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A Talk on the Wild Side.

Apps for the Outdoors: 5 Ways to use Mobile and Social Media in Nature

Go online or head outside; these used to be mutually exclusive activities. 

Not any more. 

Smartphones like iPhones, Androids, or Blackberries are everywhere. In fact, the Nielson research firm now estimates that 40 percent of mobile users in the U.S. are using smartphones.  One of the coolest features of smartphones are apps, or applications, that you can use with your phone.

With the rise of social media and the mobile web, there are a ton of ways to use your smartphone to engage with nature and the outdoors. Here's our top 5 in no particular order:

    A visitor on iNature Trail at J.N. "Ding" Darling NWR in Florida. (Chelle Koster Walton)

1. Use the Twitter app to follow organizations and people who work with nature in your local community

Twitter is best known for it's 140 character "tweets." In addition to following friends or the latest musings from Lady Gaga, Twitter helps you to find out what's happening in your local community.

It's pretty common for nature organizations (such as yours truly) to tweet about events or activities. Not that we're biased or anything (okay, we totally are) but the Twitter account for the National Wildlife Refuge System is a great resource to stay in the know about events going on at refuges from all over the country. 

2. Download nature-themed apps and learn more about the world around you

There are a ton of great nature-themed apps out there.  For those of us who can't head into the forest without our trusty field guide, apps like the Audubon Field Guide to North American Birds or iForest-Trees and Shrubs can turn your phone into an amazing resource to learn more about the natural world.

Since most smartphones have a camera, in addition to getting a great photo of a Western Tanager, you'll be able to quickly identify it too!

3. Use a QR code reader at a National Wildlife Refuge 

QR codes are like barcodes that can be scanned by smartphones to pull up web sites, videos and countless other bits and bytes of information.

In late June, Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge unveiled iNature Trail, using QR codes along a four mile stretch of the Refuge. Ding Darling is the first refuge in the country to use the technology. Programs like iNature Trail transform your smartphone into a knowledgeable park ranger who can help you understand more about the land around you. 

4. Meet other nature lovers in Facebook's pages and groups

Facebook has mobile apps that allow you to keep up with all of the pages and groups you've "liked" while you are on the go. Nature themed pages and groups often form around the places and organizations that nature lovers care about.  By joining in the conversations on Facebook, you can meet people with similar interests who can help you find new natural places to fall in love with or explore.

5. Share and Geotag photos of your favorite spot

Photo sharing sites like Flickr allow you upload photos directly from your phone. The coolest part of this is that you can "Geotag" these photos, allowing you--and others--to see the exact place where the photo was taken on a searchable map. 

Got any more good ideas? Let us know by leaving your comment below!


The first four of these are best done before or after being in nature, only the last is an "in-field" activity. People should be engaging with the life around them, not man made info tools.
# Posted By Al Smith | 9/28/11 3:56 PM

GR codes are being included in two nature trail projects of Texas Master Naturalist chapters involving state parks. It is an enhancement to interpretive trail signage for the involved participants. Thanks for an insightful article!
# Posted By S Tullos | 10/29/11 6:12 AM
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