ID when you don’t know

@erininmd I am the opposite… I would recommend that as a general strategy, for all the reasons you gave as to why it was a success!

I’ll add the following though:

If someone is not likely to return to the site, or to review their IDs and followup on conversations, then they should only ID to the level they are confident. But if they are likely to be active enough to change the ID should it be shown to be wrong then they should ID as progressively as they can, as it often encourages discussion and sharing of knowledge.

The iNat model of community ID is essentially a dynamic model, and works extremely well when all participants in the ID process on a given observation are active throughout the process. It falls down somewhat when identifiers become absentee, and while it’s not a process breaker, it does rankle on the active participants to have to tag in a large number of active identifiers to “undo” a flurry of absentee identifier “agreements” that will never be changed or withdrawn.

So in a nutshell… if you are active, go nuts!


To answer the original question: yes, plenty of people add general IDs. In fact for some people, that’s all the identifying they do. It often speeds up the identifying process for that observation. At the very least, it helps the database know something about the observation. But yes, there are also a few individuals who find this very annoying when it is done to their observations. When I put high level IDs, I usually paste in the message “adding a general category helps search filters pick up your image.” So far that’s forestalled any complaints. I’ve heard others say that if a user doesn’t want notifications about vague IDs like “plant,” they should put that ID on themselves when they upload.

As far as how confident you have to be about your IDs, my opinion is that it’s all fine as long as you are there to withdraw if you feel you were mistaken. If you aren’t going to pay attention to subsequent IDs and correct yourself if needed, you might want to be more conservative in the initial ID so that it is less difficult for other users to out-vote you later.


Only once do I remember receiving any backlash from a high level ID. The woman commented she was sure “Angiospermae” wasn’t right because her flower looked nothing like the magnolia blossom used as the image for Angiospermae. :laughing:


Similarly I sometimes I wonder if new users (who may not have a strong understanding of taonomy) understand that I’ve given them a high level ID rather than a species, especially when some of the higher level IDs still sound like a potential organism name.

On the other hand, the most often negative response I get to IDs is sarcastic pushback from a user hoping for a species level ID and annoyed that I told them that its a “plant”.


I have, from observers with observations with placeholders. Because a couple of the observers were extremely rude, I made sure to copy the placeholders after that. Then a couple of the observers on those observations were extremely rude, and now I only bother with observations with placeholders occasionally, and only if I don’t think the observer might be some kind of expert that just wants to leave it blank until their favorite taxonomic name is accepted.


I frequently ID to the level I am most confident with as a novice. I also include a comment - “This ID may get the attention of someone able to ID” which translates well to Spanish.


I’ve heard others say that if a user doesn’t want notifications about vague IDs like “plant,” they should put that ID on themselves when they upload.

I have seen some people uploading observations in bulk and not adding their initial IDs until after they’ve finished that process. I think there’s definitely a use case for (temporarily) neglecting to ID your own observations.


If you don’t mind being told you are wrong (non-fragile ego), and then withdrawing an ID, the latter makes sense. In my area there are several identifiers who generally patrol species they know and in whom I have high confidence that they are knowledgeable and most often correct. If I guess at something, and they tell me I am wrong, I am fine with that, and withdraw my ID. I have rarely disagreed once I have looked at their suggestions.


Ну, я использую следующий подход.
Если я “точно уверен” или “скорее всего” - то ставлю соответствующий таксон. Если “может быть” - то я ставлю либо соответствующий таксон с комментарием, либо ставлю таксон рангом выше, в котором уверен.
Gogle translate
Well, I use the following approach.
If I am “sure” or “most likely”, then I put the corresponding taxon. If “maybe” - then I put either the corresponding taxon with a comment, or put the taxon with a rank higher than that in which I am sure.


I do it. Mainly for Europe


I think the problem isn’t when you ID something and don’t know what it is. It’s when more than several people agree with an ID even though they aren’t sure that it’s the best answer.

I know some of the privets very well. Specifically, I know four species found from Texas to the Atlantic Coast. Often the first person to identify it gets it wrong—either it isn’t a privet at all or it isn’t the privet they said it was.

If they’re the only one who made the wrong ID, it’s easy to fix. I add the correct ID and usually tell them the most obvious difference between the best ID and the ID they made. They quickly fix the problem, learn a bit, and continue observing, identifying, or both.

Even if they tune out—they made the ID, but they’ve decided that iNaturalist isn’t interesting and never return—it isn’t a big problem. If I can bring in two more people who either know privets well or know they can trust my judgment, then we can make the observation become research grade with the correct ID.

The problem arises when too many people who aren’t sure that the initial ID is correct agree with it. Everybody else thinks it’s Japanese privet, and I know it’s glossy privet, but the page says it’s a research grade ID of Japanese privet, and I’m labeled a maverick. If others who come to the page agree with the first ID, it gets only worse. To swing the ID to the correct one, we have to come up with twice as many people who got it wrong, plus one.

So it’s OK to be the first to chime in when you aren’t sure—but try to be a little more careful about agreeing with an ID. If you are sure that it’s right, go ahead and agree. If you notice something about the observation that confirms the ID but hasn’t yet been mentioned, point it out. That’s how you help the community learn.

On the other hand, if the ID you see just happens to be the same guess that you would make, then don’t agree. Instead, follow that observation. Ask any questions you have. That way, even if the first ID turns out to have been right, you’ll learn more about the species in question, and perhaps even about its lookalikes.


This is one thing the Discord server has generally been pretty good with, FWIW: if you can explain in a way that the people there will understand why you’re sure the original ID needs fixing, we’ll be more than happy to help flip it en masse :)


I rarely ID anything outside lichens and even more rarely ID things in „unknown“ to a level higher than genus or family. Besides, I always check the observer: if they are „power“ observers with lots of OBs and IDs I do not bother – it means they were fast uploading and will be IDing later. There are exceptions though: if I see that observer is a newbie, and the observation is in „difficult“ groups, I ID to class or even phylum level, if my knowledge reaches only that far. Same applies when I see obviously erroneous ID: liverworts IDed as lichens, myxomycetes IDed as fungi, etc. And – I almost never add my ID to the OB which has research grade and is correct. Don’t see any sense in many IDs for one OB. On the contrary, e.g., if there are three (or more) IDs that are erroneous, sometimes it is impossible to provide correct ID - it immediately gets “maverick” and is often sunk.


Same, a few times, especially before when the phylum name in iNaturalist that accompanied that photo was “magnoliophyta”.

And also a lot of pushback on “even-toed ungulates”, when the thumbnail was a giraffe or a hippo.


It is always correct to identify an observation to a coarse level, if it doesn’t have more specific identification, especially if it is an “unknown.”

That said, some people get upset when we do that. The two problems are newbies who want a species ID, not “birds” or “dicots,” and the more experienced person who is uploading many photos and will ID them later. (Some of the latter act like it’s my FAULT I put a general identification on the unnamed observations – it’s not! Sheesh!) Therefore, I now leave unknowns alone if the observer has lots of observations and the kingdom at least is obvious. If the observer has few observations, I head off conflict with a comment like, “Welcome to iNaturalist! I have put the general identification ‘ray-finned fish’ on your observations to attract experts who can give you a species identification.”


I think anyone getting upset at you putting an ID of what you think it is (and assuming you are not mis-using the “explicit disagree” option) is on completely the wrong platform! The ability to share what you see, and to comment and ID on what others see, is at the heart of what iNat is about…


I think it’s less important whether you feel absolutely confident vs. are making a guess, and more important that you communicate your level of confidence in words.

I usually won’t make a guess without saying it’s a guess. If I’m unsure but leaning towards something, I’ll be like: “I think this is probably X but it could be Y, please correct me if you know more about these two species than I do.” and then I’ll make the official ID as “X”.

In other cases I might be like: “I think this is X because (my reasoning / referencing evidence in the photo and/or range / habitat discussion).” and I try to use words to communicate my degree of confidence, i.e. “I’m virtually certain this is X” or “I am strongly leaning towards X” etc.

I’m always open to disagreement, but I think the more confident I am, the more evidence I need to be convinced to change my ID. I try to communicate my degree of confidence, as a courtesy to other users, so that people can know when to chime in.

I really love when other people do this because it makes it easier for me to know when I have something to contribute. If I know a little, I’ll happily chime in in a discussion where the other people clearly have no clue what the species are. However, I’ll be reluctant to butt into a discussion where the people have expert-level knowledge and I’m a n00b.


Yes, I do this. No, I’m not annoyed.


I had wondered what the Discord Server project was about. You’ve encouraged me to learn more!


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