An Idea To Promote Explosive Growth for INaturalist and its Data

Someone please tell me if this is wrong, and if so why:

An idea. In order to get the most valuable data into the system as quickly as possible, INaturalist should consider promoting itself in the world’s most populous tropical cities.

-Densely populated tropical cities have vast numbers of potential Inaturalist users.

-They are also located near enormous biodiversity.

-Some of the places with highest biodiversity, like the Amazon and Congo rainforests, have very sparse human populations.

-Some densely populated places, like Winnipeg, Phoenix, and St. Petersburg, are in relatively less biodiverse places.

-By targeting high population places near biodiversity hotspots has the potential for explosive growth in INaturalist observations.

-It will also be enormously useful for the study of the coexistence of dense human populations and biodiverse environments.

-INat should promote itself in the thirty most populous tropical cities in the tropical world:

  1. Jakarta, Indonesia
  2. Manila, Philippines
  3. Mumbai, India
  4. São Paulo, Brazil
  5. Lagos, Nigeria
  6. Bangkok, Thailand
  7. Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
  8. Dhaka, Bangladesh
  9. Karachi, Pakistan
  10. Delhi, India
  11. Kolkata (Calcutta), India
  12. Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of the Congo
  13. Cairo, Egypt
  14. Lima, Peru
  15. Chennai (Madras), India
  16. Recife, Brazil
  17. Nairobi, Kenya
  18. Salvador, Brazil
  19. Chittagong, Bangladesh
  20. Fortaleza, Brazil
  21. Hyderabad, India
  22. Pune, India
  23. Bogotá, Colombia
  24. Belo Horizonte, Brazil
  25. Medellín, Colombia
  26. Accra, Ghana
  27. Guayaquil, Ecuador
  28. Salvador, Brazil
  29. Manaus, Brazil
  30. Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.

To illustrate the potential for growth: Mumbai has 20,000,000 residents and 1229 observers. Jakarta has a population of 10,000,000 and has roughly 3000 Inaturalist observers. Lagos, has a population of 15 million and has a 173 observers. Kinshasa has a population of 17,000,000 and has all of 102 observers.

INaturalist should focus promotion efforts in these thirty cities, with the aim of recruiting 10,000 observers in each. What observations there are from those cities are already fascinating and promising. I’d love to see more!


The idea is certainly right. However, there needs to be a balance between observers and identifiers. This balance is on the brink already (in my perception) and identifiers are particularly lacking in tropical regions.


yup. if someone actually wanted to send recruiters / outreach folks into these areas – especially if they were paid recruiters – i would bet that focusing on recruiting identifiers first would be the way to do it. (you would measure success solely or primarily on how many identifiers and identifications resulting from these identifiers were recruited.) new observers would almost certainly be found as part of this process, too, whereas if you went with the opposite approach, there would be no guarantee that identifiers would be found.


We have observers in those cities.
Come and help to identify what they have observed.

It is especially important to encourage new to iNatters. To ID their obs, and encourage them to persevere.

Lagos has 500 obs waiting
Cairo has 4 iNat places
Nairobi 13K
Accra 1.5K


Certainly it’s good for more people to use iNat in places that have a low percentage of users. I can get behind that, with the caveat others have brought up of identifiers! And hopefully many of those users could turn out to be identifiers too.

However, I don’t really get the logic of “these places have more biodiversity so it’s better to have observers there because we can get a lot of observations”. The point of it all is less about the raw task of making a lot of observations and more about observing as much of the regional biodiversity we can, no matter if a region has a lot of biodiversity or a little. To catalog all the plants and animals in Winnipeg isn’t a less scientifically meaningful or ecologically important conservation task than cataloging all the plants and animals in any other place. Now, there is certainly a point to be made that these places have a much lower percentage of their biodiversity catalogued than places with many users!

Coming from someone who just spent all weekend doing Christmas Bird Counts in eastern Canada and didn’t even see 30 species total… it’s just as important as any other Christmas Bird Count location!


Both can be true. Tropical species are currently underrepresented on the platform and observations from everywhere are important.


Yes, I said as much (I did some edits for clarity, maybe you missed them while you were typing, srry for confusion!)


A couple of days ago, I watched the live Zoom presentation by iNat staff of the year 2023 in review. One number that stuck out for me was that over 40 million observations were added to iNat in 2023. That’s an astounding number of observations for one year!

I’ve seen too many organizations and companies stumble while growing faster than their capacity to keep up, and I certainly don’t want iNat to stumble. I’m sure iNat would like there to be more observers in all of the tropical cities you mention (I want that, too!), but making that happen is not necessarily an easy task. How would you go about recruiting more observers and identifiers in those cities? And how would you ensure that the infrastructure behind iNat can keep up with explosive growth in those cities?

The number of observations uploaded to iNat grew by almost 20% from 2022 to 2023 (33,696,966 observations in 2022; 40,335,591in 2023, so far). Frankly, growing by 20% in one year IS explosive growth in my book.

(here’s the link to the Zoom presentation, if you’re interested: )


Not to be too pessimistic, but my impression over the 4 years I’ve been here is that iNat staff already struggles with their current growth levels. “Explosive” growth sounds disastrous.


It sounds good in theory, but who is going to identify everything? Without identifiers the whole point of iNat is lost. I try to do lots more IDing than observing, but the pile to be IDed in my part of the world grows by an enormous amount every day. There just are not enough people either able or willing to do identifications. At times it feels like it is becoming unsustainable already.


I decided to respond spontaneously to some of the comments above - please apologize if my thoughts are neither perfectly sorted, nor fully developed, but here are some spontaneous thoughts I would like to get off my chest:
Yes, we need to open-up Inaturalist in the mentioned regions! I definitely would not encourage an “explosive growth” in these regions - but I definitely think it would be an idea to introduce Inaturalist as a “tool” that can be used for citizen science and to highlight the importance of local biodiversity, environmental education and and and… - I think we would not have to be too afraid of an explosion if Inaturalist was promoted there in a “smart” way. If the way would just be to run some online event, post some advertisement on social media and such, we might get relatively higher number of observations but only few that identify (Not the way to go in my opinion). By organizing some small to medium sized events in the mentioned regions for multipliers, it would give the right context to give an understanding of what is possible with the platform and how it can be used in different ways, so ideally we would connect with educators and (citizen) scientists, people who would not only introduce Inaturalist to more people, but also train future identifiers and do capacity training by locals for locals in documentation and identification.
But do we need that, aren’t there already a lot of observations coming in every day? Yes, we need it - I think we need it for the following reasons:
Inaturalists is a community of and for people around the world to connect people and nature and to document biodiversity - but (not only) because of its origin most observations come from the Global North. Not only most of the observations, but also most of the observers- Which goes together, of course, but also leads to a second remarkable phenomenon that I think is very relevant here: A large part of the observations in the Global South are made by people from the Global North (since it was mentioned above that we have observers in these cities). By inviting more local multipliers, it might also be possible to get more local expertise - instead of people from the Global North coming to the Global South, making observations and waiting for some experts from the Global North to identify them… That reminds me of how things have been done for decades and centuries, but I do not think that is what our platform should stand for. [I know from some of the cities that Inaturalist is already being used by some young NGOs, e.g. in Ghana a local youth NGO is using it for environmental education - which is great - but there is still a lot of potential.]
I know I didn’t mention the challenge of mass growth for the platform system, but I think it’s not that relevant, since I wouldn’t try to promote non-selective mass growth in the region, but rather (as mentioned) try to connect with local multipliers. Would it be worthwhile to do capacity building with some young local NGOs? I think it would be great if a platform like this would encourage AND help local people to connect with nature and record biodiversity - for this to work it might help to invest some monetary resources like sturdy simple digital cameras, books and such that could be shared through the local NGOs - but these are one-time investments that would also enable more non-privileged young local people to start observing. (No - not everything is possible with a phone these days :wink: , and a good phone or simple camera is not something that everyone can afford).


Many thanks for these wonderful responses! A few stray thoughts while dinner is on the stove:

-I love Winnipeg and all its flora and fauna! It is no less important than Belo Horizonte.

-Identifiers are the precious gold at the core of INaturalist. Most of those global south cities have universities with biology, ecology, and biochemistry departments. That seems like the place to look for identifiers.

-As for how to promote INat, and how to manage explosive growth: I plead complete and total ignorance. But there are people, and donors, who know how to handle both things. I’d look to the Gates foundation, and wealthy dropouts from the for-profit social media world. Jeffrey Sachs could help.

-That’s all I’ve got for the moment. I’ll keep thinking about it.


You’re obviously right about all this. My intuition is that the already explosive growth of INat could be much more explosive than it is. The question is how to manage it. About that I know not a thing.

1 Like

I really dislike this metaphor. As in the economic sphere, “explosive growth” is usually a recipe for all kinds of disasters. Why not sustainability, happiness, even to some extent “decolonization”?

Otherwise I don’t disagree with you lol…


I hear you–the idea of turning INaturalist into some sort of world-conquering enterprise turns me off too. But what I like about the platform is the constant influx of fascinating information about the natural world, and the steady growth in the number of people using it who share my care for, and fascination with, biodiversity. I really like the idea of explosive growth of a phenomenon that works against the progressive, in places explosive, degradation of the natural environment we all live with. Explosive growth of biodiversity, scientific research, populations interested in conservation seem just fine to me.


I don’t know, either! Your ideas are good and your heart is obviously in the right place - I just worry about the ramifications of explosive growth. All I can really do is donate money and make lots of IDs.


I have observations from Papua New Guinea that I uploaded about 2 or 3 years ago. Most have been identified to at least genus but most of the IDs took a long time (e.g. one got a genus ID only last week, so it’s a slow process). Although it can be slow it’s not something that worries me. Interestingly, perhaps, all the orchid species got an ID very quickly even though a couple of them only have 1 or 2 observations on iNat. The butterflies are all IDed now (at least one of the butterflies is the only observation on iNat and I can’t find a photo on the web, so I’m immensely grateful about that ID and to the people who IDed it). There’s a few remaining plant species needing ID and one bird that got an ID about a month ago but I don’t know enough about birds to confirm it


The purpose of iNat is to get people engaged with nature. It’s doing that.


That was, what I was aiming at in my comment, too :)


One thing to remember is because of the tropics high biodiversity, the ranges of most species are much smaller and thus species are more vulnerable to human disturbance than in temperate and polar areas.