Add Comments or Wiki-Like Functionality on Taxa Pages to Discuss Identification and Other Relevant Issues

Right now there are lots of comments on individual observations regarding how to identify species, but there is no way to discuss identification, taxonomy, etc by species. it would be really neat if we could post to a species page, especially if we could embed photos somehow. In its most simple form it could just be the way you can comment on blog posts or, in fact, you can comment on species in Places (but no one seems to ever find or use it).

Comments, maybe, but I don’t think we should be building another version of Wikipedia, Encyclopedia of Life, Discover Life, AnimalDiversityWeb, Tree of Life Web Project, BugGuide, etc.


Yeah, i guess by wiki-like i just mean the ability to embed photos and such. There’s just such a pool of knowledge that gets lost in the observation comments. There might be other ideas that might also work like a way to ‘pin’ especially diagnostic observations to the species page. But ‘likes’ don’t work because they are used for too many different things.


I was assuming “wiki” like the current iNaturalist help wiki (which does allow embedded images with html). No need to build another version of anything.

Where would be a good place for this feature? Add an “Identification Tips” tab to the Map / About / etc. row on the taxon page?


yeah i was envisioning a ‘discussion’ tab or similar. I’d personally make it a bit more broad than ‘identification tips’ to allow other commentary on the ecology of the species and such, but i’d be happy either way.


I think this would be a good approach, but I worry that, as humans are involved, things here could get contentious and it would be another place on the site which requires moderation. The positives likely outweigh the negatives, but I want to make sure everyone keeps this in mind.

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I’m pretty clueless about wiki, etc., so this is just a question that popped into my head as I was reading this post again: Since it seems to allow more types of topics and it will have moderation apart from the site, couldn’t the identification discussions happen on Discourse? Or doesn’t it allow embedded photos and such? Forgive me if this is a dumb question.

Interesting. I think it’s best if the page links directly to the taxa, so i am not sure if that would work with Discourse, you’d have to have however many thousands of discourse threads as you would have species (though most species would probably not get notes).

But to tiwane’s comment about more moderation needed, you’d know more than I do but i’d guess any user activity potentially needs moderation, so these pages wouldn’t require more net moderation than not having them, unless they resulted in a net increase of user-hours, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing and is happening anyway. You’d just need to be able to flag them and have policies in place (some framework for what is off topic, plus of course normal code of conduct rules would apply).
Another angle would be a way to build a ‘bibliography’ of links to online keys and such. I feel like that used to be easier and doesn’t wor as well any more. Is there a way to make a link to a key? Maybe that would be for curators only.

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I just add this type of information directly to Wikipedia, e.g.

Though if you don’t have reliable references to cite for ID differences, it’s not appropriate for inclusion there.

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yeah, in my mind at least, i am envisioning more of a field notes type thing, with informal notes, sketches or photos, and links to online resources. It seems like something beyond what Wikipedia wants included. And i like the idea of updating wikipedia but realistically it’s probably not something i’m going to dive into any time soon.


I hope you find a place for these ideas, because they sound very appealing.


What could/should go on a wiki-like tab on each taxon page? Bouteloua is right that there’s no need to recreate Wikipedia or many of the other sources of taxonomic information about species. (Why would we? The Wikipedia page is already included in the “About” tab of many taxon pages.) What iNaturalist needs, that the other sites don’t have, is guides and guidance on how to identify from photographs combined with the other information provided in iNaturalist observations. Visible field marks, common variations within a species, usual habitat, seasonality, parts of the range where similar species co-occur (or don’t), and so on. I imagine there will be different standards about what’s appropriate for different taxonomic groups, based on what the community around each group needs and can contribute. (Birders probably don’t need to start creating yet another field guide. But some insect taxons really need a community-created field guide.)

Notes about how to observe a taxon might also be appropriate. Including notes about interesting behaviour to observe, as well as parts to photograph to make it easier for people IDing. Maybe the default page should have two sections, one for “How to ID”, the other for “How to Observe”?

When I say “Wiki”, I also have in mind all the usual machinery that goes with a wiki page, including an associated “Talk” or “Meta” page for discussion about what’s appropriate for the page, and a “History” page which keeps a complete record of changes to the page (which allows the community to recover from vandalism). I don’t think there’s much point in an editable wiki-like tab without these things.

Tiwane brings up the need for moderation. (Just brainstorming, here.) Taking inspiration from Discourse, perhaps it would make sense to restrict the ability to edit a wiki-guide to those who have identified a reasonable number of observations in that taxon? The threshold would have to be pretty small for some taxons where there aren’t many observations. Beyond that, the current system of being able to flag things to bring them to the attention of curators seems like it should work just as well for community-created content. Maybe the ability to flag a guide-page, or a section of a guide page?


My interpretation of the Feature Request title is a way to make the interesting and informative dialogue that occurs on observations accessible from the taxa page. It seems to me that this discussion here keeps getting dragged toward a full blown guide…

Very early on in my iNat experience I became aware of the wonderful little snipets of knowledge that were occuring in the comments… And I sort of coined the term “learning ops”, or perhaps just commandeered it for the purpose. Rather than using the “Needs ID” page to help with IDs (where I would miss the learning ops if I was slow), I started working with a modified query that allowed me to review ALL observations from NZ. That was back when there were maybe a dozen or two observations per day. It has grown to about 600 observations per day…

Even back when it was just a dozen per day, it occured to me that new members wouldn’t get to see or experience all those wonderful learning ops, and I considered making a project called “iNaturalist Classroom” which would have those observations that had useful tips and discussions. There was a link I put on the project description that queried on the project in date order filtered by reviewed, so that all a new member would need to do to “get up to speed” is follow that query link, and Mark them as reviewed once they had read them. They could bookmark or follow/fav the ones they found particularly useful. Then once a month or so you could re-visit to catch up on any new stuff.

I deleted that project pretty much as soon as I created it. I was new, the project seemed cheesy, I didn’t think anyone would be interested in it. The idea has come up a couple times since.

I reckon that if you could mark an observation as “contains useful dialogue”, then that could be used in combination with specific taxa filters etc to find the gems. Using a field to do this would be a work around solution, but it would still be a backroom hack and not obviously available to new users.

I would think a really simple and easily accessible implementation would be to create an additional observation DQA called Informative Observation that we can vote on in the same way we do for wild/captive. We could also make projects to pick up selected Informative Observations for specific areas/subjects, and an umbrella project with ALL learning opportunities…


I really like the tutorial on orbweavers that is now on Discourse. I wonder if it would be possible to make a link to the tutorial from the taxon page on iNat, so Discourse would host the conversation, but iNat would provide the taxonomy organization?

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i have my doubts that it would work as well that way, but would be willing to try it if that’s what the admins want to do. It is a good tutorial but imagine if it were integrated fully into inat!

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Thank you. For those who haven’t seen it yet: here.

To be clear, this is just an experiment to see what capabilities Discourse provides. It looks like Discourse keeps a full history of edits, and the replys could act as a meta-discussion, I suppose. Only those at the “member” trust level can create a page which can be edited (by other members), so we’ll have to wait a bit for my account to reach that level before the wiki-like features can really be tested.

Note that Discourse doesn’t seem to be designed for large amounts of content in one post. For example, most wikis will auto-generate a table of contents with links to major sections on a page. Discourse seems to support HTML and Markdown, so anyone who knows either of those can probably manage, but headings aren’t one of the tools with icons visible while editing and tables of content have to be created by hand.

Also, the editing area is really small.

(Edit: changing the title of the tutorial broke the link to it.)


I would rather that information be on iNat than Discourse, this shouldn’t be a place to host lots of taxonomic info.

I’m going to close this topic because during the retreat we discussed wanting to move forward with a way for user-contributed information to be added to a taxon’s page, although it might be a bit different that what’s proposed here. I should have more details in the next week. Once the topic is closed, anyone who voted for it should get their vote “back” and be able to use it for another topic.

Thank you for the constructive discussion here, folks.