How to recognize hobbyists who will bring you down...

An article in an online publication I read some time ago stirred up a small storm of controversy on the forums and social media. The author suggested that hobbyists should take with a grain of salt advice from those who apparently don’t have a tank, or even a body of work to fall back on, particularly those who have “guru-like” status on forums, etc. While fundamentally, his assertion is pretty sound- people who claim that their way is “the only way” need to have something more than words to back up their claim- I think that the thing that rubbed a number of readers of the piece wrong was the assertion that many people who offer advice and ideas don't seem to show pics of their successful tank in their articles. 

I think I kind of know what he was hinting at, perhaps in a bit more direct and less nuanced way. It looks like, in the firestorm of criticism surrounding the article, that readers might have slightly misinterpreted what he was getting at. I think his point was not that everyone who is proffering advice has to show an awesome tank, or spawning results to back it up. I think, or I’d like to think, that what he was getting at was that people with dogmatic “my way or the highway” attitudes that are condescending towards everyone doing thing a different way, need to offer some evidence supporting their claims. 

I have to admit that I disagree with any absolute statement that suggests you must have an epic  tank in order to offer an opinion or advice. I do agree, however, that anyone asserting that they are right and everyone else has it wrong should offer some tangible evidence to support their theory. A picture of a healthy successful aquarium is a start, but not necessarily the only evidence we should require.


I remember a piece I wrote, perhaps in a more gentle tone, called “The Danger of Regurgitation”, right here on “The Tint”, in which I basically offered a similar sort of warning, but was a little more specific, perhaps less sophisticated: Be wary of really arrogant people.  One only look back into recent reef keeping history (mid “First decade 2000s) to see a graphic example of what the author was probably alluding to- the Sanded vs. Barebottom “Wars”, where tremendous arrogance took over common sense, and a sort of gang mentality broke out via the internet between those who supported the idea of a sandbed, and those who were against it. Really ugly stuff, those “sandbed wars”- and we hopefully learned a thing or two from them.

The bottom line is that you need to take all advice-from anyone- with a grain of salt. No one knows everything about aquarium keeping. Woah! I said it. I’ll say it again: No one knows everything about aquarium keeping, regardless of pedigree, or even regardless of how nice their tank looks. 

Something to contemplate.  

During the course of your aquarium keeping “career”, you will meet lots of different people who are also into fish. Many will offer advice- some welcome, some unsolicited and not so welcome! I’ve noticed this since we've been in business, as well! People tend to come and “consult” with you, even if you’re not asking for it. It’s a good and bad aspect of aquarium keeping- fellow hobbyists are always willing to help. The problem is, some people are not all that helpful, and can even prove detrimental to your enjoyment of the hobby!



Not that this piece was meant as an addendum to the somewhat controversial piece touched on above, but it may offer some thoughts that perhaps express some parallel sentiments, albeit in a less dogmatic way. The bottom line: You have to be downright careful about who you let into your home or aquarium “envelope” to “check out” your tank and render advice. This is not rocket science, but in this internet-fueled, “everyone-knows-everything-because-of-Google” age, it’s pretty important to grasp.

I’ve actually classified the types of hobbyists who dispense advise and perhaps make you feel bad, who you’ll run into now and again. They are, of course, generalizations, but they seem to be somewhat accurate, based on my experience.

  1. The “Diverter”- “Diverters” are cool people who come into your home and check out your tank, and totally distract you from the direction you’re headed. These amazing people have a tendency to offer “corrections”- attempting to show you a “better way” to go- or something that you “need to do”- usually something that THEY strongly believe in…These people are well-intentioned, no doubt- but they really tend to steer you off course in a strange, vicarious fashion. “Diverters” tend to send you into direction that you never really intended- and not always for the better.  They may be amazing aquarists, but don’t let them and their clever ideas make you think for a moment that anything that you are doing is any less amazing. Be wary of these charmers!


2)  The “Deviant”- Fortunately, this is not a hobbyist that you will encounter often- but they are out there. “Deviants” seem to have all of the cool ideas and talk a big game- and they’re lucky enough to get away with some less-than-smart decisions in their fishkeeping, so they are always willing to send you down directions that are risky, and very contrarian. Although I’m a big fan of doing things your own way..I’m less interested in doing things that someone else was lucky to get away with.  If you find yourself continuously making bad moves every time a “Deviant” pays you a visit, best you steer clear of them!

3)  The “Taunt”- This type of hobbyist never seems to let you live down your errors or mistakes: “Remember when you tried to keep all of those Rasbora in your Discus tank? How well did that go?” Don’t let these people pull you back to the mistakes you might have made. What are they doing that for? To help you better yourself, or to express their own insecurities? Everyone screws up in fishkeeping. If you’ve messed up, it simply means that you’ve learned how not to do something. Keep moving forward- you’re okay.


4) The “Hater”- we all know a few, unfortunately. They lurk on forums and discussion boards, ready to strike. They want to be respected and admired by the fishkeeping community for having a great tank, etc., but don’t seem to want to  do any of the work to get there. Rather, they simply want to put down the work being done by everyone else. These are decidedly negative folks, but they can sort of motivate you in a weird way. Just don’t be like them. Share ideas, successes, failures, and render help to others based upon your experience. Use these negative thinkers to be the “anti-Hater” in the aquarium world. We need more anti-Haters!

5) The “Instant Gratification Specialist”- Yup, the internet aquarium keeping community abounds with these people. They’re the ones who put up those crazy, mega-priced build threads” that leave everyone in awe, and some people even feeling bad that they are mere mortals. These people often have the stated goal of building a tank that gets named “Tank of the Century” or whatever, as if that offers some legitimacy and “cred” to their existence in the hobby.  I’m not hating on build threads that are started by genuinely excited reefers who want to learn and help others. This is a different breed of cat.  “IGS” types seem to have very little patience for anything but instant gratification. This will be evident in the speed in which the tank seems to come together, and the outlandish purchases that are posted regularly in their build threads. These people want to be liked. They are “fun” to be around in that respect, but are oddly sad in others. Many of them want be part of something bigger- they just don’t know what. The reality is that many of these people would be awesome friends, embraced by fellow hobbyists if they would just put their heads- and hearts- in the right place. 

6) The “Buzzkill”- Okay, everyone has seen this type of aquarist. These guys have a dark cloud following them, and seem to want to pull others into the cloud bank with them. A lot of them are extreme DIY-ers, who spend vast amounts of time and money trying to come up with fancy automated ways of doing the most basic of tasks.  When these things fail to do the job, they blame luck. Maybe they’re unlucky, but they are almost always possessed by a “why is this happening to ME” attitude.  Many of them feel that the basics of aquarium husbandry just don’t apply to them, because they know a better way to do it. “I don’t know what I’m having this algae issue. My automatic constant frozen food feeder and homemade fertilizer solution are working, but all of my parameters are off. The auto water conditioner/changer keeps sticking on me.  And the computer that controls my RO/DI membrane assessment keeps telling me the water quality is fine. I’m at wit’s end.”  It’s kind of hard to feel bad for these types, really. They seem to like to be in “Negative Land.” They must like the attention that the hobby community gives them. They may never change, because their arrogance won’t allow it. Pity, as they can offer a lot to the community with their skills.

Wow, what a negative way to start off the day! Well, it was on my mind, and you know I like to share whats on my mind (Hmm…I think there is a classification for people like me somewhere…)

Okay, well there you have my concise guide to the people you want to avoid in the fishkeeping community- online or elsewhere. Sure, these are generalizations, and there are others, no doubt. However, this will kind of give you a more detailed warning than perhaps preferred elsewhere…hopefully it can help you avoid wasting valuable life energy with people who really have nothing positive to offer, and help you enjoy your hobby even more.

As always, take any and all advise with a grain of salt. Have fun. Grow. Share.

And stay wet.


Scott Fellman

Tannin Aquatics


Scott Fellman
Scott Fellman


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