How to describe iNaturalist to non-users

Several times in the year or so since I joined iNat I have found myself in situations where I need to explain the site to non-users. I’ll generally say something like “It’s a website where you can put pictures of animals and plants and stuff, and other people look at them and tell you what they think they are,” which describes the most basic use case, but doesn’t sound very interesting. What do you all say in these situations?

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I often say “it’s a social network for people interested in documenting and discussion wild organisms. you can post your observations of wild organisms and other members can help you identify and discuss them. anyone, including researchers, can search through and use observation data on iNat.”

not sure if that’s particularly enticing, but it’s pretty accurate and I like to make sure people have some idea of what they’re getting into. it’s also good to mention it’s accessible via app or browser. I purposely don’t mention computer vision because I want to emphasize the community aspect of it.

I know others describe it as “kind of like facebook for nature nerds” which I think is pretty accurate and a good shorthand, but I don’t like referencing facebook in most situations if I can help it so I don’t use it. ;-)

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I tend to describe it as a site/community where the average person/anyone can contribute to biodiversity information that’s used for scientific and conservation purposes, as well as learn about what they see, by making observations of living things, and other users/participants assist with the identifications.

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I wrote a blog about this! Here’s the relevant passage:

"[iNaturalist] functions like a social media site for nature lovers, where people share their photos or audio of living organisms from any domain or kingdom of life through submissions called “observations”. Users work together to help each other identify the species depicted. As well, artificial intelligence technology can help determine which organisms may be in the photo.

​​​iNaturalist observations have real implications for science and their data is used worldwide. An unofficial list cultivated by users on the site’s forum keeps track of published scientific papers that incorporate iNaturalist data; the list has 42 entries from 2020 alone, in publication topics ranging from changes in morphology in leopard frogs in California to a leaf beetle being found in Bulgaria for the first time."

It’s not much different than what others have already said, and were I explaining it in person, I’d word it pretty much the same way @tiwane and @earthknight did.

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Here’s some blurbage I’ve used while trying to recruit folks for a project - I’m sure it was inspired by something I read when looking for descriptions of the site:

iNaturalist is an online platform to record and organize nature findings in collaboration with other nature enthusiasts. People participate by uploading their own observations or identifying observations made by others. The result is community-curated biodiversity data that can be used for example by scientists or conservation biologists.

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I always say:
It’s a site where you can upload observations of any living thing and have people help you identify it. Then verified observations are shared to a open global database that researchers can use.

If they’re birders, you can reference eBird as similar.

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Usually I say, “Here, let me show you on my phone!”

Then I pull up the website (I don’t use the app).

Generally, what I tell them is that it’s a site for sharing your photos & observations of the living things around us with bio-scientists and conservationists.

Across Canada people see millions of different organisms every day and some of them are surprisingly rare, yet hiding in plain sight. Then I’ll show them a couple of my own unusual observations, e.g. This observation of a contrasting jumping spider was one that I saw literally while taking out the trash. I bent down for less than 60 seconds and snapped a couple pics. Currently the species has been observed only 31 times on iNat.

Then I usually try to show them a distribution map (on the Explore tab), e.g. the Vancouver Bumble Bee, so they can see how the aggregate of individual observations is so useful.

I also usually tell them that iNaturalist.ca is a citizen science project supported by a bunch of big-name non-profit organizations that are dedicated to nature:

  • Canadian Wildlife Federation (CWF) ← :smiley: lots of friends know this
  • Parks Canada ← :star_struck: 99% of people in Canada know this, the gov’t agency responsible for our national parks
  • NatureServe Canada ← :face_with_raised_eyebrow: no one knows this one.
  • Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) ← :smiley: 80% of friends know this

Also that iNatrualist.org, is a joint initiative of

  • the National Geographic Society ← :star_struck: 99% of people in Canada know this
  • the California Academy of Sciences ← :slightly_smiling_face: Canadians don’t know this, but it sounds important!

Most people that I’ve told about it aren’t interested in the “social” aspect. But lots of people are intrigued at how a couple photos from their fishing, camping, or hunting trip might help contribute to conservation and understanding the impacts of climate change.

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Social media for nature nerds.

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I ran across a description written by someone on reddit that I liked so much I copied it off for future use.

user/jdsmofo/ : There is an awesome app called iNaturalist where you can upload your pic. It uses machine learning to try and identify the animal or plant. It gives you pix of recommendations to compare. You make a suggested match, and post for the crowd to agree or suggest something else. If others agree it is used to improve the algorithm. There are professional researchers who can then use the data to study the species geographically.

In this thread: https://www.reddit.com/r/NatureIsFuckingLit/comments/pmy84s/really_cool_grasshopper_spotted_in_a_backyard_in/

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in my mind, iNaturalist is 2+ million people around the world, connected online, connecting with nature – collectively discovering, documenting, and appreciating wild life in all its forms.

additional notes for different audiences:

  • for a general <18 population, i would probably liken the interface to a Pokedex + Instagram for living things.
  • for naturalists, i would probably describe it as communal nature journal + online nature club = power boost for leveling up nature knowledge and connections.
  • for science enthusiasts, i would probably note that the community produces an ever-growing treasure trove of biodiversity data which is used by both experts and non-experts for all sorts of interesting science.
  • for conservationists, i would probably note that the platform provides a unique way to engage and leverage stakeholders / constituents in conservation / monitoring efforts.
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Pokémon but for real animals.

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Someday, I will get around to having bumper stickers printed that say: iNaturalist: One Quest to Rule Them All.

But don’t hold your breath - I have bugs and orchids and millipedes and such to photograph first!

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Just a nit, but no agreement is required for an observation to be eligible for training. An observation with just the observer’s ID is eligible.

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I struggle to provide a concise description for casual meetings outside. Something along the lines of ‘an online community where you can post nature pictures and get identifications’. It’s not the full description, but I think it gives a sense of what iNat is when you are having a conversation < 5 minutes long. Most of the responses above are much better.

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its like pokemon go but real: an app where you have to go out and find all the life forms and get them documented!

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Any more, I just carry around a copy of Walden and A Sand County Almanac and give it away to anyone who asks.

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Gotta catch 'em all!

I could see someone thinking in terms of that slogan. And I had rather they “catch 'em all” this way than the way Ash Ketchum does.

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I find when I tell people their observations can become research grade, this really legitimizes it for them and adds value.

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Welcome to the Forum!

I just introduced iNat to a group of members at our Botanic Garden. Two things I found to be really helpful: 1) Saying that using iNat makes us part of a coalition of citizen scientists (that grabs the serious naturalists) and 2) Telling people about SEEK (which reassures the people who just want to know “what’s that”). I’d say the group split two ways in terms of interest.
I myself didn’t even know about SEEK til recently!

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