Farewell ignorance

iNaturalist has changed a lot. And not for the better. It’s mostly a quantity over quality problem. The general strive of the community for MOAR [sic] observations irrespective of quality has attracted more and more people that are marginally or not at all interested in the goals of the platform or even not interested at all in biodiversity or biology.

The main factors contributing to this rise of marginally interested and uninvolved people are:

  • The mobile apps - with their ease of use and permissiveness of poorly described obs - are attracting more and more ignorant people that don’t want to invest even the slightest effort to make a good record. Click-and-go.
  • The general rise in popularity of the platform. Open communities usually start with dedicated and genuinely interested members. They are the first to find the community because they actively search for their interests. But with the rise of popularity - more and more marginally interested people become marginally involved.
  • Various ways of attracting people that may not have any interest in biology and biodiversity per se - like bioblitzes, gamification, school/university requirements and other. A healthy community should be united by common goals and interests. There’re more and more people coming here that do not share the founding goals and interests of iNaturalist. Heck, even the forum is gamified and full of useless comments and topics created just to give the originator some fake sense of being useful or just to get a certain badge or being in the top of whatever.

This rise in the numbers of ignorant and uninvolved people manifests in a myriad of ways:

  • Not caring to photograph even a dead specimen from more than one angle. Or not caring to make a clear photo.
  • Not caring to check the suggested taxa and clicking the first that matches in color - sometimes choosing beetles for wasps, choosing Lasius niger for any smudge on the photo, etc. Choosing an Australian species for something seen in Europe. This person is most likely not interested at all in what (s)he is doing.
  • Not caring to give a correct date - choosing the current date when there’s no metadata for something seen long ago. Or not caring that the metadata of the screenshot does not give the correct date of observation - happens very, very often; people will even take a screenshot of a zoomed in image as an easier alternative to actually cropping the image.
  • Not caring to transfer a photo between devices to preserve metadata and taking a photo of the device instead.
  • Not caring that the radius of the coordinates includes a whole continent.
  • Not caring that they post the same thing several times.
  • Not caring that they infringe copyright and in turn - submit fake data. And as it happened to me - flagging another user’s obs as a revenge for being caught:
    https://www.inaturalist.org/journal/exonie/38278-vandalism

Someone might argue that those “not caring” instances are actually cases of “not knowing”. While there’re indeed people not knowing but willing to learn, I’m saying that there’s a huge increase in people not willing to learn and not interested in the activity and goals of iNaturalist.

This rise in numbers - and increased proportion of uninvolved to involved people - has also led to an increasing lag for IDs. Some people have even insisted on prioritizing IDs for newcomers. I’m trying to do my share with IDing even though I’m quite slow because I have to use keys and references since I’m not “fluent” in any taxon. But as a “result” I’m getting less IDs for myself. And I have to cope with more and more ignorance and to explain the obvious and to defend my flagged observations.

This is not a positive experience for me anymore. I might not be mentally strong enough to endure, that’s why I’m saying Farewell. I’m even considering deleting my account to prevent further mental damage to myself from attempting to give it another try.

The lesson - I think - is that healthy communities should be united by common goals and not artificially inflated with uninvolved people by attracting them by means other than those common goals.

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I’m sorry you feel so badly now about your iNat experience, and I imagine the copyright infringement issue was particularly upsetting. I think iNat is many things to many people. For me, it has done a good job of connecting me closer to nature and sparked more curiosity about the natural world around me. But, I realize that is not what is important to all users. For you, it seems like a greater level of professionalism and academic responsibility are important, and I respect that very much.

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I’m sorry, but can you clarify this part?

Common mistakes don’t mean a person is not interested in 99% of times. Sure, there’re users not caring about anything, but if you’re not one of them, why giving up and letting them being more numerous? If you do a good job it will get the same responce eventually.
I see your observations are not in projects. From own experiece I can say that both joining existing projects and creating your own gives a lot of feedback. e.g. I created a couple of prejocts for cities I observe in, and getting more people joining them results in more ids for myself. Plus it’s easier to help people with ids too. Creating friendship & bonds = more ids done and recieved.

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You say people “don’t care” if they post the "same thing several times. " I feel that showing the same species from different locations helps in documenting species range, variation and diversity.

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By “same thing”, I mean the same specimen, often even the same photo. And no - not for the recording of another species on the photo.

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In general, I’m seeing you make a lot of assumptions about people. Just because someone submits a blurry photo doesn’t mean that they don’t care. A lot of people want to know what’s in their backyard and don’t have a good camera. I feel as if you are trying to brush off the non-experts who don’t know better and just want to get better and know why their initial ID was wrong. It can be frustrating to those that eventually have to contradict the initial ID, but every correction leads to the observer to understanding why their initial ID was incorrect, and in turn, better observers. Also, the computer vision is, no offense to the iNaturalist staff, not great. It doesn’t take range, date, and many other features into account, and many people rely upon it too much, which can be a problem. However, I do think the large amount of copyrighted photos on iNaturalist is a problem. I hope, despite your bad experience, that you decide to keep using iNaturalist.

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I agree there has been a great increase in what I call “garbage” records – those with various problems and that are of little to no value to anyone – submitted by casual “drive-by” users who likely won’t be back. I suppose that is to be expected for any site that is open to all and is growing in popularity. The apps do make such records more likely because they make posting records so easy. ( I was an early critic of the apps for that reason but came around to using them occasionally.)

Rather than get frustrated by those, I just ignore them and move on to records that are actually useful to me or others. Any cross-section of records are a real mixed bag. Just something to deal with (or not, if you don’t have the patience).

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Just to clarify, what do you think the goals of the platform are?

I think many of these are a consequence of the platform being advertised as just a tool to get organisms identified. Yes, it functions as that, but it’s so much more than that and that’s not necessarily clear for new users, and thinking that it’s just that would lead to misusing it. “Just upload your photos and you get an answer back from the AI!” might be the idea. From that perspective, it doesn’t matter if you post an original photo or a screenshot or an image you took off of Google, and what is data quality? I feel like a decent proportion of new users don’t realize that the things they upload to the app connect to an entire database and community of naturalists on the website? That’s what Seek is for.

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I’m sorry about that too. The copyright thing - I don’t even know how someone would think about doing something like that. What is there to gain? It looks like it was resolved appropriately.

But I am not a naturalist and I made many of those mistakes. I still am guilty of putting perhaps unidentifiable pictures on - I have had a success or two with someone being able to identify in spite of a bad photo. So I try to be patient with newcomers. It’s can be overwhelming with so many newcomers, though. But I hope that there’s a chance I will connect with a newcomer and they can change methods and be more familiar with the tools ( some people post the same organism because they don’t realize how to add photos to an observation after the initial one, so they just make more and more observations). Anyhow, an increase in users means an increase in all kinds of users, informed or uninformed.

I hope you don’t delete your data - it seems a shame to delete high-quality data. But I agree that if it gives you more frustration than enjoyment then it isn’t worth continuing. Know that there are a lot of identifiers out there who will get to some of your observations eventually… I’ve been addressing Claytonia’s from as far back as 3 years ago in my area. I always imagine the user is happy when I can ID something, because I know I am. I don’t always say thank you, but perhaps I should, because it’s always a high point when I know someone’s looked at my post - they don’t even have to agree.

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Clearly by making this post, you are (or were) very passionate about the community, at least enough to highlight some issues it has; so why not put that towards suggesting changes rather than quitting? I have noticed the influx of less than stellar posts/IDs despite being relatively new, and maybe I’m too new to be jaded from it, but I think they can be fixed or at the very least ignored. Anyway, my point is that there are options to limit and correct inappropriate use of iNat, you can choose to follow people that you know post quality content or try to continue to fight against “bad posts” when you’re willing, flag for spam, infringement, etc. If the problem is as bad as you say, then we’ll need passionate users to keep the quality from slipping further.

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Are you sure you’re not just suffering from burn-out? If it’s stopped being fun, perhaps you should concentrate on something completely different for a few weeks/months before making any lasting decisions. I went through a spell like that myself recently. I’m not going to try to sugar-coat it and say everything looked rosy again once I came back, but having a long break certainly helped.

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To be fair, some people are squeamish, or have other reasons.
I know I personally have photographed dead things and occasionally only got 1 angle because:

That being said, I can see your frustrations and am sorry you are choosing to leave.

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Plus, speaking for myself, if you don’t know the group you think it can be ided from 1 photo, only at home you realise that, hm, no, 10 more is needed for genus id only.
Also some people post old observations which usually lack info, they were originally made just to be in the phone memory, now they can be added to iNat database.

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BugGuide.net also gets a lot of “bad” photos and many people are just looking for help with IDs. Including me! But they have moderators that can “frass” those not-so-useful photos.
I’ve posted photos that I want ID’d but made it clear I would not be offended if they were frassed subsequently.

On iNaturalist I’ve seen squashed bugs, potted houseplants plants, picked flowers in front of smiling selfie girl face, livestock taken with iPhone, etc. All that could be put in the frass heap so we don’t find those when searching for records within a geo range, for instance.

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I must have signed up after a golden era. Seems half plus of the observations have always been at unidentifiable angles. I just mark those as reviewed, or say “view of the underside of the mushroom cap helps :)” and move on. never see it again.
I feel like we have a problem of too few identifiers, not too many observers.

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Sorry to hear you are not having a good time. I understand the frustration, I think all of us here have seen many a “poor observation”. I am guilty of that myself too.

Whether or not the user just posts it just for the sake of getting and observation ID’ed, or they have joined some school project, I think its good to be in the “try and educate” attitude, in terms of giving advice on how to make better observations, and how to be more critical in terms of their IDs.

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I should say that I’m sorry to hear about your experiences and I hope you can return after a break. There are definitely a lot of frustrating things about dealing with observation quality.
There are many ways to participate in iNaturalist and some of those involve interacting with these issues more than others. For example multiple people have expressed that they experienced burnout after identifying Unknown observations for a while, and needed to take a break and work on other things.

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I suppose there was a golden era several years ago when submissions were at a manageable level. I view the current iNat kind of like I view many of our U.S. national parks which, having been “discovered,” have turned into a Disneyland experience instead of a relaxing time in the outdoors. So it goes.

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Agreed - except that the same offenders return again and again. I am not going to name names, but I regularly encounter users with tens of thousands of IDs and observations who persist in regularly posting very low quality material. Surely they must know perfectly well what they are doing? I can only think that it’s part of an unhealthy obsession with leaderboard stats or something.

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Or good eyesight. I am struggling with diminishing eyesight as is another friend of mine on iNat. Believe me, I hate every blurry photo I find when I can view them in a larger format on my computer screen. I could buy into the idea that my photos aren’t good enough for iNat but I’ve chosen not to (at least completely, I throw out a lot). And it is absolutely amazing to me what identifiers can figure out from my lacking photos. It is the generosity of those kind souls that convinces me there is a place for all sorts of iNat users. And frankly, keep me going when I encounter a particularly frustrating day of covid restrictions, humidity, clouds of mosquitoes, and can’t see my dang camera screen for lack of decent eyesight and fogged up glasses! Yesterday was rough, not gonna lie. Today was a little better.

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