Etiquette question: is it okay to respond to old observations?

I’m not sure whether I should consider observations as like a forum, where they should be ignored after they’re a few weeks old? If I filter by ‘birds’ and ‘UK’ for observations that need ID, they quickly get very old. I don’t know whether it’s acceptable/rude/recommended to keep IDing old observations even if they’ve never had any response before. What’s the etiquette?


If you can id it, by all means do. There is no time limit.


Please do! I’m always very happy to finally find out what something I photographed two or three years ago is.


Don’t understand the point - if you find something wrong, you have to! ;)


Definitely! Unlike forum posts that close 2 months after the last reply, observations are always open for IDs. If you can help identify an old observation, then please do. Especially if they have never had any responses.

I personally really appreciate when a user takes the time to look through old observations and helps me identify an organism I never was able to identify months or even years ago.


Ditto with what everyone else has said. And it’s a little unexpected but pleasant surprise in your notifications…


Thanks everyone, that’s good to know! Now I feel better about making my way through alllll the old observations when I want something to do. :nerd_face:


I would LOVE to have someone identify my older observations! They seem to be languishing unregarded, but are as potentially useful as the newer ones.


Always great to have folks working through the older observations. I’m sure the observers will appreciate your efforts!

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as other said if anything it’s extra helpful to look at old observations. I sometimes specifically review older ones, because they get ‘stuck’ without ID and maybe I can help. Of course, with the older ones, ID is often much harder since no one has gotten the ID figured out yet :)


iNat is a giant growing data set where the date of submission (as opposed to the date of the actual observation) of any individual observation is virtually irrelevant. They are all equal. The oldest observations are as important as the newest.

True, there’s probably not much value in agreeing with the ID that 10 people have all unanimously IDed, but old un-IDed observations (or those with contradictory IDs) are absolutely recommended to respond to.

Many of the most valued experts on iNaturalist are those with a narrow professional specialism. Often such people will come and examine every observation since the dawn of time of, for instance, the particular genus of dragonfly that they are the authority on. And that is very very welcome input.

It’s not a social media platform where posts have a time-specific relevance. It’s all about citizen science. Even if my oldest observation already has 10 IDs, 11 would be better, so please go ahead and add yours!

In the field/locality where I primarily work, new species are constantly being described. There are many animals I photographed 10 years ago that are only now being described. So it is always important to look at old and new observations and ensure everything is IDed wherever possible!


I certainly have a number of old observations where I would either like an ID, or I would like my ID confirmed. Even when I am reasonably sure, I am an amateur without the specialist expertise to distinguish between similar species (or even to know about the similars) so it is certainly a learning experience for me. I have a number of old observations which would presumably be more useful to someone if they could be elevated to research grade status.

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Seeing (and reading in the forum about) the need for more plant identifiers, I’ve been working through unattended observations in the geographical area I know best, starting in winter 2018. This has also been a way to learn more about the site and it’s been interesting. I’m not motivated by pushing things to research grade (I agree with @kueda’s perspective on that) but by the sense that it’s not too much to ask that every post should be acknowledged once, if possible. But I have a similar question to @JayAvery’s about one kind of situation. I’m now looking at a cache of many observations by a heavy user and good observer. The photos are good and the observer’s IDs look good. The whole batch lacks any response. I could go through these in a pretty short time and they would almost all become research grade. But this person posted them not to find out what I thought, but to find out what the community thought, right? Is there such a thing in this situation as ID’ing too many? Is that an overbearing amount of presence on one person’s photo set? (On the other hand, would responding to them at this point make it more rather than less likely that others would also respond to them?)

But you are the community (part thereof)! I sometimes stumble across an observer in my area of interest that has gotten little previous attention and “adopt” them, adding IDs to as many of their needs-id observations as I reasonably can. Haven’t gotten any complaints yet, just thanks if anything. So I wouldn’t hold back if you are able to offer reasonably confident IDs for someone.


yeah, Poa should ID as many as they want, after all anyone else can come in and agree or disagree with those ID anyway.


a couple of other reasons that observations end up without a second id

  • in the thick of the seasonal rush, observers can overwhelm the identifiers.
  • areas/organisms can acquire an observer community before they acquire an identifier community

I join the other posters in encouraging others to continue to enjoy identifying as many observations as they so choose to do.


If you want a third person to agree before it becomes “research grade,” you can check the “ID still needs improvement” box so that the observation doesn’t get knocked out of the “needs ID” pool.

Having been on the receiving end of this, I’m usually happy my observations got the attention. It might be a confirming ID in many cases, but as someone still learning, it’s nice to receive that validation. Usually, too, there’s a few IDs for stuff I didn’t know, which is always exciting :grinning:

If you’re adding a refining ID, this increases the likelihood of others finding it, no matter the age of the observation. However, older observations might not get much activity if others IDing for the same place/taxon aren’t also going through older observations.

But yes, please, ID all you want! I like to ID on random date, so that I can see recent stuff and clean out some of the backlog at the same time.


I’ve been trying to go through old Noctuid observations just to get the data into the system. I believe it is a valuable endeavor. The problem comes when the original identifier is no longer active. If you need to ask questions, you are out of luck. If the original id is wrong, it’s difficult to work around. I believe this topic has been discussed a few times before!

I ask the question anyway… sometimes a question sparks off another thought in someone else who sees the observation, and the ID can be arrived at by a different route… they just needed that question to trigger the idea!


yeah for absent users i will still comment so other people can see the comments, but i don’t spend a lot of time explaining my ID to them, since they aren’t there.