A century from now

Or even just a decade … what do we, the iNaturalist community, want iNat data to look like?

I’m not thinking about issues like multiple organisms in one observation, or the observer uploading as Unknown, or better on-boarding of new iNatters, or anything like that. Nor do I mean having every observation annotated to the fullest extent.

I’m thinking about questions like these: Do we want observations of common species from everywhere across their ranges? By “everywhere,” I mean perhaps an observation every couple of kilometers, or less. Do we want to push to include identifiable photos or recordings of every macroscopic species, for example? What about the microscopic ones? What kind of observations would be useful data for recording the effects of climate change over the decades? Or even just the usual landscape changes such as the changing course of rivers, or hurricanes, or wild and prescribed fires, and so on? What else would be useful data?

Do we want, say, 1% of the human population in every country to have made at least 1 iNat observation, just as a way to engage people with the natural world? Do we want to encourage the development of more field guides to various taxa, particularly in areas that don’t currently have such guides? (And how do we find funding for such efforts?)

What are the not-so-obvious constraints on iNat use? (Besides funding and observers who don’t quite understand how iNat works.) Is the amount of resources we pour into iNat use (I’m thinking of servers and transportation to hiking sites, for example) worthwhile, in whatever sense of worth you care to use?

Why, yes, I am indeed procrastinating on organizing for my local City Nature Challenge, not to mention procrastinating on the usual household chores, but I keep thinking about all this, and I was wondering what other people think.


I want to have many samples from the biggest white spots, enough data to compare it with what will be 100 years after (ecozones being moved up north), big part of attention has to be focused on seasides, as sea level with inevitably rise.
Main constraint I see is lack of funding for expeditions in areas where less or no people live, institutions have to have a lot of money to just get iNat affiliation, without it it’s almost impossible to get funding for exploring groups.
I think we need more big observers and iders than those that just make a couple of something. So, more advertising in institutes.


Lots more questions than answers. Will iNat even exist a century from now, or for that matter even a decade from now? Will iNat become more important as a repository for species distribution data than as a means to get people into nature (its primary mission)? Will other sources of distribution and status information on organisms, like museum collections, be as important or more important in the future? Will some other methodology be in place in the future for documenting species occurrences and monitoring their status (think how eDNA has expanded in use) than photos? What’s the future of citizen science as an important contributor to biological research – will it increase, stay the same, fade away?


If iNat goes away, will all our contributions be for nothing? Will our data still be useful for science? I love making observations and helping ID unknowns. It feels depressing to consider that iNat might end one day, and I hope it never does! I’m glad this topic was brought up because I’ve been wondering about it myself.


When thinking a century out, or even a decade, one has to wonder what the AI and other technology will be capable of.
For example, if I have cameras mounted on my car, and drive across the US, will our technology be advanced enough that it can automatically take and ID an “observation” of each individual organism that is visible from the car anywhere in this trip? Could I have a drone that flies over every bit of my property and IDs every organism visible from the air, or sniffs DNA the whole time and barcodes everything? Companies are already working on being able to ID individual trees across a landscape to species from satellites.
It is going to be hard to establish baseline comparisons when the technology keeps changing in unpredictable ways. iNat has no sampling design. Perhaps in 100 years researchers will reconstruct ancient cellphones and send volunteers out to scour the post-apocalyptic landscape with no further instructions to have a like-for-like comparison.


I’d hope that if iNat ever ended that I would be able to get my data as a spreadsheet so I would not lose that information. Maybe a museum could get some use out of that data. The loss of all the photographs and their associated verification of records is another issue. I don’t think you can batch download data with photographs included. I hope iNat outlasts me at least!


We might be battling AI-controlled robots for the survival of the human species, with no time or inclination to take a photo of that interesting lone plant on the post-apocalyptic landscape. Of course, I watch too much science fiction…


It feels like we’re getting a bit more into doom and gloom than we are into actual discussion for what we want Inat to be in the future.

Personally, if I look forward at what I hope Inaturalist will become, then I’m hoping for a filled map. I want it so that if I go to a park and find a new species for the park, it’s a relatively rare occurrence similar to ebird with finding new birds for the bigger-medium hotspots. Of course, it depends on what we actually want Inaturalist to be, but to me, I am hoping that Inaturalist and the gbif come to be a major place for us to put occurrence data for species. I may be misguided, but a single central repository of data for all species from many different organizations sounds like a godsend to me. But in that case, I think it’s more what I want gbif to be.

If there is one constraint of Inat though, it is the time it takes to upload. If we are looking to automate this, as others have mentioned, then some sort of automatic observation system would need to be created, because I think at some point, it would just take too much time to upload. I cannot see myself uploading tens of thousands of obs I took off of one car ride.

But, just some thoughts.


Maybe the iNat staff have something like a 5-year plan in place. Perhaps that has been discussed elsewhere on the forum. Probably not realistic to seriously plan the future of the website further out, but we can speculate. More staff and more funding support is certainly something that’s needed to keep the site afloat and capable of adapting.


I wouldn’t be at all surprised if iNat staff had an internal 5- or 10-year plan, but I suspect it would include lots of nuts and bolts sorts of items - things like “bring consolidated phone app online by October 2024” or “roll out improved onboarding by January 2025.” I also wouldn’t expect the staff to share much of that plan with the entire community, because there’s nothing like too many cooks in the kitchen to make cooking utterly impossible.

Here, I’m thinking more along the lines of daydreaming. For example, if you’re a researcher, what would your ideal set of iNat data look like?


I’m pretty sure listing all the biggest feature and discussion topics would be close to what plans the iNat group has!
I also sure if iNat dies it will go the way other died websites went and all the data will be transferred to another website, I just don’t see why would iNat totally die, I’m sure they could get volunteers to keep the site running without major updates if all the money givers will abandon it, though I hope there’re new ones that can come.

Also, another thing I thought about, think of something that is dying now in a social way, for me that’s a traditional village, observing in a place like that would be phenomenal, it’s hard to predict which way society will go, e.g. my husband believes there’ll be major water contaminations, I’m not so pessimistic and hope that some processes could get reversed with people coming back to rural settlements and not just living in huge aglomerations. I’m starting such projects now, but in 100 years there will be so much to compare and to write good works on, I hope I myself can contribute to that and little bit earlier while still being alive. That’s actually a sour sweet thing to think, how much iNat will change people-wise, humans are not eternal and they die and in 30 years majority of big contributors will get changed, and iNat staff also must be made of new people, cause it can’t be made solely out of 70-y olds. In 100 years it will be totally rewamped at least 3 times and likely much more.


then - that the blank areas on the map will be filled in by people who have - a camera, electricity at home, some leisure - and an abiding interest in abiding nature. In a decade - I hope so. In a century - I wonder what Cape Town will be - rising ocean, two storm-swept islands?

And yet - yesterday again - iNat produces can’t hardly believe it gems!
A tree in the Company gardens in the heart of Cape Town - grown from seed - from Captain Cook in 1770. That is 3 centuries!


Those blank spaces are a great feature of iNat. How else can you very quickly get an idea of just what places in the world are under-observed, under-studied, and under-understood, for various taxa? I agree with all who hope that people find the blanks a motive to seek them out (or gear up wherever you are) and start filling them in for a greater appreciation of the natural world. It’s never too late to value what’s still there.


We may not even have the internet in a century. It’s certainly depressing to contemplate, but with the state of our climate as-is, I don’t think it’s likely something like iNat will matter much in the long run. Use and enjoy it while it lasts! Just because, like all things, iNaturalist won’t last forever doesn’t mean it can’t be meaningful on a personal level, if anything else.


Personally, I find it a tough question to ask because any possible “future state of affairs” can provide valuable data – for the right questions.

Let’s say that we end up with observations of common species from everywhere across their ranges. Great, we can pull some awesome occurrence data, create maps/guides more easily, and track range changes! If we end up with the opposite state of affairs, with continued gaps/under-observed areas? We can still ask some interesting questions as JanetWright pointed out:

An interesting aspect of data in my opinion is what we consider “useful”. The quality of the information that we have will always be a constraint, but a lack of data is not inherently the same as useless – it merely forces us to ask new questions like “why is information in this space lacking?”.

It’s probably hard or impossible to say what the community as a whole want iNat data to look like because everybody will have different questions they find more interesting/important; we likely will never be able to find a consensus on what direction we want things to go. But I think iNat is all the more interesting for that, and I for one will look forward to seeing what this diversity of users, their ideals, interests, and preferences, ends up resulting in.


You know how on the taxon page, there is all this data? Like Seasonality and History?

I would like to see changes to Seasonality over time and have options to view History in increments of 5 years or 10 years, etc, because I think historical changes to taxon would be interesting.

Maps, too, if possible, to be viewable by historical data, with a slider to show changes over time.

And Status, changes to Status over time.


Maybe just copypaste maps idea from eBird, but both for months and for yeas.

This is where I tend to go with this question. Whether or not iNaturalist and its data are around in 100 years (and don’t get me wrong, I hope they are and have 900 trillion observations filling all corners of the map! […as the devs shudder… :sweat_smile:]), it will have been a worthwhile endeavor to me (and I hope to most others here) if the interest that iNat has fostered within the present generation(s) of users has been paid forward many-fold to the following generations, resulting in a higher proportion of humanity with a personal and informed stake in respecting biodiversity and biodiverse habitats.


The irony is our hunter-gather ancestors had to have a deep understanding of biodiversity. Our recent technological progress has allowed us to ignore the natural world without short-term effects. Can technologies like iNat reignite a culture that respects the natural world? I sure hope so. Respect for the natural world is not innate, it is learned.


The questions regarding “what do we want” might not be the right ones. iNat is ultimately an individualistic activity and what the individual wants to observe and upload is up to them. Maybe I want to just photo common things in my suburban backyard but someone else will want to “fill in the blanks” on a distribution map for some poorly-documented species or contribute to a specific research project. To each their own.