"Duress" and "Contest" users

Thinking about all of the new and existing feature requests, the recent huge project in Malaysia, and the continued issues with students being assigned to use iNaturalist, I thought it might be helpful to have a broader discussion here.

In my definition:

Duress Users are users who are assigned to use iNaturalist for a class or something similar. They aren’t here because they want to be. Their grade often depends on getting a certain number of research grade observations. Some teachers do zero curation. Some of these users are very young and aren’t even supposed to be on the site without adult supervision, and these projects hardly count as such. Duress users almost never become power users or long time casual iNat users, though there are exceptions.

Contest Users (I just made this one up recently) are users who join as part of a contest like a big nature challenge or bioblitz. Often these projects involve many thousands of observations, with little or no curation. Since there’s often a contest to see who can get the most observations, their observations get very ‘spammy’ - 12 photos of the same cat, things not tagged as not wild, other data quality issues. They are less of an issue than duress users perhaps, but i think still very few of them stay here long term.

I feel like a lot of the issues iNat is facing now would be solved or decreased if we had a better way to manage these users, though I don’t know the best way to do that. A few ideas that have been thrown out there:

-Student accounts

-Changes in how research grade works

-Direct them towards Seek or some version tehreof

-Tweak iNat outreach to discourage this type of use and move twoards more sustainable user base (though that may be hard).



One thing that might help is requiring new users to complete a small 5-minute tutorial on how the site works before they can upload anything. And/or if a certain percentage of their observations are flagged as low quality, they have to (re)complete the tutorial before they can upload any more.

I think this would be just irritating enough to discourage the massive spam dump users, and not a big enough barrier to drive away the users who might just be new and clueless.


I say this fully admitting I have never looked at or installed Seek, but I fear no professor or teacher is going to accept using it unless it has the same project interface to quickly sumamrize total records, contributions per user etc.

Can other users even ‘see’ something added by another on Seek ?


part of the point of seek is it does not share geographic information. Thus it is safe for kids to use or others concerned about geoprivacy. As of the first version, it did not allow for tracking beyond an individual’s use. However i believe a new version is coming out soon that will be significantly different.


What I really like about this suggestion is that it is a change from the system side, and not an appeal or hope or wish concerning behavior.


Maybe offer a webpage or version of the app tailored specifically to handle cases like these?

Maybe if there’s something that could do the heavy lifting of presenting the website to a group setting where there’s going to be tons of observations, teachers will spring for that versus something that involves a lot of their downtime being spent on trying to curate too many observations. It could be tailored towards advice like 'if you don’t know, use general suggestions like ‘plant’, ‘animal’, etc, as well as giving people an understanding of how the AI works, and to not treat it like a magic 8 ball.

The downsides I could see with this is 1. Making sure it’s available in several languages, 2. Yet another thing that needs to be synced up if something changes on iNat.


Just adding a cross-reference to a related discussion in a feature request (now closed). See the last post in that discussion for some of the ideas that staff are considering.


You know, in addition to how it could help alleviate the issue of duress users, this could also help users in general. I know when I started using iNat, it took a while to find resources on some of the routine processes. Having a tutorial could make sure that relevant info is at least delivered. Especially in educational settings, it seems that teachers aren’t doing this well enough anyway. Translation probably would be important as duress projects seem to be popping up more globally now (see the Ecuador and Penang events). It would also be something that could be tied into the considerations of a trust system from the above-linked thread.


Good to hear some of the ideas are moving forward. I still like the idea of the student accounts but it just may not fit within the programming and website development framework, and in the least it’s worth trying out the new Seek and seeing if that can take up some of the demand.


In many (most?) cases I think this would be at least as helpful for the teachers as for the students – unless the teacher is already an experienced iNat user.


A tutorial may also help reduce multiple-species observations.


I know other threads about the Computer Vision are on here, but I think it’s also an issue here. I have been trying to help out on what may be a class today–a class that seems to be trying–and sometimes it is very hard trying to type in an ID. For example, someone has an “Unknown” with description “spider.” I try to add an ID of “spider” and the Computer Vision keeps interrupting with a drop-down list of other unrelated things. I finally have to type in the scientific name instead. This is probably unavoidable where multiple organisms are in the photo. I can see how these students would be frustrated and just leave their IDs at “Unknown” though.


@graysquirrel If you start a feature request for this, I’ll vote for it! :wink:


Chiming in as a “Duress” user turned frequent-casual user -

As soon as my teacher introduced INat. to our class, I instantly fell in love with it. I love taking pictures of wildlife, and this is the perfect place for me to post them (I love science too)!

“Duress” is a good way to introduce the site to people who would be interested in it, but I agree that many classmates probably aren’t as interested, and some seemed to have dropped the class when asked to make 14 observations with “full” descriptions. My teacher did devote a lesson to using INaturalist, so she did her due diligence.

Not saying people weren’t thinking it’s a good way to get the word out or anything, just presenting myself as evidence :D


Very helpful perspective @tmandalios, thank you for chiming in, and glad you stayed with us!


yep, thank you! All the more reason to have separate student accounts, and those who choose to stay with us can change to a ‘regular’ account. Though i doubt it happens, i think it’s challenging to code and enforce.

As an ethnobotany instructor who has students use iNaturalist I think a student account, potentially with some linkage to the instructor who then has some responsibility for vetting the observations, makes sense. That alone is probably difficult to code. The student account also ought to have a path to accommodate those such as @tmandalios who go on to use iNaturalist beyond their experience in the classroom. This is my hope as an instructor: that students will use the app beyond the class. My students come from dozens of remote islands in the Pacific, they have the potential to record species in places those from outside the islands rarely visit. Thus the student account should reach some level of trust that delinks them from their instructor and establishes them as a contributor in their own right. And, yes, my over-excited students took too many pictures of the same plants during their first outing with the app. And images of each other when they discovered that the app would identify Homo sapiens.


I think it would be really easy to implement “mentor accounts”, rather than “student accounts”. If an account can nominate another account as mentor, then that mentor account could log into the students account and make (restricted) changes. For instance, they could reply to comments from others (but their replies get a differentiation to show they came from the mentor rather than the student, something like a text line under the comment saying “from mentor: kiwifergus” etc). Or they could withdraw (but not delete) IDs, Change pin locations or edit time/date on observations, basic stuff that is often problematic for new users. The mentor setting could last for a set period of time, say 6 months, and then gets automatically dropped. The student could reset it at any time, including while it is set so that the 6 mths counter restarts. That way, 6 months after the student last set it, they just become a normal account.

I have encountered times when I have a new user who is not very PC savvy, and I am asking them to split up a multi species obs, or merge multiple obs into a single obs. If they struggle particularly, then it would be great to be able to sign into their account and do some of the more difficult stuff for them. Of course, if they wanted to they could share the password and it would have the same effect, but I really cringe at the idea of having to do that.


I mentored my 11 year old grandson’s iNat account until it became obvious he was more tech savvy than I was…


lol, yes! You could set him as YOUR mentor!