Great online reef aquarium debate

Opinion | 14th April 2010 | Article by Curvball | View comments (12)

One of the greatest things about the Internet is the availability of information, no matter how useless it might seem – guess ‘they’ weren’t wrong when it was coined the Information Super Highway, right? Would have helped if they made a map to go with it though…

Micronesia coral reef from above © mattk1979 via Flickr

The Great Migration

For the reefkeeping community the information we all crave has for the longest time been found in printed books. We knew that we could pick up a copy by a well-known authority in the hobby and we could trust his or her advice. While we devoured this info, we started talking about these ideas and sharing our experiences online – enter the infamous reefkeeping forums.

Death of Print

I am not saying that the online world has replaced the need for good aquarium literature – but the pace at which this hobby moves (perhaps a direct result of sharing info online?) published material easily becomes out dated in under a year. With the web becoming increasingy mobile – do we really have the need for aquarium books? Why spend money on a good-looking book only to find the latest trickle filter method is the way to do things? Perhaps I am saying that printed aquarium material is headed the way of the dinosaurs…

On Tap

The Internet has definetly had an impact on all printed aspects of this hobby – why buy a reefkeeping magazine when you can research and find all the information you need online? Sites, like this one, nanoreefblog and others such as Glassbox-Design (GBD), Reefbuilders, Aquanerd, Captive Aquatics, OCRD, PracticalFishkeeping and many others all deliver news from the aquarium community as and when it happens. In addition they review products, and talk about the hobby in general while offering their readers the option to voice their opinions. But they do seem to lack in good solid well written reefkeeping literature (yes, they all have published some great posts, I’m just saying, and yes, I’m also pointing fingers at myself). Would be great to see some (rip) and Advanced Aquarist magazine style articles.

Melting Pot

Long gone are the days when we listened to the advise of a handful of professionals and hung onto each of their printed words – hobbyists are leading the way forward with their discussions and rants on forums, all sorts of methods are being documented on blogs all over the internet, even if it is limited. All kinds of advice (some backed by years of experience, some based on hearsay) is being traded in an almost real time fashion across the world. Without the Internet I highly doubt the melding of US, Euro and Japanese reef aquaria styles would have occurred.

Less is More

I would like to see more of the respected reefers (and the not so respected pioneers) setting up their own blogs and sharing their experiences – not another site postings news, the other guys have that covered – with the world – I’m tired of scrolling through reams of useless one line posts on the forums, just to find some relevant information. Publishing articles on forums is not very user-friendly – use a blog instead please. Deliver the information once and allow people to learn instead of just giving the same recommendation 29 times a day on a silver spoon…

Information Overload

We have the forums, we have the blog/news sites, we even have a great community of reefers on Twitter and a few niche groups coming together on Facebook – there are even dedicated reefkeeping social media sites too. Is there too much choice? Is the overall reefing community fragmenting and returning to the ‘dark pre-Internet’ age where we all lived in small isolated villages? Is everybody trying to be ‘that person’ who creates the next Reef Central?


What is the point of this post? To be honest I’m not entirely sure, I’m just really thinking out aloud about this hobby and the online space it occupies.

What do you think of the online reefkeeping world? Please share your thoughts below, or get in touch if you’d like to add something more substantial in the form of a guest post.

About the author:

Curvball is the editor and founder of Having kept aquariums on and off since the age 8 years old, this now 32 year old hobbyist is well versed in various types of aquariums. His passion is SPS corals and the challenges of maintaining them in relatively small amounts of water. His professional background as a designer and writer combined with his love for this hobby makes the perfect extension of his passions.

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12 Responses on Great online reef aquarium debate

  1. Shane Graber says:

    I've been watching how things have changed online since 2000 when I started in this hobby (followed by taking over article coding/posting/maintenance for in 2003). It's been interesting to see how things went from email lists (reefs-l, reefkeeping-l) and Compuserv's FishNet forums (late 1990's) to online forums like and RC (early 2000's) and published online magazines like / to Blogs/Twitter/Facebook (last year or two). The web is constantly changing. :) The interesting thing I've seen is that not many reefkeepers actually have a blog even with the proliferation of and I've scratched my head on that one as I would think that someone would want to park themselves someplace and show off their tanks other than just on forums.

    I wanted to respond to a couple of the comments about printed aquarium books / magazines compared to finding information online. The real trick about finding information online is that for someone completely new to the hobby, it's overwhelming to find out where to even begin online. A lot of times they'll start at where ever seems "relevant" to them at the time, which might be completely offbase from where the "right" data can be found. They might even start their search where an ill-informed LFS told them to start! (d'oh!) Search engine results are ranked based on relevance to search query (and SEO and now website load times) and not to how things should be properly done or latest practices. A technique might be completely wrong but since the author(s) website has better search engine ranking (keyword relevance, load times, etc), the unknowing person will find that information first and might start there.

    This is where books and print magazines have the definite advantage. Someone with at least some knowledge has taken the time to put together information into a printed medium and spent some money publishing it. They have a vested interest in being somewhat current otherwise they won't make money. You do make a point that it's easier for books to become dated rather quickly (depending on the subject matter), but magazines tend to stay more relevant as they publish articles monthly/bi-monthly on the subject. With magazines, the editors have to stay fairly relevant to the latest/most accepted protocols otherwise their business model fails. IMO, print magazines are probably the best "bang for the buck" and get people at least pointed in the right direction. I've personally wanted to get Advanced Aquarist into some form of print for that very reason (which we've done with our books on as I feel we do a pretty good job of staying on the leading edge with article subjects, keeping pace with how the hobby is changing, and getting people pointed in the right direction. The reader can then follow up with more properly formulated internet searches on the subject and find where the most relevant/latest information can be found online. Right now there's only a couple print magazines left in the hobby (PFK, Coral, Aquarium Fish, etc.) so it narrows things down a lot for the reader. Honestly I don't see printed books/magazines going away any time soon, but there is a lot more of an online social aspect that these publications need to grasp on to in order to keep up with things. I also personally believe the print books/magazines are going to have to embrace things like the Kindle and iPad as I see things going more and more that direction.

  2. Melissa says:

    Great post! On the aspect of books, I'd like to mention that Kevin Kohen, Fish Monger of LiveAquaria, has several shelves FULL of books that he won't live without and in fact, has several copies of some! It's the only way he can accurately identify some of the fish & corals that come through.

    I too would love to see more blogs by hobbyists, instead of forum threads. Blogs are so easy (and FREE)….and all your own with no rules.

    Thanks for the great read. :-)

  3. Derek says:

    I am honored to be listed among such excellent company. Echoing the comments above, I am surprised that there are not more reef blogs out there. Maybe we need to resurrect the old "Ring" concept where you linked your site to a group of other sites that were similar and you could simply click on "Next Site" to see the next (or random) site in that ring of sites.

    I would like to see those that are blogging write up more articles too. They may look at their experience as unique and it certainly is, but whether we realize it or not, we are all experimenting and taking the time document the results and conditions can prove beneficial. Even if it helps put some more anecdotal evidence behind a "theory".

    A quick example, elegance corals used to be easy to keep, then they started harvesting them form other places and deeper in the reef and they became almost impossible to keep. Now, some Australian versions are considered possible. Where is this information coming from? Wouldn't it be great to have lots of folks post their results in their blogs about their experiences? Might help greatly.

    Of course that lends itself to a more formal process or database, but we need to start small.

    Great post!!!

  4. Joost's reef says:

    I agree that there should be more bloggers that write articles but they are defiantly out there,

    some of my favorites:

  5. Shane Graber says:

    I got to thinking about it a bit more after posting and I think a lot of the lack of reefkeeping bloggers is that people want to be someplace where they can show off what they're doing to a large, focused audience and be heard. On a reefkeeping forum, there's a targeted audience right at your fingertips. At a blog, you might post something interesting but and insightful, but the community is just not there until you've built up a reader-base. It's slowly changing though…

  6. Mike Maddox says:

    Excellent post. I have absolutely no use for forums and don't visit them, except for light moderation duties on because the owner is my friend, but a few blogs and are all I need!

  7. James Weir says:

    I personally would love to keep a blog on my reef and in deed the tropical marine world. Unfortunately even with my degree in biosciences and my time spent researching trop marine bio at the gerace centre I still wouldn't like to be let lose on the world advising people. Forums give you the option to give an opinion but not leave you fully responsible.

  8. What I like best about internet forums is how well the public carves up poor information so well, and from the various responses I can look for consistencies in the answers and try to make an informed guess as to any new direction considered. I've learned almost everything that's ever helped me in pico reef designs from web forums and not from books (as most still pose pico reefs as unstable or only for professionals). In fact, without the web forums I am 100% certain pico reefing would only be a tenth of what it is now, web forums and the follow up debates/interactions/vids and pics have really been the most driving force behind reef aquariums revolutions, jmo


  9. ANON says:

    I wouldn't waste my time.

  10. Thats an excellent right to exercise~ but for the thousands that choose this mode of time wasting the forums have helped us get better lol

    Just saw a book by J. Hemdal, and that reminded me of meeting him in online forums before it was completed. thats a neat way to blend forum work with formal publication, helps his information expand on the most current activities.

  11. sary says:

    aquaristic art :P kidding

  12. […] by Curvball | 0 comments Awhile back (ok, a very long time ago!) I posted (er, ranted) about the online state of our hobby, since then I’ve received numerous requests about how one actually goes about setting up […]

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