Identifying "Unknown" from experienced users

Has anyone had an experience like this:

During identification, you see a string of very specific id’s from a user who has a lot of observations. Things that make it look like they know what they are talking about, like “Western Spotted Beige Winged Meadowsnipe” or something…followed by an “Unknown” observation.

Most “Unknown” observations seem to be from new users who are still figuring out the site, or who might be having problems with the phone app. And its helpful to sort those into basic categories, such as “Flowering Plants” and “Perching Birds”. But occasionally I see it used by experienced users.

The question is should I still use it? I feel kind of condescending and foolish adding “Fungi” to an Unknown observation by a professor of mycology. Perhaps they were waiting to find out if it was a fungi or a non-fungi mold?

What do you do when you see those? Figure they just uploaded it and forgot to ID, and ID it, or figure that they know something you don’t?


I think that’s a reasonable concern and you’re free to use your judgment. One strategy is to wait a few days before IDing any new observations – just in case they’re waiting to get around to it. But I think there’s never anything wrong with doing your best to fill in missing info.




I do it as long as the observation is at least a few weeks old.


I have to admit that I mark those as reviewed and move on to another observation.
As far as I’m concerned, they should know better, and if they don’t care to make even a minimal ID, then I’m not going to waste my time with their obs. There are more than enough newbies who could use the help.


I try to make as best an ID I can on all my observations during the upload phase, but very occasionally I’ll accidentally miss one (I generally upload 100-200 observations simultaneously from an outing). I’ll typically pick up the mistake very quickly myself, but sometimes if I’m not paying enough attention it slips under my radar. This has nothing to do with me ‘not caring’. Best practice is to always assume people mean well and not jump to conclusions about their intentions. Everyone makes mistakes :)


Also important to check to see if there is a placeholder ID, quite often it is a simple spelling mistake and the submitter has legitimately tried to do an ID.


What I usually come across is whole slew of unidentified observations. Just one or two would be understandable because, as you say, it’s easy enough to make mistakes. But sometimes it’s an entire page of 30, in which case I don’t hesitate to move on.

1 Like

If I am IDing on here, it probably means I am whiling away some time, so choosing “Perching Birds” or “Flowering Plants” isn’t an arduous task for me. It is more that I don’t want to be stepping on the toes of someone’s observations if they have a clear idea what it is, and I am just making the most basic guesses.

1 Like

I would just note that the failure for one of these observers to provide an identification is likely for some completely innocent reason, and not necessarily an indication of laziness. For example, I’ve had several cases where my observations were duplicated through a bug in the iNat app, with one coming out as without the ID I had assigned. Of course I strive to fix this, but I don’t always notice it right away.

Different people also have different workflows. For example, some people when doing a batch upload may choose to upload the observations prior to assigning the IDs, so that they won’t lose their work if their computer crashes. I know I’ve done that before.

While I certainly would hope most observers wouldn’t be offended by someone offering up a course ID I also don’t think they deserve any disdain from the other direction.


When you find what looks like a mis-spelt scientific name, it can be useful to search in Google - it can autocorrect some common spelling mistakes, then you get pictures that look similar to the observation in question. I generally put observations like these as precise as I can (which isn’t usually very far down the taxonomy), and say something like “The database doesn’t recognise … Did you mean …?”


To be honest I was guilty of doing this, as I usually upload around 70-100 observations at once, so editing the pictures on Lightroom, tidying up the pictures by observation, adding the GPS information manually, etc, takes a lot of time, so I used to ID them a little bit later.
Now I just use the most general ID I can, because I got some remarks from local identificators.


I don’t see why it would be bad to enter a coarse ID that is correct to any observation, even if the observer is very experienced and knowledgeable! If they’re annoyed they can just ask you to remove your ID, I assume?

Edit: Sometimes I get a coarse ID on an older observation of mine, and when I look at it I realise that I can narrow it down a little further now because I am more knowledgeable than I was when I first IDed it. I might not have realised if someone else hadn’t coarse-IDed it.


I just want to add more reasons for unknowns:

  • you enter observations on a field trip and there’s no connection, but everything gets uploaded at once without you knowing when you hike within the reach of some phone tower, you won’t check internet before you get down from that mountain though (which can be many days)

  • you want to dedicate your precious phone battery to observe as much as you can, data is enabled to help with location accuracy (and to back up pictures) but you don’t want to use battery by going online

  • you know an expert (who’s not on inat) who will certainly identify your observation and you are just waiting for her answer


It’s always helpful to add general ID’s. What’s not helpful is a snarky comment seconds after it’s uploaded and before the user has time to add more info. I’ve had that happen also. It’s great when I get Id’s on observations before I even have time to look over them. I photo a lot of tiny insects that I can’t see well until I upload them. Then I go back and ID them.


When I have a big observation day, I routinely upload observations from the app as unknown, as I find it much more efficient to type IDs in using the identify interface of the website rather than my thumbs on the phone screen.

I do pretty good at keeping up with them as they upload (most times I have an ID on them within a couple of minutes of uploading) - but sometimes there’s someone who gets to them before I do (presumably they’re reviewing the Unknown pool at the same time I’m uploading).

The only thing that bugs me is if they give it a name that’s wrong (usually the wrong general group for something that can be a little tricky) and then don’t come back and withdraw their ID when I put in what is. In theory, eventually other IDs will come into override, but in practice many of the non-popular taxa observations don’t get a lot of confirming IDs in my area. To be fair, I think that’s only happened a couple of times, so it’s not really been a big deal in my case.

I suspect I (and others) have probably said this elsewhere, but more generally, it just seems like it would be handy to have a way for me (and others with a workflow like mine) to delay my unknowns going into the Unknown/needs ID pool for even just a little while. I feel this way mostly because it I think the good and generous work people are doing to give things a general ID and get them out of the Unknown pool would be best focused on observations that won’t be ID’d by me (the observer) a short time later.

1 Like

There is a request for draft mode to accommodate this workflow

1 Like

This topic was automatically closed 60 days after the last reply. New replies are no longer allowed.