Classification recommendations

Hi there,
for quite a while now, I spent my time filtering for ‘needs ID / with photos / unknown’ - or whatever it’s labelled in English. I will then try to classify what I get as far as think my expertise goes. It might be mostly be ‘insect’, ‘Magnoliopsida’ or something of that level. If I see that somebody else labelled the report before I did, I keep off. I simply want to help the observers to get found by somebody who knows the score. And since some weeks, I will explain myself as clear as I can, i.e., advise people to put some basic classification themselves as it would help them to get found. Still, some people are upset making sure they don’t want to see me there. Which is something to smile about if it’s beginners here. But now even respectable regulars tell me better not to do that. So I want to ask here: what’s the general idea? Should I trust that absolutely unlabelled reports will be be seen one day? Or, if not, they don’t deserve better?
I want to be helpful and not pester anyone. So I’d LOVE a general advise what’s recommended in general. If then single people have a different opinion, one may call it the way the world is.


There are many people, like myself, that only ID after filtering for a particular location and/or type of organism. If someone didn’t do what you are doing, I’d never see many observations. I don’t understand why “sorting” unknowns into a known taxa would ever be a problem for anyone? As long as you are usually correct.


What you’re doing is good and helpful. Please continue.

Occasional problem: Some experienced iNaturalist users prefer to upload all their photos and then identify them later. They don’t like us putting general identifications on them. This is their problem, not ours! However, to be kind to these people, I usually do not put general identifications on a very recent observation (like the past day or two) if the observer has posted thousands of observations before.

If I notice, that’s what I do. Often I just don’t notice how many observations a person has posted, and so I put a general identification on those observations by accident. So it goes. The observers are wrong to object, but sometimes they do.


I would add a period of one month or more ago as a filter too. I do that myself to avoid adding IDs that people themselves will add within a month, which many do.

Besides that, there are people who have good reason to ask you to stop adding IDs. I try to understand their perspective and act according to what they want, what is best for the iNaturalist community, and what I want myself. I have found that with this approach I resolve everything in an acceptable matter.


You are following iNat’s guidelines.

Because I whine about African plants we had a bioblitz last year.

And to my utter amazement! - together we got African plants down to zero.
But the numbers have climbed up again. Second but - now I have more people helping to ID. We make progress. It is plants that are the problem, if I Fungi, it moves. Birds zip away. Most animals move - even if it is pushback because I was wrong.

iNat is so much more rewarding all round when your ID is supported or refined - instead of quietly ignored. We each use iNat in a different way - together it works. @becksnyc Lepidoptera for you? Those are easy for me - L - and autocomplete gives me Lepidoptera (I annotate for larva) - and the IDs roll in - we are all happy.


There are a few users who think high-level (plant) IDs are useless and respond rather vehemently to innocent people adding such IDs. For reasons I don’t understand, these users have been able to continue such behavior without consequences. I’m sorry if you have encountered such a user.

I agree with the advice that it often makes sense to leave unknowns alone in cases where they were entered by experienced users. For new users, I think there is a value in adding an ID relatively quickly (along with a kind explanation of why entering an ID themselves is important) – feedback is an important factor in whether users stick around or not. If their observations get no resonance or attention, they are more likely to abandon iNat completely, so waiting a month to ID seems like loses the window of opportunity to help new users understand and stay interested in iNat. I believe there are ways to sort observations based on when the account was created, which might be useful in this context.


For new users - if I can’t help the obs in today’s Unknowns.
I look at their other obs and try very hard to find some that I can help to ID.
New users need to be encouraged to come back and to stick around - much easier if their obs shows field marks.


I have also gotten some pushback for putting some broad classifications on unknowns and I always just explain that it helps people who can id further find the observation. I still focus mainly on unknowns and the occasional comment never bothers me.


Add an Identification

It’s preferable only to use these comments on observations by new users, as there are many reasons why an experienced user may not add an ID to their observations. Here’s a link to unidentified observations by people who joined iNaturalist in the past 3 weeks.

Option 1: Hi, welcome to iNaturalist! Even if you don’t know the exact species of what you have observed, you can search for and select a higher level identification, such as “plants (kingdom Plantae)” or “insects (class Insecta)”. Many people helping identify observations on iNaturalist filter the observations by the group of species they know how to ID (like plants or insects), so observations with a blank ID like this one will be excluded from those filtered searches. Selecting a general ID helps funnel your observation to someone who may know what they’re looking at, and that way it can get identified sooner. Here is a video tutorial for the mobile app:

Option 2 (general/coarse ID added): I’m not quite sure which species this is, but this general identification will help other people who might know the species find your observation. Many people helping identify observations on iNaturalist filter the observations by the group of species they know how to identify, like “plants” or “insects”, and this general ID will help them find it more quickly. If you’re interested in learning more about how identifications progress on iNaturalist, you can read more here:

Option 3 (subject unclear): Hi, welcome to iNaturalist! I’ve been helping identify observations that aren’t yet identified as any organism at all. Which organism are you focusing on in this observation? I’ve added this identification for now, but let me know if you were focusing on a different organism here. Thanks!


Thank you all for your opinion! I’m glad that you mostly agree to my point. Yes, there are always details to improve and the idea to filter at least occasionally by date is something I will check out. But being honest: Sometimes, I don’t want to see unclear grasses, tiny crawlers and fungi only, I also enjoy birds, mammals and even Bougainvilleas in the park ;-) And yes, it is a difference whether somebody just did the first 2 observations oder has done already 10.000. But even they sometimes think IDs occure by pure magic. Alright, if their belief makes them happy…
Anyway: thank you for your encouragement! Happy finding and IDing!


I agree with what you do. After virtually following someone’s footsteps, when they posted without ID for a whole day and then bulk IDed the next day, I chose to work in reverse order. My problem is more one-off and gave-up users who won’t reply to comments asking what the blurb is supposed to be.

One wouldn’t believe it. Right now, somebody who uploaded 5000 obs already, agreed to my point that it was better to add some basic id. Still, he wouldn’t know how to do it yet. I tryed to explain that on Android and the website. Where I find it pretty self-explanatory. Still, people told me that it was rather troublesome on Apple. Can it really be THAT different from the Android interface? Is there somewhere an explanation I can refer to?


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