Adding useful ID info to taxon pages

I really like the idea of collecting especially useful ID information on taxon pages, mentioned in the post iNaturalist 2019 Team Retreat Follow-Up:

Investigate ways to capture comments and ID remarks that are useful for making identifications and including them on the taxon page and in identification tools.

I’m starting this thread as a place for people to discuss this feature. Here couple few thoughts & leading questions - interested to hear other people’s thoughts:

How broad do we want this information to be, and how should it be curated?
I think it would be easy for this to get out of control, and that this information should be curated so that it captures/links to information that is particularly valuable, but everyone will have different opinions on what meets that threshold. Some general guidelines might be useful. For example: information that might not be included in a field guide or key [e.g., out-of-season ID tips, regional info, …], especially good diagnostic photos/illustrations, thorough side-by-side comparisons of easy-to-confuse species, etc. This is also related to the following question.

(How) do we want to incorporate information from outside sources?
Tony’s post specifically mentions “comments and ID remarks,” and I think journal posts are an obvious extension. What about external sources? Are we moving towards including more of the sort of information you might find in a key or field guide? Do we want to link to keys that are available online (e.g., FNA)? If so, how much de we need to consider taxonomic differences between iNat & linked references? What about something like a non-iNat blog post with really good comparison photos of similar species?

Note: some of these questions may have already been discussed/decided - see this thread as well for more discussion (thanks to @bouteloua for the tip).

How do we make this information discoverable?
If someone is choosing an ID for a taxon that has good additional info on the taxon page, should the system pop up a suggestion with the information? With a link to the information? Only if the user has certain functionality turned on? Only if identified at a higher taxonomic level? How should this work with the computer vision/auto-id-suggest system? I’m interested in how this information might be incorporated into “identification tools,” not just taxon pages.

In the short term, I think adding More Info links to taxon pages is a reasonable workaround/good way to get started collecting this information (thanks for the tip, @tonyrebelo). I’m trying to get in the habit of adding these when I find particularly good information on species that are difficult or often confused. For often-confused species (e.g., Platanthera psycodes & Platanthera grandiflora), I add the same link to multiple taxon pages - this makes the information easier to find, but is a bit repetitive & time-consuming on my end. The option provided to have descendant taxa inherit a link could be useful in some cases, but I’ve found myself most often working with a few species in a genus, so doing it once at the genus level and having descendant species inherit would save me some time but would result in irrelevant links for many of the species. I think it would be very helpful if I could create the link once and have an option to select other taxa to have the link added to. As an example, I’d like to create a More Info link to this page for the four species of Erythronium disambiguated therein, but doing this individually on four taxon pages is a bit of a pain. If we’re moving towards a new system then it probably isn’t worth adding this functionality as a stopgap, but being able to link multiple individual taxa to the same information does seem like a useful feature.

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Maybe i’m overly cynical in terms of use but i am having a hard time imagining this getting out of control unless it ends up being dragged into taxonomy arguments and such. My thinking is it can be pretty free form as long as it’s on topic and there’s no uncivil behavior.

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@charlie, that may have been overly pessimistic on my part. I think the iNat community can be trusted with nice things, for the most part, so perhaps I should have moderated my language. : )

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oh that’s not a problem. I just worry it will be so limited that it basically has little use, if we try to start out with it too tightly controlled. Maybe i’m off.

I just imagined a place for notes and links and maybe photos from observations and such

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Can we not request an option to have links (optionally?) “inherited by children taxa”. So a link to a key to the species in a genus, posted on the genus page, will be shown in the species pages as well?

I believe that option already exists. When using the Add Link function on the About tab of a Taxon page, you can select any taxon (not necessarily the one you were on), and there is a checkbox to “Show for descendent taxa”. Recently tried it for a link I added and seemed to work as expected.

Yes, my problem was wanting to add links to only a few species in a genus rather than everything in the genus, or add the same link to unrelated species that are often confused.

So this or things like this keep, getting, suggested. The feature requests are closed, since the iNaturalist team is interested in doing something like this, but in @kueda’s post here he mentioned that the “current version of this idea is something like allowing people to vote on the “usefulness” of ID remarks and show the most useful ones on the taxon pages”.

I’m not a fan of this version of the idea. The main things holding me back from creating identification tips are:

  • User-created identification tips are not visible where iNat users would naturally see them: on the taxon pages
  • User-created identification tips cannot be edited by multiple users. This a big reason Guides don’t work for this.
  • Comments are not a good place to put detailed identification information: they’re specific to one observation page, which is naturally about the observation, they’re specific to one user (the comment author), and the UI is optimized for creating short comments, not editing longer content with images.

The version of the idea mentioned by Kueda addresses the first point, but not the other two.

Kueda mentions there’s been a discussion about replicating Wikipedia. As far as content goes, I think Wikipedia would not accept content specific to iNaturalist’s two core activities: making observations and identifying observations. I can’t see them having, for example, in an article about turtles, region-specific sections with tips for observing and identifying the region’s turtles. But the functionality provided by Wikipedia is perfect for this. It’s also pretty advanced, so having iNaturalist developers replicate the functionality of Wikipedia is an obvious “nope, not going to happen”.

What I want: the bare bones, first iteration prototype which would get me excited would just be an installation of MediaWiki or some other wiki software on an iNaturalist-controlled server (maybe at https://wiki.inaturalist.org/), plus displaying taxon articles in the wiki on the iNaturalist taxon pages, the same way Wikipedia articles are copied into the taxon pages of the same name.

Seriously. That’s all.

There are some obvious integrations which could be made (e.g. user accounts on the wiki automatically created when a user registers with iNaturalist, automatically creating taxon articles when they exist on iNat but not in the wiki, automatically renaming wiki articles when the iNaturalist taxon is changed, etc.), but all that can be done later. I just want something where I can share some of the stuff I’ve learned, a lot of which I wish could have been shared with me earlier. I and - I hope - a lot of others, would be willing to put in a ton of work to make content there which would help identifiers. I have a pile of notes on how to identify things, and it seems like a waste that I’m the only one who can read them. Having an obvious place to put my notes, where I could find them later, would be incredibly motivating. (Plus, it would push me to organize what I have a bit better, so as not to embarrass myself.) There’s already some content on this forum which I would like to make more visible to the larger user-base. (Edit: also, practically everything in this thread: https://forum.inaturalist.org/t/photo-taking-recommendations-by-taxon/1962/) (Edit2: and the content linked from this post: https://forum.inaturalist.org/t/add-captions-to-default-taxon-photos/2126/12)

Wiki pages would also allow us to add links to external sources, links to existing comments on iNaturalist observations, links to articles in the iNaturalist wiki which are not part of the taxonomic hierarchy, and links to posts on this forum.

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One potential issue, at least in theory, is that keys or ID tips may only be relevant in certain parts of a taxon’s range. Just like guidebooks, a key to wildflowers or butterflies of New York State might differ in emphasis and structure from a key wildflowers or butterflies of Maine, even if many of the same species appear in both. A distinguishing field mark in one region, “species A is the only species in Maine with a red stripe,” may no longer be distinguishing where additional red-striped species co-occur.

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Yes, that is a potential problem. My thinking is that initially there would be ad-hoc creation of region sub-sections within the article for a taxon. So in the same way that there are, say, bird field guides for eastern and western North America, the article for orb-weaving spiders might have a section for each continent or region.

A more advanced setup might have articles associated with both a taxon in the taxon hierarchy and a place in the place hierarchy (Location hierarchy? I don’t remember the difference right now so I’m going to use “place”.), so that if you’re viewing the taxon page for a species and place, then the article which appeared would be for the smallest taxon and place which included the species and place you are viewing. E.g. if I’m viewing Toxomerus geminatus in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, and there’s an article for Hover Flies of Ontario but no more-specific articles then that article would be displayed. Priority should probably be given to the taxon over the place, e.g. if there’s an article for insects of Toronto and an article for Toxomerus geminatus globally, then the Toxomerus geminatus article should be displayed.