How to introduce new users to iNat?

I’ve been asked to help new users one-on-one with using iNat at an outdoor all-day event. I’ve been using iNat for years and have done some educating on other topics, which is why they asked me, but I’ve never specifically done this.

Are there any education resources available here? Handouts? Anybody have any suggestions, approaches, tips?

(My first task is to start using my phone app a lot!)


@janetwright has made some YouTube videos for the Mississippi Master Naturalists (you can find them by searching “iNaturalist Mississippi Master Naturalists” on YouTube). They’re tutorials for beginners that do a great job of introducing people to iNat, perhaps you can take inspiration from them.


LOL, @natev, thank you for the endorsement! @caththalictroides, I find it’s helpful to remember (and to tell participants) that the original and enduring purpose of iNaturalist is to help people “connect with nature.” That means at whatever level and for whatever purpose is meaningful to THEM. That said, from working with a lot of groups, I think these are the beginner goals that come up most often:
1- identify what I see. This is the biggie. But please URGE them to not just stop there but actually SUBMIT the observation to become part of the huge database.
2 - keep a record of my walk. Show them how this works and how they can re-visit their walk.
3 - preview a walk at another place. Show them how to use “explore” to see what other people have found.
It’s great to plug the website and tell them how you use it, and talk about the community of naturalists. Some will get a lot out of that. But keep the initial expectation low, and fun! Good luck!


As others have mentioned showing them all all the features.

Here is how I go about it:
Firstly, explaining to them how iNaturalist works and how important the data is. Starting off by explaining that the app/website is an important place for researchers always gets people interested.

Here is an example: (Warning it is a bit of a bore for users who already use iNat. Also, feel free to use this as a “brain jogger” when explaining.)

Please be extra careful when pressing “agree” on identifications, especially the Computer Vision / Auto-ID ones. It is extremely important that you are careful with this because when an observation is research grade it becomes available to researchers and it can be frustrating and extra work for them if it is incorrect data. Also, when an observation becomes research grade it goes towards helping train iNaturalist’s Computer Vision, so incorrectly-identified RG can mess up iNaturalist’s map data and the Computer Vision for users who will use it later. Research grade isn’t a badge or something that you should even necessarily strive for. If it can’t be RG then it can’t be RG. When you click the Agree button, you are indicating that you believe it to be that species, based on your personal knowledge or research. It is important to remember that quite often most insects and spiders cannot be identified without microscopy. (The use of a microscope) That kind of independent identification is way, way more valuable than quickly clicking “Agree”, because it can be used to correct errors. I must admit that some of my oldest identifications were just carelessly agreeing without me actually knowing what was right or wrong, and this led me to quite a few misidentifications. I also often wanted everything to be brought down to species. I am more conservative. Don’t become my old self. I know animals and especially spiders can be really difficult to identify, and often specific, generic, or even familial identifications just can’t be made without examining the genitalia, a process which can be difficult and one which almost always involves killing the animal. A lot of the time, minor details must be located to confidently identify a particular spider, and some families can include members which can appear identical to another family and with other members appearing identical to a totally different family.

-My profile

In short, explain to them the importance of correct data. Next, show them your account and how you can simply take pictures and get CV suggestions, another thing that brings interest to users. Lastly, showing them the explore tab and how you can help identify observations are both points worth noting.

Projects, bioblitizes, etc. are all amazing features, but a bit of a mouth full to show, so when you are on the app doing a quick mention of annotations or projects might be useful to add when showing them how to add observations. If you are doing handouts or pamphlets those are things I would consider adding.

Most importantly, show them the fun aspects of it all!

Sorry, my comment is a bit of a long one lol, but I hope it helps!


On a different note: iNaturalist, as a community, works a lot differently than a lot of places on the internet. Especially if you’re working with a lot of kids in their teens and 20’s, this is probably worth emphasizing. It took a lot of effort for me personally to reach out to other users for help and resources, and to understand that someone disagreeing with my identification wasn’t an insult; this entire experience is collaborative, not competitive. And the rewards of being part of it are incredible.
But even with the community, learning is still (and will always be) a long process. It took a while as well to understand that broader identifications are more useful in attracting attention and help than incorrect species level ones. Before I connected with @davidhljordan, I really struggled with Trametes vs Stereum because, well, they look the same, right? Just pick one! Of course, looking at them now, they’re very different, but had I adopted my current practice of looking at the taxonomy sooner, I would have placed them more broadly into Agaricomycetes, the lowest branch they share. The computer model comes in handy in this process as well: look at the top five suggested ID’s, remove them based on visual similarity and environment, and do a broad identification based on what’s shared between the remainders. Sometimes that means genus Viola, and sometimes it means Angiospermae, but again, this experience is collaborative, and it’s okay!
Another thing that really helped me, especially since I don’t post from the trail, was taking a lot of pictures. One from top down, one from the side, close up of the leaf for the margins and hairs, one of the underside (thank you @janetwright and @davidhljordan for that one!), and one of the organism in the whole environment. You have to look closer than you think!
Depending on your crowd, it might also be important to point out some “common sense” things, especially pertinent in your area or hiking space: my local national park will let you go off trail but most won’t, a lot of trails border private grounds, this is what poison ivy looks like, know when sundown is, pack your hiking essentials, don’t get lost, respect the Migratory Birds Act, etc. and for the love of GOD don’t touch wild mammals.


Another practical item: It’s amazing how many people don’t think to use their camera zoom, or don’t even know they have one. “Zoom to frame whatever you want to show!”

And if you’re the leader, try to get familiar with both iOS and Android versions of the iNaturalist mobile app. Until we get the promised updates, they have some substantial differences.


And a polite way to get around - nice shoes - but if you want me to ID that tiny flower - get closer, pretty please.

But the very best is to have someone to ask
How do I ?
Why doesn’t that work, do what I expect it to?
(which is the substantial chunk of forum posts :~)


I think many new users don’t quite understand that they should check their notifications sometime after they upload observations. That’s the easiest way to learn what other people think of the original ID.


Not really a guide but the frequently used responses page can have good reminders of what new users should not do - leaving an observation as unknown with no ID, not having multiple species in the same observation, not posting duplicate observations of the same organism, marking non wild organisms as such, etc. Frequently Used Responses · iNaturalist



iNaturalist videos
or youtube videos

iNaturalist Getting Started

iNaturlist Photo Guide

iNaturalist Guide


Honestly, one of the biggest stumbling blocks I’ve come across, especially with folks who aren’t tech-savvy, is just the creating an account/providing permissions part of making an account and using the app (or even downloading the app). A lot of people understandably don’t want to come up with a nw password, they get confused or don’t trust it when apps ask photo and location permissions, etc. So be prepared for that. How’s the cell signal in the area? That can also be a big problem as well.

Also, when I led a group in Singapore, I had to really model what to do, like stop, look, kneel/squat, and find something of interest. Once they started doing that they starting finding lots of cool stuff, which was fun to witness. It’s not just the app but the whole enterprise that’s foreign to a lot of people.


When you are doing something one on one, this is probably the best way. I would also add, admit when I don’t know or not sure of a feature, spend time showing them my thought process; then help them both with downloading and getting them to do some observations of their own and even getting them to have a go at identification (depending on their knowledge), even taking an Unkown to Kingdom level.

I have done this in small groups - usually dividing the session into how to download the app, how to take observations (divided into a "how to: session followed by making their own field observations) then spending some time on discussing the quality of their observatiosn and identifying them to the level I am comfortable with.

My quick phrases I use - Always Be Curious; Photograph Everything; It’s Ok to be Wrong and There is always Someone who will be happy to help.

Also show them the Help tab and tell them to tag you anytime.


It’s important for new users to understand that citizen science is making a contribution for others. Walking around in the woods and taking photos, and parking them in your hard drive, contributes nothing. Making a record of our environment, in a way that other people can use it, is making a contribution to people in the future.

In order to make observations useful to others, new users need to know that they should take photos that capture key characteristics for identification, even if they don’t know the species at hand. I don’t know a lot of Little Green Plants, so I make an effort to get details that my On Call Botanist can use to ID the plant over dinner.

As a new user, I was told most people don’t just know a tree by its bark. News to me, but it helped. Another mentor said to always get the seed and twigs.Who knows what researchers, or AI, will find useful in the future. Taking several photos that show a variety of views, close up and perspective, make an observation more valuable to others.


A lot of good suggestions here, especially that of getting as close as possible, even if it does mean bending down or getting on your knees (gets harder as the years go by, I know, but you can do it if you try!). There’s one suggestion though that I’d REALLY like to see stressed… namely that iNaturalist is NOT just an ID app (like Seek), or even just an anonymous website, it is a COMMUNITY of real people who are just sitting there throughout the world willing and eager to help you ID your observation or answer your questions. Perhaps I’m a dreamer, but I would like to think that would encourage them to take more effort over making their observation in the first place and also interested in sticking around to participate… read notifications, answer questions, perhaps even help others ID in the future.
When I’m IDing and I come across a “new” contributor, I always (well, nearly always) leave a message: “Welcome to the iNaturalist Community”. Sometimes, rarely, I even get an answer!