Identification Etiquette on iNaturalist - Wiki

I often see things ID’d to the wrong species, but can only ID them to genus or family or higher and so I add a disagreeing ID. Later, the previous IDers might change their IDs to something that I think is plausible but don’t know enough to confirm it yet my ID will still lock the observation to the higher taxon because it was an explicit disagreement with the previous clearly wrong ID. When this happens, I think you can just edit your ID and save it without changing anything and it will show you the popup again allowing you to say whether you explicitly disagree or not. Or you can just withdraw your ID altogether. But I usually just keep it as it is even though I think I should do one of the two options above.


i guess you do lose your ID point. I never really thought about that but many of mine are on my own observations anyhow.

I think part of the problem here is that in the Identify page, the first photo shows with an ‘Agree’ button below it, so anyone identifying from that page (without going into the observation view or even clicking to see the Identify panel) are just clicking on Agree, and they don’t see the comments and/or other species photos. It is somewhat “lazy identifying” IMHO, and I am guilty of it too, especially for very easy to identify stuff and when I am very busy. When I am not so busy I like to identify “more thoroughly”, meaning looking for comments, welcoming new members when I spot them, welcoming them back if they have been gone a while, and also just getting even more familiar with the taxa myself. We raised it as an issue back in the old google groups, that comments aren’t visible in the Identify pages, but it hasn’t been raised here yet. I will raise it as an issue now!


I would say “when you no longer agree with it yourself!”

If you realise you made a mistake (like the anemoneae thing) then delete the ID, but if someone or something changes your mind, then withdraw your ID, as the “ID progression” is interesting information! I think withdrawals count toward the similar or often confused taxa associated with the CID taxa, but not certain on that point. At the very least, for new members reviewing old observations, it encourages them to “have a go” and not worry about being wrong, and it also educates them on what taxa are difficult and what ones are fairly straightforward!

I should add… that by “when you no longer agree with it yourself”, I mean when you no longer agree with your own ID, not necessarily any refined ID that comes from another identifier subsequently, unless that ID itself is enough to change your position!


Could we add something about using the community thinks this is as good as it gets flag? Who should use it? How does one person decide what the community thinks? And when is that threshold met (I know this isn’t precise but some sense of expectations would be helpful).

And perhaps something about using the captive/cultivated flag on someone else’s observation? There have been some good discussions about this one. And in this perhaps include the discussion about how Casual grade shouldn’t be seen as a mark of shame - at the very least, if it’s a decent pic, it helps to train the computer vision.


Some people’s identifications are more reliably correct in some taxa, so it seems like an easy shortcut to check how reliable the person seems and choose to agree or not agree based on that. But nobody is 100% reliable in any taxa. If you instead check the direct evidence (the photos, location, date/time, etc.) and arrive at an identification based solely on that, then the reliability (or unreliability) of the previous identifiers won’t, and can’t, have any effect on your answer. That kind of independent identification is way, way more valuable than quickly clicking “Agree”, because it can be used to correct errors. It’s kind of like doing a long math homework question, writing down the answer, then throwing out your previous work and redoing the whole thing from the beginning. If you arrive at different answers, then you know you must have made a mistake somewhere, and if you arrive at the same answer then you can be more confident that you did not make a mistake. But if the person at the desk next to you thinks to himself “KitKestrel is reliable, so I’ll just copy down her answer” then having two identical answers cannot increase your confidence that the answer is correct.

So that’s what point 5 is hinting at (not strongly enough, in my opinion). In an ideal world, getting to Research Grade would require a certain number of independent IDs, but since there’s no easy way to tell the difference between independent and dependent IDs, all we can do is encourage people to do the work instead of taking the shortcut. Honestly, I hope I never get the reputation of being an expert in a taxon if it means I’ll stop getting independent verification of my IDs. I and all the reliable identifiers I know have made some mistakes that seem pretty boneheaded in retrospect. We wouldn’t have figured out they were mistakes if we hadn’t double-checked each-other’s answers.


I don’t understand, because I use the Identify tool, and I see all the photos and comments without going into the observation. What Identify page are you referring to?

The Identify page shows 30 thumbnails, and if you click on one you get the Identify panel that shows more info on them, including the comments. There will often be a button on the thumbnails for “Agree”, which you can do without having to view the Identify panel and all the comments…

Thanks. This never registered with me that there was an “agree” button right on the panel.

In regard to withdrawing an ID, I personally do it when I think my initial ID was wrong, and leaving it in place is preventing the community ID from moving to a finer level. For example, if I make an ID to genus, and a subsequent reviewer IDs to a species within the same genus then the community ID goes to species. But if the new ID is in a different genus the community ID gets bumped up to family, so if I think my ID was wrong and the new one is probably right I will withdraw my ID.

Subspecies are a special case. If the initial ID is at a higher level, and the subsequent ID is to subspecies, the community ID will stay at the higher level, so I would withdraw my ID.

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Could you suggest some wording for this issue that would help a beginner understand it? I have never worked with placeholder IDs, so don’t know the details.

That said, I know that vanishing placeholder IDs has been brought up as an issue in need of fixing. If there is a chance it will in fact be fixed, not sure I want to suggest changing ID etiquette to work around it.


That would be great if they can be fixed to not vanish! If not, I would just say something like: “If you are identifying observations in the Unknown category, check to see if there is wording at the top left of the observation that starts ‘Unknown Placeholder: . . .).’ If there is, please copy this entire line into the comment box below your identification because the placeholder will vanish from its current location.”


I disagree that it is good etiquette to copy over placeholder text. Though it certainly is not a bad thing, I just consider it to be optional, at most. The reason I think that, is, firstly, the fact that it is called a placeholder suggests that it meant to be temporary; secondly, if you actually want the text to be permanent there is a place provided to do that.

If it is a newcomer they probably did not realise that you have to click/tap on the species name in the list even it you have typed the full species name out. In those cases I add the ID and tell the observer what went wrong. Copying the text and adding an ID is redundant in such a case.

Experienced users know that it will not be saved, so they obviously meant it to be temporary. Copying it anyway, therefor, serves no real purpose in that case. And by logical extension that means that there it no need to change the way it works.

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Could we add something about using the community thinks this is as good as it gets flag? Who should use it? How does one person decide what the community thinks

To me it is the same as any other section of the data quality section. It is your evaluation of the evidence provided. Putting a vote there does not mean the community feels this to be the case, it means you do. And like all other sections in there, others can vote to agree or disagree with your assessment.


sometimes if an observation does not tag properly the intended ID goes into placeholder and the observer can’t know that until they check online. I don’t think it’s appropriate to override their ID like that, at least until the issue is fixed. Not a huge deal but… definitely good etiquette.


Perhaps I have misunderstood you, but it sounds like you are describing a scenario like this:

An ob is submitted by someone as (lets say) Bos taurus, but something goes wrong during submission and it ends up as: unknown with placeholder Bos taurus. I then add an id of Bos taurus and copy the placeholder into the comments section. So the id says exactly the same thing as the comment does: Bos taurus. That is what I meant when I said that it is redundant.

it is redundant if you add the same ID. However if you add a coarser ID “mammals” or a different ID “Bison bison” it deletes Bos taurus which can be really annoying to the observer.

So i should clarify : either agree with the placeholder by tagging it as such, or copy over the placeholder if you are adding a coarser or different ID.


Often when I am identifying Unknown observations there are plants and fungi with scientific names as placeholders. I don’t know anything about specific species of plants or fungi but it’s still helpful for me to move them out of “Unknown”. I don’t want the observation to lose that information though.


Just to clarify, I should not now agree to genus Eschscholzia because a non-observer has made a finer ID?

To my thoughts, you should enter an ID to the level you are comfortable doing

You can withdraw your ID or not do one if you wish. However, you should not enter an ID you are not capable of doing yourself (unless it is your own observation, in which case I will leave it to you if you think it is ok to do) based on what someone else has entered. If you personally cant confirm it lower than genus, dont agree with someone else who has done so.

If the person comes back and describes the markers they used, and then you ‘get it’, then your ability to do a finer id is greater.

This is the guidance straight from the help file / user guide:
Please do not simply “Agree” with an ID that someone else has made without confirming that you understand how to identify that taxon. An identification confirms that you can confidently identify it yourself compared to any possible lookalikes.