2, and you're all invited to stop by any time.
In conclusion, by participating in the online reefkeeping community, there is no end to what you can learn both retroactively by searching and over time by staying current as the technology and common knowledge of reefkeeping change. It's a beautiful coral, by the way, the Heliofungia. You really should look into it.
Table 1: Some Helpful Abbreviations
FWIW = For what it's worth
HTH= Hope this helps
IME= in my experience
IMO= just my opinion.
LOL= laughing out loud
ROTFL= Rolling on the floor laughing
LMAO= Laughing my (anus) off
FS= for sale
FT= for trade
FA= for auction
J/K= Just kidding
FOWLR= Fish-only with live rock
LR= live rock
DSB= deep sand bed
LPS= Large-polyped stony corals
SPS= Small-polyped stony corals
FAQ= Frequently-asked questions <or... Frequently Accessed Queries? RMF>
Table 2: Some very good starting points
www.reefcentral.com Huge, Very well-designed, sometimes overwhelming
www.reefs.org Medium-sized with great reference materials
www.wetwebmedia.com This one's special. Visit the archived FAQs. Thanks, Bob!
www.reefaquariumguide.com My home. The perfect size for me.
www.thereeftank.com A little site with a big heart.
www.aqualinkwebforum.com Sometimes slow, but a nice place to visit.