Guiding new users without scaring them off

Sometimes I come across people who’ve used a photo they found online instead of their own photo for an observation. The oftentimes even plainly state in their description that it isn’t their photo. It’s usually a new user. I’m hesitant to just immediately flag the image which slaps up the big copyright violation notice. Instead I’ve posted in the comments explaining why they shouldn’t do this. I explain that it is ok to post an observation with no photo or put a link in the comments to to an image that looked similar to what they saw. I figure that gives them a day or two to fix the problem themselves. I then posted another comment welcoming her to iNat with some links to the getting started page and the FAQ.

I looked at this user’s other observations and saw one where they had four photos of different species for one observation. Someone else had already commented that they should split them up. The user replied that she would do it right from now on, but didn’t fix the observation and that was weeks ago. So it’s currently research grade with four different species. She also commented that she didn’t know these observations were even public where other people could see them.

A lot of people seem to be just firing up the app and start posting without even understanding how it works. I don’t use the app for making observations, but I think a lot of people use it exclusively and don’t even know about the website. How much of an introduction is there with the app? Are people just completely skipping over instructions?


I would agree with this comment. One of the functions that I see iNat fulfilling is education. Both about the site (which, after two years, I’m still learning about), but also with identifications. Both with older, and with new users. I see too often X disagrees that this is Y, but the person posts no information as to why they question the ID. Perhaps they are too busy to explain. A new user, or one unfamiliar with the group has no opportunity to learn. I know from experience that one snarky comment from one or two people can put me off a group - one reason I am reluctant to ID flies and Tabanids.
Can we all just be patient, and try to encourage people to learn?

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An addendum - some folks are familiar with a group, but need a bit more information to get a grasp on which taxonomic features to look at. I’ve had some recent conversations with people who want to identify moths. I try to give as much information as possible. It takes time, which takes away from my identifications, but I’d rather have a relationship with a person who wants to learn than identifying 5 taxa instead.


I dunno. The instructions are really clear that you should only post your own pictures with very limited exceptions. Not to mention that it’s often unethical and illegal in other contexts too. When people take other people’s photos without cited permission I think they should be flagged. Education should happen too but… if people are offended by having their copyright infringement flagged as such then they shouldn’t do it.


I’d encourage you to try the app(s) out so that you can see what new users see. It’ll help with guiding them toward fixing issues that they may run into (like how to edit an observation from mobile to remove the extra photos).

I can only speak to Android, but the “on-boarding” / tutorial / getting started guide is not very extensive. It says your observations should be your encounters, but doesn’t specify that you must use your own photos. Nor does it really discuss other “best practices” like being sure to mark as captive/cultivated. Nor does it say to go to the website, just “check back [here, in the app]”. I attached some screenshots below.

Opening iNat Android App and creating an observation

As of 29 August 2020

Tapped View Nearby Observations

Tapped Allow

Opened hamburger menu (top left)

Tapped Log In / Sign Up and chose Create an Account option

Logged into account and created an observation

Saved observation and it synced

As far as the topic title, there’s some good information in the Community Guidelines and several prepared responses for common issues that pop up on iNat.

Oh, and if you joined iNat forever ago, here is what the welcome email looks like that new users receive. So there is some direction as far as how to use iNat with some links to visit the website, if they read the email that is ;)

Logging into account for the first time

Welcome email screenshot


With the copyright issues, unfortunately it really is a case of being polite but firm, with both sides of that equally important. The site simply can not allow itself to host copyright violations knowingly.


That was one I missed the day I went from downloading the app myself to setting my students loose with the app 30 minutes later. Many of the apps one downloads - think social media - come with few guidelines and minimal guidance, if any, on community practice. Some sort of intro screens to “onboard” a new iNat user would be really helpful. A short series of pop-up overlay directions including such as, “If someone planted the plant, click here” pointing at the checkbox for cultivated.


I run into people who use the iNaturalist app with great frequency who have absolutely no idea that there even is a website with more information AND where you can interact with other people. I often have to explain that the app is only for making observations, and the lacks the full utility of the website.

The app has made some improvements where you get redirected to the website when you are looking into various IDs, but this only happens if you are being highly diligent before posting, unlikely to happen with most standard users, I think.


There is no obligation to explain IDs, but it is considered helpful to do so. Some IDers simply put their ID and will reply with reasons if asked. If you don’t understand why they disagree, be the one to ask!


Hi! Totally new here. Just downloaded the app the other day. We planted a monarch Waystation so I thought the app could help us identify the many different types of seedlings that are appearing. I’m a Cub Scout den leader and we planted the Waystation a few weeks ago at our local elementary school. I also planted one last December in my yard with a different blend of wildflower seeds.

I thought I’d chime in a bit. It’s easy to forget that many many people using the app could be: children, teenagers, older-older folks, all of whom may be using just the app on a more superficial, occasional level than those ‘regulars’ who may be more scientifically minded, and perhaps possessing a higher level of intellect.

I see many people, especially on the net, assuming that everyone else is just like them, with the same technological and intellectual abilities. It’s not a realistic belief. So, please do treat us newbies with kid gloves, and understand that a publicly sourced data collection endeavor is going to have issues like this, misidentification, web photos, no matter what.

As a new user of the app, I agree a pop up tutorial would be best. All of our email inboxes are so clogged, no one reads intro emails or getting started faqs anymore. We all just dive in to the app and learn on the job.

Hope this insight helps and is received in the positive manner for which it is intended!!


The Frequently Used Responses page was great, thanks for the link to that bouteloua. I’ll probably be doing some copying and pasting from there from now on.

I’m also going to have to familiarize myself more with the app as far as making and editing observations. I never use it much because my phone is an older prepaid Tracfone with a limited data allotment, not much zip, and a crappy camera. I’m gonna have to replace it soon though because its on the soon to be shutdown Verizon CDMA (3G)!

I realize the photo copyright issue is not minor, but I do recognize that some people really don’t know that its not allowed and that there can be legal ramifications. When they say right in their description that it’s not their photo, I don’t think they’re really trying to pass the photo off as their own. Oftentimes it’s hard to accurately portray tone in writing. If I was a new user and my first interaction with the community was to be told I did something against the rules, illegal, and then have that copyright violation notice staring me in the face… I might be scared off.

I’m also a little hesitant to go through a new user’s observations and try to kindly explain to them what the problems are with them, and how to fix them. Maybe that would come off as a little bossy or stalker-like! Especially since she didn’t seem to realize that other people were even seeing her observations.

There is a lot of good introductory info on the iNat website itself. I see that in the app the help link opens the page in the web browser. Since the page is not adaptive to smaller screens it takes some zooming in and out and scrolling around to read and navigate even on my 8" tablet. Maybe if all the help and tutorial info loaded right in the app, or if the webpages for the help section were at least adaptive to smaller screens, more people would read them? I know many people use their phone for just about everything and won’t ever be looking at the iNat site on a computer. It’s hard for me to know how to encourage reading the help section, because I’m the type that actually LIKES reading instructions and perusing long lists of settings and customization options!


If the ID appears to be a wild computer vision guess I probably won’t add a reason for why I disagree. If it is because of a common mis-identification or key features then I probably will comment.

Yes, there’s certainly no room for snarky comments.

Well said @dutchlizzy! Definitely perspectives well-received and worth keeping in mind. Welcome to the forum and glad you have joined us.


I just added an iNaturalist assignment to my college course. In the first day, one of the students uploaded a photo of a species from a different continent. There was no snow on the ground in the photo so it was easy to spot as being out of place for our locality.

I explained that the photo violated copyright; iNaturalist rules; rules of my course etc. He took it down quickly. But I have had this problem in other courses using Wikieducator. It is obviously important for educators to stress rules and also police their own group (a reason to have a project; easy to track 20 students; see other discussion).

It is also a reason to be patient. There’s no telling if any of our students will be long-term users, but it is a potential recruiting ground and so I agree that gentle guidance is important.



A while ago, I had interactions with a woman from Australia who’s young son was a new user. They ran into a bit of bother about photos. I think one of the problems is the fact that our only way to respond is through an essentially nameless and faceless medium. I was not able to covey all the information I wanted. However, that is unavoidable with a project such as this. One of the Guidelines is “Assume people mean no harm.”, and I believe it should be the banner headline on this site. I think most identifiers try their best to explain why X is not Y, but often the tone sounds “preachy”. I don’t know how to get around that, since it is not really a conversation. I absolutely believe that everyone should feel free to post whatever they want (not pictures of themselves or their pets etc.), and there should be no negative consequences to that. At the same time, experienced users should not be abrupt with new users (it’s easy to tell - go to the person’s account and see how many observations they have. Or how many identifications they have made since some folks do not post observations, but have thousands of identifications). Any response I have seen is usually helpful in some way although it may sound brusque to a new person.


In the last day i’ve been doing some iDs, involving probably a couple of dozen new users. I have used @bouteloua’s common responses extensively, prefacing them with “Welcome to iNat!” if not already there, and adding “Happy iNatting!” at the end, and cutting & pasting pieces together, depending on the issues. 4 wrote back with variations on “Thank you for such a warm welcome”. All my posts were abt improvements needed. One response was to an Unknown obs that had a comment about being alarmed by the beetle pictured and that he really didn’t trust it. It was amusing actually, but i didn’t mention it in my response. He answered by saying that he’d just been horsing around with the app, but since the welcome was so warm, he’d continue and take it seriously.
I say all this not to toot my own horn but to say that @bouteloua 's responses are so carefully and beautifully worded that the new users seem to be responding very well to them. There will always be difficult users who don’t respond well, but these seem to work a treat, and as i like to say, it’s not plagiarism, it’s standardization!


@bouteloua for president. of inaturalist.


lol. The Frequently Used Responses page is definitely a team effort (and continuously evolving!), in large part thanks to folks like @maractwin, @carrieseltzer, and @sambiology!


well, that’s a very presidential post. Like how i want presidents to be not how they really are. hahahahaha

Carrie can’t be president of inaturalist, that’s some kind of conflict of interest :)


@KitKestrel your efforts and the responses you’ve received are delightful. I’ve plowed a lot of energy into “welcoming” over the years and it brings me great joy to see it working for others too (it’s hard to see at scale). As individuals we can only do so much, but if we can inspire others to magnify our efforts… it’s so much bigger. :-)