Farewell ignorance

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.


I have posted lots of photos and an order of magnitude more identifications, and I often post poor quality photos, often of the same things over and over. Why?

I have a lot of free time this year and although I could theoretically be doing more productive things, my concentration is poor. I’m also not a patient as I should be. I liked posting on iNaturalist before this, but it’s the main thing I do right now, even though there are more productive things I could/should be doing. Being old, I feel I need to avoid the new coronavirus, so I don’t travel far. So I see the same things over and over. Even I am getting tired of how often I’ve posted some things.

My autofocus camera often insists on focusing on the background so the plant or bug in front is out of focus. (That’s why my hand is in so many photos, to force the camera to focus near the plane of the target.) I work on focus, but sometimes fail.

When I visit a park or other specific locality, I try to record for iNaturalist every living thing that I can. (I don’t try for every species on every trip, but cumulatively I want to record them all.) That results in lots of photos of common things, at least one per park. Also, I may get home and find that I have no really good photos of species X. I could wait and post it when I go again, but will I go, and will I remember I need X? Therefore, I may post now it even if quality is low.

My coordination and strength aren’t wonderful, so photos of distant animals or plants, where I use the zoom feature really cranked up, may be blurry.

I like certain species, or I find what I consider a particularly interesting example, so I photo some creatures a lot. I’ll even think, “I really shouldn’t photo that again!” but photo it anyway.

I do try to make especially useful observations by sometimes photographing all the parts – side and front views of the flower, cauline and basal leaves, cut-open flower, etc. Lots of photos, but at least they’re all one observation.

Do I do all this to get higher stats? No. I find the higher stats pleasant, in a kind of amusing way, but they’re just a side effect.


Sometimes blurry photos or glimpses of part of a bird can be a kind of fun puzzle. I have to be in the right frame of mind, but sometimes this is true. Certainly I do feel extra successful if I do figure them out.


It would be great to have “frass” here in iNaturalist for low quality observations, or observations that didn’t get identified after say, 20 days or so. However it should be different from Casual, since it does help with data. Then curators will decide whether it stays as “Frass” or goes back to “Needs ID” if there’s any hope of getting to Research Grade, or at least of getting an identification from someone


What is wrong with them being casual as Life?

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Ah, maximalism of the young… The problem is that many things from less investigated areas and which are not birds or mammals, are getting identified in a month-year-several years, 20 days limit is a rarity.


I know that, as someone who observes mostly Insects, I have many piled up “Needs Id” observations, I’m fortunate enough to have some online friends who can help me with identification, and the fact that I have gotten some state firsts/state seconds or “rare” species means that there needs to be a better way for experts to find observations that they might be able to identify. Sometimes I have to tag people with knowledge about a certain order/family, etc. because I spend days and days waiting for an ID


From what I can tell from your descriptions, your photos are nowhere near what I would describe as “very low quality”. I’m not going to clarify what I mean any further, because I don’t want to draw attention to any particular users - after all, they aren’t actually breaking any rules.

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Similar experiences for me are the reason I initiated this, and this thread over the last few days.

I think there urgently needs to be some sandboxing of new users.
Its unnecessarily damaging.

I’m not sure if I’m one of the offenders you mention :grimacing: but your constructive criticism of some of my observations was really helpful! :grinning:

Sometimes I record low quality observations …there can be a whole bunch of reasons to do it I think…ranging from energy on the day or at the moment, to not getting a good shot in time, to simply not wanting to waste any single photo taken on a trip out. I think most observers don’t realise how annoying it can be from an identifier POV until they start identifying and are on the receiving end of it.

Again, this is the kind of thing I could see some sort of sandboxing really help with…


The day the site institutes some kind of frass system where another user gets to effectively, or even actually delete my observation which is valid and allowed under site rules because it does not meet their unilateral measure of quality or scientific value etc will be my last day as a user of the site.

That is the reason I left another site, wont name it but it rhymes with DugRide


yeah i would also be unlikely to stick around if iNat decided to ‘frass’ on people, thanfully the inat admins do not appear to have any intention of doing such a thing.

You can already mark a photo as such if there is no way to get an ID from the photo.

As for the original post… what I can tell you is that I have been on iNat since 2011, when it was very small, my account number is somewhere around 4100. And as long as there’s been a forum or Google group there have been people making these posts. I personally don’t believe the proportion of problematic observations has gone up, but in any event, it’s never going to be a herbarium or museum quality collection. It will always be a dynamic dataset. It’s very powerful if you engage with the community and the data. If you just expect perfect-quality data without any participation, you will indeed be disappointed.

Relatedly, i’ve been using the Internet since 1995 or so and even on the first AOL forums and such, some people always feel the need to leave a long post as they quit. The bottom line is iNat is supposed to be fun, and if it isn’t fun, you should take a break. I hope you don’t choose to delete your observations, but that option is there, as far as i know. Good luck finding what works best for you.


Absolutely not, and any comments I might have made certainly weren’t ever meant as criticism. I think I have identified quite a lot of your observations. I wouldn’t bother even attempting to review observations that I didn’t think I could add any value to. As was suggested earlier, for the very low quality stuff, I just click “mark as reviewed” and move on. It still takes up time though, which I would rather spend on more interesting material.

“Constructive” criticism is all good in my book! :smile:

In Diptera IDs when its just a total blur, I mark as “can’t be improved” so at least other people don’t have to waste time on it. Going through older obs I’m amazed how many are left in the “Needs ID” pool though when there’s no hope of it going anywhere… I think this option could be used a bit more freely by identifiers.

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While I would agree with most of the posts here in that I would encourage you to take a break from iNat and see if you feel differently after some time, I don’t think you are off base in your observations.

As a teacher who uses iNaturalist as part of my curriculum I worry about many of the things you pointed out all of the time. I have tried many different things and sometimes they work but often they don’t. For instance, I won’t ever have an ID requirement in my curriculum again… it was a disaster.

I have worked very hard with my students but I can’t control them and so bad observations, bad data, and not caring is just going to happen. So as someone who is partially responsible for some of the problems you point out all I can say to you is that I am constantly tinkering with how I onboard students (college students) into iNaturalist. I have been using it in class for about 6 years now and I think I have changed my approach about as many times.

Probably the biggest challenge is getting students to take pictures of observations that aren’t blurry and too far away. I take that failure personally because I work with them and go on field trips with them for the very purpose of showing them how to do it. As a result, this year I will introduce a new exercise where students take observation pictures first (that won’t go into iNat) and post them in a forum and the students will evaluate each other’s pictures as to their quality. The hopes is that peer review will go further than my instructions.

The point is that you aren’t wrong but at the same time there are a lot of us here that do care deeply about this community and do care about the data. However, I also care about students and their relationship to nature. I have personally vowed to myself that I will do my very best to take care of this community and the relationships I have in it.

I am sorry to hear about some of the problems you had, especially with the person “vandalizing” your observations. Please don’t walk away thinking that it represents the community as a whole. There are some really good people here.


I’m not so sure. If you can identify it as Diptera, that implies the photo is a model of clarity compared to some of the observations I come across! The beauty of community identifications is that everyone sees things slightly differently, so I would be reluctant to write things off too early. One of the greatest pleasures of identifying is spotting something in an old observation that nobody else noticed. Even if that only helps improve the taxon level by one or two notches, I still think it’s worth the effort (RG status isn’t the be all and end all).


Maybe I’m peculiar, but this kind of id’ing is some of the most rewarding for me. “Challenge accepted!” mode.

Then, besides being puzzlelike, building the pattern recognition relevant for id of even the worst specimens reinforces one’s pattern recognition needed to id the more normal looking examples.


This makes me think of the subreddit: r/whatsthisbird/

I found this somehow (I’m not registered on reddit) and I can say I probably learned as much or more on that subreddit than I ever did using my bird guides or visiting occasional bird events. Why? People would post the most blurry, distant, hidden-in-leaves pictures you could imagine of a bird and - more likely than not - someone could identify them. AND… they would explain why. I credit them with learning differences between a Sharp-shinned and Cooper’s Hawk, for example. And how to be sure that freeway light-pole bird is absolutely a Red-tailed Hawk. Because they rarely just identified - they often explained how they were able to identify the bird. And that’s how I get my depths of surety in identifying - from the fair to middling or even worst photos of an organism. Not from the hero shots.


@exonie, I’m sorry to hear these frustrations have brought you to this point. You raise some valid concerns about the disadvantages of immense growth, though I disagree with the assumptions that most people don’t care. I am optimistic that we can continue to improve the iNaturalist infrastructure to address some scaling issues, and that there are still many members of the community committed to improving a slice of the iNat experience within their motivation and capacity. As others have also mentioned, sometimes it means stepping away, or scaling back. Everyone has to find their personal threshold of investment and I do hope you’ll stick around, but I respect whatever you decide.

In consultation with other staff and moderators, I’m going to close this thread. If you, @exonie, are interested in re-opening it to respond to any particular comments, please reach out.