I feel that the recent changes implemented to the Agree button (removing it from RG observations) are quite negative and a bad direction for the site/community. I’ve heard lots of arguments against this change from a diversity of users. I’ve also seen in comments many people saying that this change won’t have that much of a negative impact or that it isn’t a big deal. I’ve also spent a decent portion of today running through this in my mind, and thought I would share the ways in which I see this change being negative for me personally (apologies for the long post, it’s therapy for me if nothing else). I’ll give three examples of how not having the Agree button has a serious negative impact on how I use iNat:
- The case many people are reporting: They have certain regions or taxa that they curate by going through observations and identifying, including agreeing even if there are already at least two confirming identifications already. As several people have pointed out, a user can still add an agreeing ID, but needs to do this manually. This probably adds 5-10 seconds per ID depending on how many characters one needs to type (and how good of a typist one is). I’ve seen several folks say: this is hardly any time, don’t complain! However…it adds up!
I actually can speak to the effect here because, for a long time, I didn’t understand how the agree button worked, so I did all my IDs manually (as is now necessary)…I know I was stupid, but whatever. Anyways, I compared my productivity (how many observations I could get through in 10 min) after figuring out the agree button, and I was 2.5-3 times faster than before on several different trials, which is a massive increase in efficiency.
I’ve also seen people argue that identifiers should just designate observations as “reviewed” (keyboard shortcut for R, same speed as agreeing) in place of agreeing. There are several good arguments against this, but the most persuasive to me is that this argument/workflow essentially says that reviewing an observation that has reached Research Grade is not worth an observer’s time. If I go through an observation, view it, and use my expertise to make a decision about its accuracy, I’ve done all the work. If I hit “review” that work all disappears and is never recorded anywhere and it affects nothing. It doesn’t help anyone else and no one is aware of it (except a server somewhere). Given that anywhere from 70-95% of RG observations are IDed accurately (depending on taxa as I understand based on previous posts, but I may be incorrect on this), that means that most time spent on RG observations would involve pressing “R for reviewed.” This is pretty demoralizing and demotivating. Why would I want to look at any RG observations to check them?
- I run a yearly outreach project (Lizards on the Loose) which has 6-12 grade students in the Miami area posting observations on anoles in urban environments. In better times, we get to personally meet teachers and some students and tell them we’re looking forward to seeing their observations on iNat. When their observations post, we check them, agree (even if they are already RG), and comment on cool ones, provide suggestions, feedback, and encouragement as we can. The projects have generated 2,000+ observations per year, though most of these are made in about a month.
Agreeing to these observations is an important way for us to communicate to students and teachers that a) we have seen their observations, b) we value their work, and c) we are excited for them to be in the project. By removing the agree button, this will take a lot more time (2.5-3 times as long, as per my experience above). We wouldn’t be able to provide timely feedback to students, if we can keep up at all (it’s not my day job, just service). I would feel really bad if I couldn’t give students that feedback that we’re valuing their work, and I’d start looking for different ways to do the project in some kind of reduced fashion (heck, I already emailed my collaborators about this today).
- I work with undergraduate students who use iNaturalist data for research or class projects. In general these experiences have been really positive for them. Being able to use iNat is going to be even more important/useful for my classes/students in a COVID world where they can’t get out to collect data as they would before. I don’t need to preach to the choir on why this is a great use of iNat data (and can lead to more iNat users, etc.). I will note that several students’ work based on this has been presented at conferences, and one is currently preparing her work for submission to a journal.
Part of the way that we standardize these observations and increase their rigor is that we have one identifier (that’s me), confirm the ID on all observations that students use. This gives a straightforward way to describe methods. It also makes using observations really easy for my students: if they see that I’ve IDed the observation, they know that they’re good to go. This also lets us use some observations that aren’t RG (because of disagreements, but for which I’m confident in the identification). Without the agree button, I won’t be able to keep up with the observations (mostly of anoles, but that’s just me… that are posted to iNat. My students will have fewer options in terms of the data that they can use, and our research workflow will be a bit more difficult/less efficient. I realize that this last reason is a pretty niche case, and so I don’t personally place a lot of weight on it singularly. I do mention it because I imagine that there are a lot of other users for whom this change also results in a “niche case” being disrupted, and I feel it’s worth acknowledging that over many users the smaller negative effects of this change can add up.
To sum up, I feel that there are lots of negative impacts to this change, and, at least in my personal experience, the arguments for the change do not seem compelling enough to justify the negative consequences for many users.