Buttons to navigate higher/lower taxa in Identify


I would like iNaturalist to make it easier to add identifications besides “Agree”.

This feature request is a proposal for how iNaturalist could make Identification a little bit easier, at least on the web version of Identify. (Skip to the end for some mock-ups to see how I envision an update to the interface for this might look.)

Right now it’s so much easier to just click “Agree”. There is an effort barrier to users inputting identifications besides “Agree”, given that an “Agree” response can be input through a single keystroke or mouse click, whereas identification to either a higher-level (broader) taxon or a lower-level (narrower) taxon requires manually typing (or copying and pasting) a text input in the “Add an Identification” field.

Given that the current design slows down the process of adding IDs which are not “Agree”, I suspect that it probably has some effects on identifier behaviour:

  • encouraging identifiers to skip over more observations
  • tip users toward agreeing to an ID to which they are ambivalent
  • users not making an effort to add IDs below species level, even if when the subspecies or variety is known

Moreover, many users rely on computer vision taxon suggestions when uploading photos, users tend to neglect taxa at or below subspecies when inputting initial IDs, as forthcoming, current, and recent CV models do not include taxa below species.

Lastly, there’s been lengthy discussion around the ever-growing ‘Needs ID’ pile, and identifications. While the overall problem is large, this may make a small dent by speeding up the process of identification.

Proposed Improvement

It should be possible to navigate up and down a single branch of the taxonomic tree relative to a current taxon. Being able to navigate would make non-“Agree” IDs easier to input.

Navigation could be accessed through a simple up/down button which would auto-populate (autofill) the “Add an Identification” field with a higher-level taxon or, a dropdown list of lower taxa from which an identification could be selected.

Each up-click would auto-populate the parent-taxon of the previous taxon. A subsequent down-click would reverse the up-click auto-populate with the child of that taxon leading back to the current taxon ID.

Only one “down” click would be possible, provided that the current taxon ID is either Genus or Species. This would compliment the field as currently implemented. The “Add an Identification” field already provides dropdown lists when either a genus or a species is manually entered, so all that would be needed is a button to auto-populate the field.

This might be extended in the future to list genera if the current taxon ID is a Family, giving a list of genera, however that would be beyond the scope of the current request.

Keyboard shortcuts could also be provided for navigation, e.g. B/N (broader / narrower) or H/L (higher / lower).


One catch—which is its own separate source of frustration—is that when typing an identification in the “Add an Identification” field if a user clicks anywhere else outside of the field, the field is automatically erased. That behaviour needs to be curtailed, both for this to work but also because I’m sure it’s caused other users frustration, e.g. when needing to pause for a moment to check something else, whether it’s a reference or a message in another tab.

Visual Example

I’ve chosen an observation of Tiarella trifoliata that I recently saw in the Identify queue.

Currently appearance of Identify

As noted, there are only two options here: Either click on “Agree” or manually type in an ID for anything else.

Proposed appearance with added navigation buttons

The change would be quite simple: Add a small pair of navigation buttons. One button for going “up” the sequence of taxa in the branch. One button which for going “down” to the children of the current taxon.

Proposed appearance after click: Going up the branch

For this example, one up-click would result in Genus Tiarella being input; two up-clicks would input Family Saxifragaceae, and so on, following the chain of taxa leading back to Kingdom Plantae (or Life).

  • Genus Tiarella
  • Family Saxifragaceae
  • Order Saxifragales
  • Class Magnoliopsida (Dicots)
  • Subphylum Angiospermae (Flowering Plants)
  • Phylum Tracheophyta (Vascular Plants)
  • Kingdom Plantae (Plants)
  • Life

If this were an incorrect ID, but one where I am uncertain of the correct species, I would need to take extra time to type in a disagreeing higher-taxon ID. This would speed up the process.

Proposed appearance after click: Going down the branch

A single down-click would auto populate the “Add an Identification” field with the current species, Tiarella trifoliata, for which the 3 varieties are listed:

  • Tiarella trifoliata var. laciniata
  • Tiarella trifoliata var. trifoliata
  • Tiarella trifoliata var. unifoliata

Currently, whenever I encounter this species, I need to spend extra time typing out the species name or copying and pasting into the ID field before selecting one of the varieties. That is time which, if this is implemented, could be spent identifying another plant.

I think this is an interesting idea, though I don’t think that the speed boost for “power IDers” (I’m probably one of these) would be that much. Most of the time, if an IDer intends to disagree at a higher taxonomic level, they already know the name of the higher taxon that they want to disagree at/to - this is just kind of the nature of how disagreeing on iNat works, that this is much more of an “expert level” feature. If someone is unsure which higher taxon they want to disagree to, it will be a slower process anyways.

High volume IDers who use the ID modal also rely heavily on using the keyboard, not mouse, inputs (so. much. faster.). So if you know the taxon you want to to input, and are using the keyboard, it is generally just going to be faster to hit “I”, starting typing your taxon name, and then use the down arrow to choose from the autocomplete. Switching to mouse to browse from a graphic list would be slower.

I do like the suggestion to not lose your dropdown/autocomplete options when clicking/tabbing away. That is annoying.


And this would make it faster for the experts to access / input that higher taxonomic level. No need to type it out.

For those of us who aren’t as expert (or who ID more broadly) it would provide a way to quickly see the options without turning to a reference.

Switching to a mouse would not be required. As I suggested in the original:

On the narrower side, once you have an ID partially typed, you can already use the up and down arrows on the keyboard to quickly navigate through the list of suggestions. This would be faster and wouldn’t be subject to the issue of misspelling, which the taxon matching system rarely is able to overcome with the current matching algorithm.

1 Like

Gotcha, I missed the reference to keyboard shortcuts. With those, I do think this could speed up IDing.

I would still suggest that if an IDer isn’t familiar enough with a given group to know which taxon they want to explicitly disagree too, they often shouldn’t be adding an explicit disagreement to that observation. That option should generally be used sparingly, so I kind of like having to take longer/work a little bit to make an explicit disagreement as it gives the IDer time to think whether they should really be making that ID or not.

I know that one other issue that has come into discussions of adding more shortcuts to Identify in the past is the potential for confusion/mistypes when there are more and more shortcuts available. I personally wouldn’t be worried about that here myself. It would be interesting to give this setup a test run and see how it would work.

1 Like

Well, one can always go higher. And that usually isn’t a problem, particularly if someone is an active participant, i.e. revisiting observations when people add subsequent IDs. To disagree on an observation that a user claims is is species X… if I know it isn’t species X and just say “it’s a flowering plant”, I don’t see an issue.

The issue is that you are then implicitly disagreeing, not only with the previous identification, but with IDs of any taxon lower than subphylum. Others could probably explain better, but the important point is that you can’t disagree with a single ID without also disagreeing with a lot of other potential IDs. So it seems best not to disagree except to the next highest taxon you can be sure of, not just the next highest taxon you can immediately think of.


Sorry to add so many comments, I just wanted to clarify that I’m only referencing the “explicit” or “hard” disagreements where an IDer says that “No, but it is a member of…” Those disagreements require a lot of expertise and do have a pretty strong impact since they bump the observation ID back up. Especially in organisms without many experts, an ID like that can be hard to counteract if it’s wrong. Those disagreements should be used pretty sparingly, and iNat has generally tried to encourage judicious (ie, infrequent) use in the past by tweaking the wording around those disgreements.

For IDs in which a user only chooses “I don’t know, but I am sure this is…” there’s no issue and this doesn’t hurt anything.

1 Like

I agree with this request, but would modify your example of what it would look like to instead display the next highest and lowest taxon permanently above and below Agree, or to display them when clicked. It would result in too many unintentionally selected ranks if the names aren’t displayed. And it would be too complicated to allow any rank to be chosen (probably, unless they all were shown in a “drop down” like menu, in which case that would work too).

1 Like

The ranks would be displayable. The idea is that one could “scroll through” the higher taxa by clicking up or down.

Okay, that sounds similar then. Another consideration is whether those options should be available to use in the first identifier’s box (where Agree is), or in the box below where you’d otherwise enter your own ID, or in both.

I illustrated my suggested outcome in “Figure 3” (Proposed appearance after click: Going up the branch).

I tried to design it in a way that minimized changes to the layout, so the displayed taxon that you navigate to would ultimately be shown in the identifier’s box.

Where the buttons are doesn’t really matter however since it’s relative to the current ID, placing them on that is a visual hint that one is navigating relative to that ID.

That could also be useful in scenarios where you have two conflicting IDs, since each one could have its own set of buttons. However, ultimately I’d have to defer to those implementing the system for cases more complex than observations with a single ID in the needs-ID queue.

Right, the other issue is anything but “Agree” with their ID is technically potentially misleading since it means you’re choosing something relative to their ID which could differ from it (agreeing-IDs and disagreeing-IDs). Overall I expect for this request to be likely to be approved it’s best not to make it too complicated (which could also result in difficulty for users understanding what the options mean). But, I support some kind of way to choose the different ID rank options like that.

If you go one rank up from the current id when making yours from this identify portal, is it currently counted as hard disagreeing with the current id, or only soft disagreeing? You don’t get the popup to choose which you mean.

1 Like

I just tried this out to check, and it actually did give me the popup to choose, and I chose soft disagreeing: https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/99849261

1 Like

As of yesterday, it does not always do that. I think it might when I’m changing my own id, but not when it’s someone else’s already there.

I checked now and when I want to change my id to higher one it always asks about disagreement, whenever there’re other ids or not.

1 Like

I believe an ID only triggers the pop-up if it disagrees with the community ID. So you can have a pop-up if you disagree with your current ID (or not) depending on how your ID relates to the community ID.

1 Like

It’s more complicated as it does appear when there’s still no community id too, but when there’re some contradicting ids and you change your old id to higher one it doesn’t appear, so it’s if your new id is lower than community id then there’s no message?