Ken-ichi recently said in an interview for Flora “I don’t think [iNaturalist] is currently creating a lot of converts or new naturalists… My standard is: Did you really learn a name or did you just look at the screen?”
iNaturalist pattern recognition is game changing for me – I point my phone at everything to learn about it. But the answer set is not completely satisfying. I would love to see captions under your example photos that point out specific characteristics that the photo is illustrating. Words can focus our attention to what’s significant about the photo, and the photo illustrates a real-world example of what the words are describing.
My site, PlantID.net, is designed for curious people who want to learn about California plants found in the wild. I use illustrated ID tips that I think will make sense to people who stop to read park signs; people who are curious but do not have a botanical background.
For instance, if I do an iNat observation of a blue and white lupine in Edgewood Preserve in San Mateo, I get back three locally observed choices – Lupinus bicolor, albifrons and succulentus. Their pictures look sort of similar unless you have experience in what to look for. However, if we add captions that say that bicolor only grows to a foot or so, that albifrons has a woody stem, and that succulentus has leaflets that are large and wider near the tip, our user can make an obvious choice, and learns significant characteristics to look for in the future.
How do we get there from here? I’m thinking that adding optional captions to your taxon photos would not be difficult technically. Then we could start experimenting – perhaps the people who select the photos to show on your taxon pages could try writing ID tips and request feedback on what types of descriptions are most useful. Once you have an illustrated ID tip approach that you like, you might be able to scale it a couple of ways – perhaps Wikipedia would like to allow their authors to add illustrated ID tips to their plant articles. Perhaps Cal Academy or CNPS would like to approach this as an e-publishing opportunity.
I’ve spent the past 7 years building PlantID.net as a retirement project. I’m doing it because I’m frustrated with the lack of tools that let me learn about the world around me. I’m a programmer, not a botany guy, so I’m a perfect representative of the millions of people who are under-served by picture-poor books, and big-data approaches that don’t meet me where I am and bring me where I want to go.
I’d love to be an unpaid member of your team that’s working on “Investigate ways to capture comments and ID remarks that are useful for making identifications…”