Identifiers as Volunteer Curators, and Obs with Probs

Well @sgene you continue to be an immense help to fellow identifiers here. You broached the most important topic that I had intended to cover in a “mission debrief”.

On some random obs in conversation with other identifiers, I mentioned how this particular topic would need its own thread, since it’s a global iNat identifier problem of not having enough consensus among all of ourselves, globally. There are many types of “obs with probs.” Many of us have strong opinions about how to deal, and sometimes we cancel each other out and make each other very unhappy over it, even though all of us actually mean well.

May I ask a moderator about spawning such a new thread, if you would like that new conversation to start with your post above? If you would rather not, I can start one myself. Thanks for advice!


I knew you had intended to do that, and I hope that it is successful.


Like something to discuss the best practices when it comes to adding broad identifications? It’d be OK to have one, but keep in in mind that nothing decided here is “official” and that it’s not realistic to expect iNat users to to abide by an “only identify plants in Africa to the family level or finer” norm.


Yes, that! It would be a conversation toward consensus for best practices among iNat identifiers for “obs with probs”. There is one recent guidance statement from one of y’all in some forum thread about DQA that I can quote if I can dig it back up. I agree that the rest should be up to the citizen scientists doing this “labor of love” stuff. Maybe staff can advise if we get stuck on something?

Also, to frame part of the issue, is it possible for staff to provide the following number?

What percent of all observations have started with an initial ID provided by a person who is not the observer? Thanks if so!

One other that could help: What percent of all observations have started with an observer-original ID at Kingdom? Could do with examples plant and/or fungi for that.


No worries, I’m sorry I didn’t get to them. I don’t mean to blame you at all.

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Example: a half grapefruit, on a plate. The way I understand the guidelines, the proper way to deal with that would be to mark it as captive/cultivated, thus sending it to Casual. But next thing I know, it is “Life” because somebody added a disagreeing ID of “Human.” Now, if it was a human artifact, like plastic fruit or a fruit-print tablecloth, then “Human” would be appropriate; but there is an organism visible in the observation: the half grapefruit.

The same thing happened to an observation of a cup of coffee (with the coffee visible), and I think it was the same person who did it. There is a reason we have DQA; use it. Identifying grapefruits and coffee as humans could be construed as deliberately offering wrong IDs.


Which DQA would you use in those examples?

As I said in the post: mark it captive/cultivated.


What an interesting way of viewing it!

I get it more with the grapefruit but my immediate impulse toward a cup of coffee is to think “human”. Labeling it as coffee, the plant, feels like identifying a burger as an observation of a cow. (I think there are too many human steps between the natural plant and what is shown to construe it as the deliberate offering of a wrong identification.)


I hope you might revisit this. Take whatever time you need to process and assess. Consider coming back in a way that purely brings you joy.

I have an Observation I made three years ago of some parrots. I assumed them all the same and the same one (I think) appears in all the photos and then another one appears by its side in 3 photos. But a knowledgeable commenter not unkindly noted there were multiple species shown. And so the Observation was left at Family, as it ought to have been. If someone had come in and thrown it to a higher level, much less Life I would have been very confused.

I’m sorry your efforts to help have brought you to deleting your account and I really hope you find your way back. Please keep here.


I, for one, would quite appreciate some clear guidance or consensus as to what to do with such observations with problems.


Thank you for the kind comments.


I am frustrated by many of the same things you mention.


Yes, I know you are. Thank you for saying that here again.


Agree. I think this is the heart of the underlying problem.

I would go further and suggest that an informal consensus is not sufficient: there needs to be some official guidance on how IDers should handle observations that have issues for which there is no obvious, standard solution such as flags or DQA.

Even better would be a formal mechanism for marking observations with certain problems, but until/if such a mechansim is implemented, I would settle for clear guidelines that are explicitly laid out somewhere on the iNat website, for example on the help pages.

A statement by staff members in a forum post, as has occasionally happened on one point or another, is not enough – not everyone reads the forum, and finding such information is not necessarily quick or easy if one even knows that it exists in the first place.

Since there are no explicit instructions about what we should be doing, different IDers/IDer communities have developed different practices to deal with such observations – inevitably, this sometimes leads to clashes and people working at cross-purposes because each person feels strongly about enforcing the (unwritten!) norms that they are familiar with. They may be unaware of other practices or they may disagree with them.

The two big ones here are:

duplicate observations

practices include:

  • not IDing
  • using some DQA option to make the duplicate casual (which we are not supposed to do)
  • IDing as usual

observations with photos showing different species

practices include:

  • IDing as “life” and marking “ID cannot be improved” if the observer is unresponsive
  • ditto, but IDing to the lowest shared taxon instead
  • IDing the first photo and ignoring the rest.

I have really strong feelings about why the last of these is problematic, but it is apparently well-established amongst certain IDers, some of whom evidently have no interest in changing their practice. The argument seems to be that IDing the first photo allows potentially rare records to be recognized which would otherwise be lost, and iNat needs to provide a technical fix (I guess something like allowing curators to split such observations, or a system for marking certain photos as not applicable to the observation). While I agree that a technical fix would be desirable, the problem with going ahead and continuing to ID the first photo in the meantime means that you end up with the remaining photos being associated with an incorrect ID – a really bad idea if it involves taxa that are often confused in the first place)

I am agnostic about the other two: I prefer the lowest shared taxon, but I understand why some users prefer to use life instead. I won’t try to change whichever of the two options has already been chosen – the important thing, as I see it, is that such observations get a second ID so they can become casual.

What I encounter here most often is users not realizing that marking the “ID cannot be improved” to make the observation casual requires 2 IDs, so I will see users adding an additional comment asking the (often no longer active) observer to separate the images or providing advice on how to do so, but not adding the second ID that is needed to take it out of the “needs ID” queue.

All of these are workaround solutions for dealing with observations with multiple species. As such, they are not ideal and it is unsurprising that people have different preferences about what to do.

Finally, these conflicts that arise from the lack of clear instruction are avoidable. They should not be allowed to reach the point that users are deleting their accounts as a result. I am not criticizing users for doing so. Rather: I think staff needs to take a hard look at why no action was taken at an earlier stage to resolve the conflict – if the problem was overlooked, why; if the user did not feel that they could reach out for help, why; if attempts to mediate were unsuccessful, why, etc.


Part of what seems to be going on here, as I understand it is, that certain communities within iNat have unwritten norms that they do indeed expect other users to follow – even when these norms differ from the norms that are prevalent in other iNat communities. And some members of these communities are aggressive about enforcing their particular norms. This results in users who venture into these communities feeling unwelcome at best and attacked at worst. There is no space for accepting different points of view or arriving at a consensus. Because the norm enforcers may be prominent/influential members of the iNat community, they are able to get away with behavior that would not be considered acceptable otherwise.


I have 3 situations I struggle with. They each need to be, can only be, resolved by the observer. And iNat needs a better solution.

Exactly the same picture uploaded 3 or 4 times (probably poor internet or power supply issues) - that irritates taxon specialists (not me). The frank duplicates need a better solution than IDing them all carefully.

The flower and the leaf uploaded as separate obs. Together it is obvious what the ID is. They need to be combined as one obs.

Then the random collection of various species - where someone helpfully IDs the first image. I see no value in choosing the lowest common denominator - so the plant people can see it. No, thank you. Buffalo, badger and oh look a very rare butterfly - you still can’t ID any of them, and that butterfly picture is trapped in limbo. (Similar to spiphany’s example)

Pushing it to Life and ‘Casual’ (such an offensive word choice by iNat) was an idea someone else taught me, to take it out of the Needs ID pool for subsequent identifiers.

And if mine comes across as an ‘attack on Africa’? Another way of looking at - that I focus in IDing for Africa. Swop your name for mine to see your footprint in Africa.

That is sad. Years of good intentions that imploded. And yet, with help from taxon specialists I add a steady stream of missing species, and first obs on iNat, and eventually the 60 obs we need for the next CV update. Making iNat better and more effective for newer users.


Did you not separate out the species later?

To be honest, I cannot quite suss out which birds are different. My eyes thought and still think all the photos show the one parrot but I cannot be sure, so I have now, three years later, tagged someone I know with the knowledge to tell me and asked him to tell me, in very simple terms like I am an idiot, which bird(s) are in which photos. (The parrots fly and alight in the trees in groups of 5-6.)


This shows that we are still lacking a “good” solution to the old (Feb 2019) feature request: