Could iNaturalist better help observers use this as a forum for good plant ID (and other kingdoms), and less a place to just post their pretty flower pictures?

If onboarding could encourage people to

take 3 photos of that (new people may think they are only allowed 1 photo = 1 obs)

Those who are interested will ask questions or respond to comments later. But 3 varied photos should / could give flower, leaf, whole plant - more hope of seeing the definitive features.

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Maybe onboarding could include phrasing like this:

“While you of course will have limits to how much you can show, in the number of photos, or other kinds of information you can give in your observation, know that the identifying features of a plant, animal, or fungus can occur on that plant, animal, or fungus, as a whole, or on any of their countless parts, as well as from their habitat, potentially sounds they make, or even smells they have. As your post invites people to give their identification of your observation, consider offering the identifiers views of multiple parts, maybe different angles, possibly different distances, and showing / highlighting multiple features, which may include the features they need to identify it. One photo might give views of more than one part, or you might offer additional photos to give views of additional parts.

One photo of the face of a flower, won’t show many of the identifying features of that plant species, when a botanist may need to at least see other parts, such as its lowest leaves, or get a view of the whole plant, to identify it. One photo of looking down at a mushroom may not offer enough identifying features to the mycologists. Fungi have critically important identifying features on both their tops, bottoms (usually their spore-bearing surface, such as gills, or pores), and often their sides. Similarly, one photo, looking down at a whole snake, may miss key identifying features for the herpetologist. A snake might have scale patterns in their face that are key to identifying them. So think about offering views of a set of multiple features, often in more than one photo, and possibly telling about potential identifying features in comments in the “Notes” section. If it would be practical, including a recording of a bird, or insect, might clinch an ID for an ornithologist, or entomologist. So try to give a set of views, and any other information, that offer multiple, different, possible identifying features, to identifiers, that may have learned to identify that species, or that group, by one, or more, sets of different features.”

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I found a note, after my first comment, that my issue had been “solved”. While I made later edits to my original title, and my first comment, to clarify that I am asking how iNaturalist could do better, and that response after that first comment, that my issue had been “solved”, might, in part, reflect my less good phrasing from when they said my issue had been “solved”, I wouldn’t agree that it had been solved.

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I created a feature request for a popup prompt that would help people learn what to take photos of once a taxon is selected. https://forum.inaturalist.org/t/add-an-optional-photo-prompt-to-the-new-observation-screen-in-the-apps/13471
It would be a fair amount of work to figure out the right terms for taxonomic groups and translate them to all of the many languages of iNat.

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IDs often needing multiple photo angles to confirm is true of many or all wildlife groups. Sometimes identifiers recommend improvements to observers, although doing so is only effective some of the time. This can also include recommending they avoid distant or out of focus photos, and don’t make wild guesses. In some cases users with such photos improve somewhat over time on their own too. For example if they’re seeking species IDs, they might notice they or other observers mostly only get those for clear observations with multiple good photos. Or they might stop uploading after while. In the event an observer’s behavior were very disruptive the site could look into it. Other than that nothing can be done except ID, comment, etc.

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As an identifier of moths (sounds like the name of a novel - The Identifier of Moths), I have gotten used to purple photos, blurred photos, underside photos. Often the significant features are visible no mater what the photo condition, even if it is just to Genus. I will let the observer know if I cannot identify their photo. To further complicate things, some species can only be separated using dissection, so a moth Complex is the best solution. I will often look at other images if the first one is inconclusive. 6 photos of the same insect is a bit much, though. I have found that they may show clues that leads to an ID.
For me, iNat functions as it is supposed to. I also do what my pal @melodi_96 does - I use my journal to help educate folks about key features. This is my last entry - https://inaturalist.ca/journal/mamestraconfigurata/56025-egira-dolosa

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I wish the species description had those notes so I would know what I need to include in my pictures. I have learned that pictures of insects often need a full view of each of the legs on one side, but there is so much I don’t know, and most of my inadequate photos just never get an id, let alone a message telling me what is missing.

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I think other apps do a better job with guiding people.
For example in PlantNet you tell the app which part of the plant you took a photo of (leaf/flower/stem). I must say that I am impressed with iNaturalist’s algorithm that can usually quite well distinguish things without this classification. But I think it would encourage people to take photos of other parts.

I can understand the emphasis of taking flower pictures. Usually they are rather distinct and catch the eye as you walk by.

One important thing would be for iNaturalist to offer guidance. I know guides exist but the way they are implemented is not ideal.
I belive it would be very helpful to offer people a guide depending on the context.
for example if iNaturalist recognizes a bee, it will offer you a (photo) guide that helps distinguish different species.

Another useful thing I saw in the Naturblick app (https://naturblick.museumfuernaturkunde.berlin/?lang=en)
If you look at a certain species it will tell you if there is another species that’s very similar.
In this moment I would find it very useful to see a list (no lengthy text) that will shows important differences
For example physical features/habitat/seasonality/

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Given how many plant species there are and how often the details needed for identification are specific to a particular genus and location, I think realistically all iNaturalist could do is provide some general guidance and encourage taking additional pictures that show more than just a flower or a single leaf detached from a tree. There is already a video on how to take better pictures - maybe expand on that with additional tutorials for iconic taxa or other commonly observed groups?

The details are probably best left to regional keys and field guides and local experts and e.g. could be shared by identifiers with access to such keys in the form of journal posts for example. I’ve seen a few really helpful journal posts that have inspired me to write a few of my own for some species I’ve seen commonly mixed up on iNat.

If you look at the species pages, iNat also provides a tab with Similar Species that are commonly misidentified. I find that useful as well. Of course often you don’t see these resources until after uploading the observation to iNat and researching what it could be and may have lost the chance to take additional pictures already.

When we do guided wildflower hikes, I try to find at least one or two example plants to point out what features you would have to photograph to get an ID on this plant. I try to find examples where e.g. the phyllotaxy or leaf margin or phyllaries on the back of the flower head are the important distinguishing feature, so people get the idea that just a photo of the top of the flower is not enough.

On a side note:

I saw that note, too. Not sure what, if anything, can be done to reverse a solution flag?

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“popup prompt that would help people learn what to take photos of once a taxon is selected”

This pop-up idea sounds interesting! I am mostly a photographer, not very good at IDing living beings, and I often don’t know if I need to take more pictures, what I should photograph to help IDers, or if my pictures are being redundant or actually helping.

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I would post photos of prairie plants and would include three photos - flower, leaf/stem, and the whole plant. But, I was just told recently by someone else that the back of the flower is also very important, so I’ll be including that as a fourth picture. BUT I wish iNat would have been able to let me know that at some point, because I wanted to do things correctly to get actual species-level IDs. I would use it, of course just for general ID, but to know what kinds of seeds I had collected so I knew exactly how to label them for my own germination as well as those I traded them with. Even if there was a single article named “How to take pictures of flowering plants/bugs/fungi” would be so great.

I think that kind of info does exist here. I think a lot of it is on the forum which I didn’t know existed for months after joining iNat. There isn’t like a master ‘index’ of where to find info and I’ve gained more experience in how to take photos of different organisms in a number of ways. Sometimes I’d find identification help by happenstance here at iNat (mostly via the forum). Sometimes I discover what was needed when I try to identify my own organism using a resource and I realize I needed to get a photo of the underside of the flower. Sometimes I can’t tell whether something is X or Y and when someone identifies it to one or the other, I’ll ask for a mini-tutorial in what details they were using. Sometimes an indentifier will say ‘can’t go to species with a better look at X’.

On the back side of 20+ years of being an educator (in many venues and on many topics), it’s been my experience that dumping LOTS of info on people at the onset (even in the form of an ‘index’ of sorts) never results in people learning more effectively or more quickly. In fact, it most often results in turning people off.

I try to give people a minimum of info, have them try something, then answer the next question they have. Because everyone’s first, second, and 20th question will be different. That way I can tailor the instruction to each person’s need and learning style. Could iNat make some of its resources a little easier to find? In my opinion, absolutely. I am a research/websearch guru and I never find info on iNat by looking for it. Only by stumbling across it. But would putting forth all those resources (on iNat) in a more obvious way for new-to-iNat users help them (in their first 100 obs, especially)… I’m not so sure.

It is natural to wish we all knew something before we made a mistake. But I think making mistakes is how we learn something. Making mistakes isn’t a bad behavior. Mistakes are part of the learning process, they’re to be expected, they’re natural, we shouldn’t feel embarrassed or frustrated, and we shouldn’t be chastised for them. We can’t learn without the mistakes. They help us know what to learn next or what to ask next.

I went to peek at your observations to see where they were at. For plant identification, I am eternally grateful for minnesotawildflowers.info - they won’t be perfect for Wisconsin flowers but they will offer as much help as any other source I’ve found. And they tell you how to differentiate similar plants from each other which is where I thought ‘well, I wish I’d gotten a look at the underside of that flower!’. I’ve learned as much about taking photos of plants from that site as from any other source. I donated to that site as well as iNat last year.

If I were rating myself on a scale from 1-10 in how effectively I photograph plants, I would have to give myself a 2 at the beginning (and that would have been generous!). Now, after two summers, I hope I’ve progressed to a 5/6. I have a better idea of what I need to photograph but at least 30-40% of my photographs still fail to get what I need for “THAT” plant! lol. A lot of that is a factor of my equipment, my eyesight, the heat (I can’t stand her all day fiddling with that darn thing) and the wind. It is near impossible to take photos of plants in the wind! :-)

Also, if you aren’t aware, these sources might be useful for WI:
https://wisconsinbutterflies.org/ (there’s a lot of info on that site - be sure to click on lots of links to explore)
https://wiatri.net/inventory/odonata/

I have found a few more marginally helpful online resources for WI so feel free to shoot me a DM if you want a full list of what I’ve found.

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I’d like to emphasize that, while some number of additional photos showing more possible identifying features are usually helpful for a good ID, it isn’t always additional photos that are needed for a good ID. More identifying features can often be given per photo, if the photo comes in from an angle that shows more parts. For example if the only flower photo you offer comes in from halfway between the front, and the side, it will show the parts, and shapes, seen on both the front, and side, not only those seen from the front, or only those seen from the side. Similarly, if you start with a photo of the whole organism, and can come in from an angle between top, and side, it will show more parts, and also show more perspective. Also, including a view of the whole, in itself, shows more parts than say just a flower. The look of the whole (not only a series of parts) is one more thing an identifier may use to identify the organism. You may recognize your friends from a distance, seeing the whole person, while you may not recognize them by a series of photos of their nose, eyes, and other parts. No doubt more photos can be redundant if they don’t come in from different angles, or different distances, and don’t really show different identifying features, which could include different parts, could include the whole, or maybe habitat.

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With plants, it depends so much on the species, and how many other species look similar. As recently mentioned in another thread, you can easily get diagnostic photos for Queen Anne’s Lace and Chicory from a fast-moving vehicle whereas to tell Ovales sedges apart you need to carefully pick out and photograph different parts of the seed head. When you are first learning, i would say just try to get 2 or 3 photos that capture the main features of the plant, and know that sometimes you won’t be able to get an ID. As you get more familiar with what you need to get IDs, you will get better at taking photos. If you take a photo and it isn’t diagnostic to species, it isn’t a problem. Just leave it at genus or family or whatever and mark it as no further ID needed.

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This happened to me fairly recently and I think I was able to make it “unsolved” again by clicking the checkmark.

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Thanks!

It was suggested by @melodi_96 that I might use journal posts to offer my suggestions of how people might make better quality observations for better quality identifications. So I have now made my first journal post doing this. Thanks again melodi_96 !

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