Are disappearing photos a back end issue?

I see that the issue of disappearing photos is discussed periodically. Those discussions seem to focus on how the person uploaded the images in question, but I suspect there’s another problem with some hardware or software issue on the back end.

Within the past week or so, I noticed that another user’s photo(s) from an observation had disappeared. I checked that observation on both the iNaturalist app on my Android phone and on the iNat web site. The observation said “No Media” when viewed either way. I don’t want to link to that particular observation, because the user is not tech savvy and is very frustrated by the periodic disappearance of photos and seems ready to abandon iNaturalist. That person (who accesses iNat via cell phone only) would be further frustrated by requests for log files, etc.

There are at least two other issues that disappearing photos can cause:

  1. The observation may be permanently spoiled if the media are lost and the end user hasn’t kept copies of the photos so can’t reload them.
  2. A user trying to replace the missing images may accidentally upload incorrect photos to an observation that already has two or more species-level IDs, which can lead to confusion, since the observation now looks research grade again, but the photos are actually of a different species.

When I noticed the recent problem with that other user’s “No Media” observation, I scrolled through my own observations to see if any had lost their media. I found two that were designated “No Media” when viewed via the Android app or via the web site:

Both were uploaded via the web site on April 7, 2020. I have seen pictures reappear after a few days, so I checked back periodically. Today both of those observations show the photos when viewed via the web site, but still say “No Media” when viewed via the app, even if I close and re-open the app. That suggests to me that there was a database or disk problem that has been fixed on the back end but has yet to propagate out to the app. If that is the case with temporarily disappearing media, would it be possible to flag them automatically with something like “Media Temporarily Unavailable” rather than “No Media”? If observations were tagged as having media, then if the media disappeared (without being deleted by the observer), that tag could be used to tell the app or web site to say it was temporarily unavailable instead of treating it as if it never had media. That way, users would be less likely to try to replace the photos (and sometimes inadvertently upload the wrong ones).

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I noticed a similar problem of disappearing photos when I generated observations from photos in my phone using the Android app. Most photos that I take of critters are for iNaturalist purposes only, so after I upload them into observations I delete them without keeping any other copies. I noticed that if I deleted them too soon from the phone after uploading, sometimes they disappeared from iNaturalist (not only from the Android interface, but from the web site too, even though I had seen them appear on the website). I started giving it quite a long time between uploading and deleting and never had that problem again.

I had this problem about 20 months ago, but never since.

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Can you please send URL links to those observations to I won’t contact the user but specific examples would be helpful.

FWIW they look fine to me on the Android app. If you come across any more, can you please provide a screenshot of what you’re seeing?

Here are screenshots I just grabbed showing my two observations mentioned above that still show “No Media” within the iNaturalist app on my Android phone.

The images show up on the web site on my laptop (Windows, Firefox) and phone (Android, Chrome), so it just seems to take the app longer to get the photos back. I don’t know when they disappeared. I only noticed they were missing when I was trying to get a sense whether there was some general problem or just a problem with that other person’s particular observation.

Hmm. If you scroll up and down, do they ever reappear? What happens if you log out of the app and log back in? Which version of the app are you using?

Version 1.21.17 (484)

I didn’t log out of the app. I guess I could, but it says it will delete all the observations from this device if I do, which makes me a little reluctant to log out. Maybe I could make temporary edits to those observations from my phone so that the app would let me synch them. Would that be useful in your trouble-shooting?

ETA: I edited the note on the woodpecker observation, which made the app let me synch the observation. I thought synching might retrieve the photos, but it didn’t.

It does say that, but it also says

It will not affect any observations you’ve uploaded to iNaturalist.

I agree it’s confusing and we should improve it, but to be clear logging out only affects observations you have not synced. Anything that’s on iNat is safe.