Auto-sync on app


I won’t go back into my old rant about this, but i wanted to throw out some issues I’ve seen with the auto sync defaulting ‘on’ with the iphone app, to see if others have noticed these.

-When i am training people, those who have tried the app think cell service is necessary to use the app, or else think the auto sync can’t be turned off. Many choose not to use the app because of this.

-For anyone other than the most casual user, it eats up tons of phone data.

-It doesn’t work well. If you make two observations too fast it freezes or errors. If phone reception is intermittent it does the same.

-It’s a potential security risk that new users might not understand, broadcasting your location publicly in real time.

For those reasons and others, i think it would be better if it defaults to off (and just notifies new users if they forget to upload) or else there is a popup when first using the app that asks if you want auto upload but notes that it broadcasts your location publicly and may use high amounts of phone data.

I guess the upside of it is a lot of new users wouldn’t remember or understand how to upload observations? But imho i think there are better solutions to it than how it works now. And maybe this is too cynical but i feel that a user who can’t even bother to learn how to upload an observation, wasn’t going to stick around or add value to the site anyway. Or in the least, if you also include people who don’t use the app because of the auto upload problems, it may be a wash anyway.

So i guess my question here is, is this just my weird issue and no one else cares about this? Or have others noticed or worried about these issues?


App Users Survey: Auto Sync

Makes sense to me. It’s one of the first things I tell people to do—turn off autosync…



yeah, i literally tell anyone who asks about the app to do that. And say it first thing if i do a training.



I agree, turn it off as the default setting. If possible I would even add a ‘only synch when on Wi-Fi’ option as well.



Might be interesting to do A/B testing for this.



For those who use the app regularly, a question about the Auto Upload or Auto Sync option, please choose one:

  • I leave it on/still use it
  • It was helpful for learning the app but i turned it off later.
  • I turned it off immediately or wished i knew how to turn it off immediately
  • Wait, you can turn it off?? (in app settings)

0 voters

moved into the main thread, i won’t make more threads about this, just the one.



It is one of my first 10 recommendations when teaching people who are new to iNat how to use it.

The only downside I can see is that for very casual users, this runs the risk that they forget to sync manually once they get back to WiFi, and for them, 1 observation every other week (or month) doesn’t eat up much data so it matters less.


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I know this is one of Charlie’s recurrent pet peeves, but I can’t stress enough how often we would try to teach people to use iNat only to have them never, ever upload the observations they recorded. Like basically every single time I would watch someone use the app for the first time, they’d take a photo, save their obs, and they say something along the lines of “And I’m done! That was easy,” and then I’d never see their obs on the website.

This is a feature that favors brand new users and if you don’t like it, you can turn it off, and if you’re teaching people to use iNat in places with spotty Internet, you can advise them to turn it off. The offline / online aspect of iNat is one of the most different things from other social media apps, where the expectation is that you only use them in situations with ubiquitous Internet access.

I should also point out that this poll will not prove anything about how useful or damaging this feature is, since it will necessarily be biased toward the kinds of people in this forum, who are disproportionately very active users and users who don’t exclusively use the mobile apps. So I’m not sure what you’re going to prove other than the fact that it bothers super-users, which we’re already well aware of.



@kueda I was just trying to create data on this and… to see if anyone agreed with me?. But fwiw it’s not a pet peeve because it bothers me (like you said I just turn it off) but because I keep meeting new users or non users who stop using the app or use it less because they don’t realize it can be shut off. People aren’t gonna get to that point if they aren’t already engaged and they don’t get engaged with an app that doesn’t work for them.

And maybe this is blasphemy for an online community but focusing on exponential growth in ways that causes issues for core users isn’t a slam dunk good idea?

But if it bugs you go ahead and delete it. :woman_shrugging:

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I don’t want you to delete this. I am trying to state my personal opinion (auto-upload is annoying but does more good than harm for new users), and trying to articulate the history behind this very conscious design choice in the iNat mobile apps. I’m not against polls, I just want to make clear that their power to prove statements about the behavior of people who use our apps has its limits. Maybe I should be more clear in the future about when I am speaking for myself and when I am giving voice to THE OPINION OF INATURALIST or somesuch.

I am also not some kind of growth junky. I want new people to have a good experience the first time they use the app, and by good I mean the full interaction loop: notice, record, upload, receive feedback in the form of identifications and comments, be motivated to notice and record more things. Prior to auto-upload, we watched tons of people fall out of that at the upload stage, so we tried to address the problem. I’m open to addressing the problem in different ways, and I think the proposal in the first post of this now-merged thread to default to manual upload with push reminders later to upload is worth considering (though, IMO personally annoying, technically more challenging, and maybe even more dissuasive to new users who don’t like pushy apps).

On a meta note, I think merging / splitting the topics both caused all the existing votes on your poll to be silo’d at, and confused the conversation here. Well, I was / am confused. My comment above about the goals of this poll and the biased nature of voters in this forum referred specifically to the poll in Maybe I’m just excessively confused b/c I didn’t know you could merge topics. Seems like a dangerous feature of Discourse to me.



Missing option: didn’t know it was an issue (because I didn’t use the app), but turned it off as soon as I knew about it.



Yikes. Whaa? I did not mean to split at all I meant to merge the whole thing here! Didn’t realize the merging would strand the poll! I’m still figuring out how it works and can avoid merging if it’s causing issues. That’s weird and i don’t know if i should move our conversation back to the poll or just avoid further problems. Made this super confusing!

As for the other part of the post, apologies if i totally misunderstood and i definitely don’t want you to feel like you can’t have opinions that are separate from iNat as a whole. (i may be mentally skewed as when i first came to iNat it almost was that, haha). The polls are definitely biased, including my other one (duress users don’t tend to come post on this forum which doesn’t tell you they don’t stay on iNat doing other things) though the extent to which iNat has grown via word of mouth surprised me and is really neat.

And obviously all my comments and requests and such come from an ecologist with very little knowledge in actual implementation and coding and such. So some things i may envision may actually be kind of impossible. Like the guy i just saw in twitter who thinks we should use pipelines to move the Missouri River flood to California somehow. Like laughably impossible but sound good if you don’t know. FWIW i think a notification at the very start that lets you choose “do you want to use cell phone data to upload as you observe or do you want to upload later using wifi, note you have to manually do this” might work,but then again maybe not. obviously you spend a lot of time looking at how people use iNat where i only do it as a weird obsessive hobby.



Alex helped me out with some history with stats from 2015, when we launched auto-upload:

Our own data show that most people who install the app never create an observation (~74%), and many people who create an observation never upload it (~20%)

Currently, in 2019, only 7% of new mobile app users who successfully save a new observation never upload within 30 days. It’s totally possible that some vastly larger fraction of people stop using the app altogether because they find auto-upload frustrating, but I’m not sure how to measure that (i.e. distinguishing not using the app b/c of auto-upload from all the other reasons not to use the app).

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interesting. For my ‘back story’, i tried Project Noah before iNat and literally quit largely because it had mandatory auto upload on the app. (it also made you cite your IDs, which… i get the point, but of my 900 white pine IDs do i really look them all up in Haines 2011???) So if I’d encountered default auto upload on iNat too i may very well have deleted the app before I figured out it could be turned off.

It makes sense that more people upload their first observation when things upload automatically but… how do 7% still not upload? and since it doesn’t help with those who never observe anything, it’s 13% more new users if so, which is not nothing but not a ton. And those seem like edge case unenthusiastic users though i suppose i can’t prove that. I do think people probably do stop using the app because of auto update… i have had people tell me they ‘dont use inaturalist because it doesn’t work out of cell service’ and when i did try auto sync during a bioblitz i found if you add another thing quickly it basically crashed the app (at least at that time) so you’d only be able to add a new thing every few minutes. I get what you are saying and i know i am kinda a weird user in various ways, but i really haven’t encountered ANYONE who likes auto upload (other than inat admins) either new users or power users, so i guess part of why i created the poll was to get more information because honestly, the statistic you posted was one i heard before and i never understood it at all. It definitely seems feasible to me that 13% of the people who try the app delete it because of auto upload but like you said, there’s no way at all of verifying that

I’m sorry i always bring this up, my intention truly was to just make one post about it (and merge the poll into here) and not post about it elsewhere. but, now that i mutilated my own poll by trying to merge them it just looks weird…



I had an idea. Make small text in the the “Syncing…” box that says “You can turn off autosync in app settings.”

Still on by default so new users don’t end up just never uploading their things, but also makes it clear from the get-go that it can be turned off, so people aren’t put off by it.

Wouldn’t solve everything, but it’s a step.



well, that’s the best idea i’ve heard yet, thanks! Other than my favorite idea ‘kill auto upload with fire’ but it sounds like that’s a hard no :)

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