General consensus on etiquette regarding recruiting IDs from specific identifiers?

I generally won’t recruit people to identify my contributions except in cases where I know a particular person has a specific interest in that taxon and would be interested in the record.
For other people’s records, I recruit when there is some disagreement on the ID and I know a particular identifier is particularly good with that taxon/group. I won’t often recruit people I haven’t “worked with” before in iNat.
I try to only recruit one or two people at most on any particular taxon and I tend to recruit people who are friends of mine (or at least “iNat friends”). And they reciprocate.


I’m not a major identifier by any means, but to me this is really key. Maybe it doesn’t bother others, but if someone tags me without adding any sort of context, it makes me feel like I’m not being treated as a real person (even though I know they don’t mean it that way). Even adding something like “what do you think?” makes a huge difference.


When I am tagged, I ask myself: Is there going to be someone else who will ID that? Yes, maybe, sooner or later; but why not now; so I do it. (I am too soft, I know; I feel sorry for all the great observations not getting an ID…) But, really, someone goes 10K kilometers to the jungle, suffers the heat, mosquitoes and rain, and I here on my laptop am not ready to ID when I could… ;)


I started a thread related to this topic here since I didn’t see this one.

In general, I don’t mind being called on for identifications. Especially if it’s a taxon I’m familiar with in a region I’m familiar with. But there’s an increasing trend of users from all over the world tagging the top five identifiers of certain taxa with no context or other information.

There’s a certain etiquette that should be followed if you’d like to call on experts to review your observation. Let’s say I submit an observation of a beetle from the coast of Lake Erie. I’m not going to just tag the top five Coleoptera identifiers on the taxon page - I’m going to look for the ones who are top identifiers or observers of Coleoptera in my region. @borisb is the worldwide top identifier of Coleoptera, but a quick look at his profile reveals he is based in Germany and mainly identifies European observations. Maybe it would be better to tag one of the top identifiers of eastern North American Coleoptera. And if I do tag Boris, I might consider prefacing it with “I realize you may not be an expert on North American beetles…” or something.

I didn’t used to mind being called on for IDs but the frequency of users tagging me with no context on observations is becoming annoying. At the very least, a polite request would demonstrate that they are engaging the community and not just calling on faceless identification bots.

\end rant


Part of the problem with “etiquette” (apart from spelling it!) Is that it also depends on cultural norms. What is “rude” to one group of people might be perfectly fine to another group, so I think reliance on etiquette is kinda similar to using acronyms etc.

I start with “can/would I change how I view or react to this”, and if not, then I start a dialogue with them. I also think it is important to own the problem, and seek their participation in solving it. Of course, that is on a good day, and not all days are good!


I like the suggestion made on the other thread, to automatically filter the “leaderboard” shown with an observation to identifiers of the taxon for the same continent (or maybe country or even state/province) where the observation is from. If one really wants to know what the worldwide leaderboard looks like, get it through the taxon page instead.

Short of this, however, I would recommend to observers who want to keep the goodwill of potential identifiers to:

  • Use an Explore Filter first to see who the top identifiers are in your specific locality. For example, if I have a Phlox Family plant from Australia, use (click to see how this looks in the filter, and change taxon and location as appropriate). Then click on the Identifiers tab to see this.
  • Use @ tags sparingly, and only when there is a real urgent need. Otherwise let the community ID process take its course for a while. (To speed things along, be sure to add your “best guess” ID, even if it is just “Insects” or “Plants”.)

i was getting tons of @'s from FLorida/Georgia lately, which i know nothing about and can’t help ID anything, and then come to find out another teacher is using research grade as a surrogate for their own grading and causing students to pester others for IDs. I want to be a part of the community here but as someone who’s also had to grade huge piles of papers… those teachers need to realize i am not their unpaid TA and I am here on my own time helping people who want to be a part of the community, and to improve the data which i care about and use for conservation, not to do a teacher’s job for them and spend mass amounts of time helping a duress user who probably doesn’t care and will almost certainly leave the site soon.

Maybe i was too cranky but i was just getting tons of these @'s.


The only time I’ve done it is when someone identified one spider observation from a remote location. I looked at his profile and saw he was an expert on spiders a nearby island, so I messaged him with links to some other observations from the same trip. He disagreed with another identifier and he thinks it is the first time the species has been recorded in the country! Definitely worth tagging people sparingly.

Is it my imagination or are submitted records “going under the radar” longer than they were just a few years ago? I mean for easily identifiable taxa which often made Research Grade rather quickly. I wonder if the sheer volume of submissions every day makes it harder for reviewers to keep up with the new records, so some just disappear into the pile. Recruiting IDs – albeit sparingly – might become more desirable if you want/need confirmation in a reasonable amount of time.


Yeah that’s probably true for me. The main taxon I identify is the Toxomerus genus. Looking at the history graph, for the past few years there have been twice as many observations each summer as the previous summer (there were 3000 in total in 2018). 80% of the observations are 2-3 common and easy to separate species, but if I only identify occasionally and only get through a page or two a day then they build up.

If someone tags me on an observation I will get to it right away because I’m checking my notifications whether I’m identifying or not. If it happened too much I’d be thinking “okay patience I’ll get to your observations eventually” but it’s not at that point now.


I would like people to note that in countries where iNat is just starting or still growing, it is not uncommon for many or most taxa to have only a handful of devoted identifiers and zero local specialists who are doing ID. The ability to tag specialists from other countries, and yes, even other continents, can be key (or necessary) to reach RG.
There are only two people in my whole region who regularly ID plants. Two! If it weren’t for outside help from people like @nathantaylor, I’d have half as many RG obs.


Plants are very location specific and someone with lots of plant taxa ids on a different continent is not that likely to be able to help unless you happen to find an introduced species from their continent

I’ll just throw it out there that not everything needs to get to RG. It’s become this target that everyone strives for, when in fact it should just be something that either eventuates or does not. Value can be added to an observation just by adding an annotation, or commenting on an observed interaction, or even just stating that the genus is a difficult one and requires taxonomic attention… doing so often enough may just be the catalyst to having an upcoming taxonomist picking that genus up and reviewing it! What is important is that the ID be made to a level that can reasonably be made with the expertise and evidence that is available.

If all the plants from your country are sitting at genus or higher, then it speaks to a need to recruit in more specialist identifiers from your country. Local museums, universities, significant plant collections, environmentalists and conservationists would be good places to look to for recruiting the right expertise.

Tagging people from other countries can be a little bit like going to a zoo to ask about what plants are… or going to a garden centre for advice on your cat. If it’s done infrequently, then the advice will possibly be attempted and not of a high level of reliability. If done too frequently, then it just wastes a lot of peoples time unnecessarily. Perhaps rather than asking the garden centre about what is wrong with your cat, a better question of them is do they know of a good place to go to for advice on cats? And this is why I don’t object to tagging on iNat per se, because often the top 10ers are experienced enough with iNat that they can fairly quickly discern who might be a better approach, and “forward the tag”.


For plant submissions, in my experience, even in regions that are fairly well studied, it can take weeks or months or even years (if ever) for someone to come along and provide or agree with an ID. Not a criticism, I think it’s just the paucity of very good botanists and difficulties in IDing many plants to species.

Submit a photo of a bird and you can have someone ID/agree with it in 10 minutes. But don’t wait on your plant records.


Hey! I just want to say I am so very grateful and humbled by the attention and care I have received when I ask for ID help. I try to express that gratitude consistently and often. As a result I have been able to ask for clarification at times. I will write out my reasoning for an ID on occasion. That can prompt discussion and a deeper understanding. Importantly I have learned, (albeit the hard way at times) that you are professionals with credibility and, at time, your life’s work to think about. I constantly question myself about what I am really sure about and often back my best guess off to the family or order or more. Ultimately, My intention is to be helpful to everyone I interact with on iNat. That means reviewing my findings regularly, being patient, practicing restraint on that agree button, and on occasion, withdrawing an ID to get out of the way (I.e. I don’t know enough to contribute at that time). But mostly, I just want to say thank you.


Thank you @edLike! Your post is a wonderful testimonial to what iNaturalist is all about.


Perhaps not exactly on topic but I struggle with when to tag a curator on the site, and which one I should ask for help. I ID a lot of observations that are “unknown” so see a lot of strange things and I often have no idea what I should do about them or who to ask. I assume that cleaning up such observations is wanted, but I am not sure about that either.


@juliereid for “Unknowns” I don’t think there is much expectation to try to tag others for IDs, unless it is an observation that particularly interests you and you have a pretty good idea of who to tag. There are a fair number of people who scan unknowns regularly and do what they can, and thank you for being one of them! It’s perfectly fine to just mark an Unknown as reviewed and move on, though, when you aren’t seeing a way to help it. Some unknowns are beyond help.


I think by strange things (I am One of the folks she tends to message) she does not mean organisms she does not recognize, but mainly records that would fall under the human or at least evidence of human criteria, and are they requiring flags etc.


Chris is right. I come across very strange observations that don’t meet the standards of the site, but I don’t always know what to say to the submitter since I don’t want to alienate people from the site. I also don’t want to put in the comments why I am tagging a curator for the same reason. It would help to know if there are curators who deal with this kind of observation or if tagging any curator is OK. I don’t know which ones are very busy and not available etc. I am afraid Chris gets a lot of them because I know him from his help with my own observations. If there is a better way to deal with this type of observation I would like to know. If there isn’t and what I am doing is fine, that would be helpful to know as well. The other problem is if I say something is inappropriate for the site, people have been offended and difficult about it as I am just another member, so asking a curator is sometimes necessary even if I do know what to say. Being the official managers of the site makes a difference to how it is received by some people.