In defense of "lazy" observers (like me)

Birds are the one taxon where I never ID more specifically than just ‘bird’; I’m pretty sure birders can get an observation to RG in the time it would have take me to type the 3 extra letters from ‘aves’ to ‘mallard’, and if I happened to be wrong the time it would take me to refresh my notifications and click ‘withdraw’ would just needlessly delay the process :joy:


Yeah birds go quick - though I occasionally do see one hanging out in unknowns.

I had a brown headed cowbird sit in limbo for like… a day, recently, and I was starting to wonder what was going on XD


A few well-identified observations are more valuable than many unknowns.


I’ve never posted an unknown; I can always get things to kingdom :)

Even if I can’t I’ll take a wild guess before I’ll let it go up as unknown.


While I do occasionally see lightning-fast confirming identifications on bird photos here (South Korea), it’s also not uncommon to see them go several days - or even months - without getting any attention. Makes me think this might be an experience that varies based on geography.




It seems to be pretty much binary with birds; they either get IDed practically immediately or they probably never will. Whereas plant IDs do get revisited, especially if they are ~family or better (and not asteraceae). I suspect this is mainly because plant IDs are much more expert-availabity-limited than birds, and secondarily because the actual plant taxonomy itself is incomplete, whereas bird taxonomy is at a much higher completion percentage.


First of all, there is no way that axarus could be classified as a “lazy” observer. I get what he means, but I’ve taken a look at his iNat observations and the quality is way above average. It’s clear he’s invested a lot of effort in finding, processing and posting his observations so that they’ll have an excellent chance of being identified and, who knows, of being useful to someone in the future. So yes, he’s probably right in investing his time in continuing to do this, rather than spending hours or maybe days on trying to ID, for example, a difficult bee.
But that being said, I do think that KrisAtkinsonf makes some very good points. Like her, I firmly believe that “If you start looking at the worth of the contribution instead of the numbers, we may all be better off” and also that “its inclusivity aspect errs in not pointing out when folk are wrong…”.
I’ve just found the courage to get seriously into IDing, although my lack of self confidence still blocks me from going beyond some pretty general sorting of plants and arthropods (my special interests). This means I’m spending a great deal of my time sifting through a huge number of very poor quality observations, difficult or impossible to fine ID and with a pretty low chance of being useful to anyone in the future. Now I know it’s not politically correct to question an observer’s motives and there are all sorts of very valid reasons why someone might sometimes post a poor quality observation. I quite understand that and far from me to criticise anyone with a genuine interest and doing their best. But my sensation is that a very high proportion of those observations are the result of a genuinely lazy “see it, snap it, forget it” approach that really doesn’t help anyone, least of all the observer him or herself.
Now that in itself wouldn’t be a problem, were it not for the fact that observers far outnumber identifiers here, with the result that observations from people with a genuine interest, who really do invest time and effort in posting well-documented observations able to make a genuine contribution are all too often submerged and lost in a boundless and unmanageable sea of poorly documented observations that do little else but use up identifiers’ precious time… and yes, I know you can just click the “reviewed” button, but that just serves to shift the problem elsewhere. This may well result in potentially valuable and committed observers losing interest in the platform and going somewhere else. Which would be a pity.
I’m not sure what the solution might be, but I do get the feeling that the vast majority, if not all, of these “lazy” observations come from the app, with someone just snapping away regardless, trying for an instant ID, then if it doesn’t come immediately, forgetting the whole thing and moving on. Which would be fine in itself if it didn’t end up clogging the system. Perhaps it would be possible to sift out these “instant snappers” and encourage more committed observers by “fast-tracking” observations which meet certain criteria.
Now I know that suggesting such an “elitist” approach is going to earn me enemies. Inclusivity is without doubt a good thing… but I’m convinced that being nice to everyone is not necessarily in the best interests of the platform, in either the short of long term.


This is very pleasant to read, especially which such lovely, pressing emphasis.

When I feel like ID’ing, and knowing I can barely distinguish between an insect and an anthropod, I almost always filter for unknowns and use the computer vision suggestion (CVS) along with my common sense. And to sit down for a little bit and ID from Unknown to Fungi (and sometimes leave a note on how others can improve their uploads) is already satisfying and worthwhile to me.

If the CV clearly doesn’t understand what it is looking at, but it seems like ants to me, I just add that. If the CVS seems to know much better, but I have truly no idea if it is remotely correct I just add a question mark to my CVS ID.

And as such I am learning. I now can ID Cosmos myself! That’s a great improvement on knowing basically nothing. I still ID it to genus Cosmos, because I don’t know the species. Sure looks like Cosmos bipinnatus, but is it really? I have no clue and will leave that up to others.

From unknown to genus using CVS is often the best I can do, it is an improvement on Unknown, and as such it has to be a contribution to the whole of iNaturalist. I hope, well, I know this is valued.


I just had colleagues at my primary school teach about a hundred 6-9 year old’s the differences between the different kingdoms/classes/phylum over the past two months. What if we would create a project where children would learn to ID from Unknown to the right kingdom, where teachers verify their IDs? This would be so worthwhile!
And the same could be said of a similar plant project.

Yes, something described above is unlikely to happen @dianastuder, so perhaps in that sense it is best to leave it at Unknown. But who knows? A huge backlog on Plantae combined with some creativity can lead to beautiful things.


My temperament and skills are better with picking thru Unknowns.
But I quite frankly can’t face, rinse and repeat with thousands of It’s A Plant.
The backlog mounts and identifiers are losing heart.

Marine life, and then bees (in recent comments)

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I read a lot of it, and it is an interesting discussion, but there are so many variables to consider that I won’t comment. That would require more thinking and an almost paper-like post to do justice to the complexities addressed.

@dianastuder Would you think it reasonable to expect that one day there are so many (generalist) ID’ers who take on all the Unknowns that we could add things like Plantae and such?

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I would like iNat to encourage observers to identify. But the focus is heavily on many observations, and many (passing thru) observers. That balance is not going to improve without deliberate intention.

Without supporting and encouraging informed IDs, iNat will lose its appeal. Just another site to share pretty or blurry photos. Social media users are fickle, if people don’t get an ID … they will move on.


I take issue with “politically correct” here - this has nothing to do with political correctness, it’s about making assumptions and castigating a large group of people without knowing all of the details. Just like we ask that ID should be made based on available evidence, one shouldn’t assume motivations unless they’re clear.

I do agree that ideally people should invest some time learning about what they saw, but not everyone’s going to do that, unfortunately, but I think it’s better that they spent a moment thinking about a plant or an insect than not doing so at all. And the people who do want to learn will start doing so if they’re given some encouragement.

This basically already happens - the Identify page only shows “Needs ID” observations by default, and those meet certain criteria. You can also filter out observations made by accounts that were created in the past week, which removes a large number of lower-quality observations.

I’m not sure what you mean by “nice” - that’s a nebulous term. But people should be treated civilly and with respect. You don’t necessarily have to be warm to them, but they should not be condescended to, insulted, or called names.


Ideally, everyone who is starting out on iNat would have an experienced user standing with them when they are photo’ing their first records and could advise on how best to take the picture, what features are important to capture, what Notes might be added, and what level of ID they can confidently assign. But that isn’t feasible. And if they’re like me, they don’t read instructions carefully or at all. So we get folks who are basically just experimenting with the site and providing records that are essentially unIDable or at best difficult to ID. That slows down the process of clearing the backlog. I suspect there will always be a sizeable percentage of forgotten records that remain in limbo, never moving out of Unknown or some high taxonomic rank. Some of those users will give up in frustration, others might never have been all that interested to start with and will disappear. Unfortunate, but just the reality.


And it goes against one of the purposes of iNaturalist, in that it is to some extent promoted as a way of learning about nature. If someone never comes back and sees whether their observation has been identified, how can they learn anything?

Considering how often we have lamented school projects which create a huge influx of poor quality observations, what if educators took this to heart. What if, instead of a school project where they have their class go out observing and uploading,

and set them to identifying what is already here.


I just came from moving several dozen obvious ferns out of Unknown. And I’m sure the observer knew very well that they were ferns, because they were all the same observer, and they were all different species of only ferns.

With that said, I can see your point, but it requires some nuance. One of my areas of interest is Caribbean butterflies. A lot of the more common ones, I can ID by sight. But people don’t always observe the common ones; sometimes I have to get out the old book by Riley from 1975 and take some care with a less common butterfly. Could I skip doing that and instead spend the same amount of time idenifying a larger number of common ones by sight? Sure. But the less commonly observed ones add value disproportionately more than the common, easy ones – but only if they are identified as such. There is more to it than just “how long would it take me to identify this?”

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A post on a forum is not perhaps the easiest place to express nuance in a few words, so take it as read that in my previous post, they’re all there somewhere and at the end of the day, I’m not really such a bad gal when you get to know me :upside_down_face: .
That said, I find myself absolutely in agreement with Diana. Perhaps I wasn’t clear before, I’m not criticising the “instant snappers” as such, but I do feel that their needs are VERY different from those of someone with a more committed approach to learning about nature and/or contributing to knowledge. And like Diana, I do fear that by putting the accent too heavily on the former category, actual or potential committed observers with a real interest and above all identifiers are going to lose patience and move on… and this risks triggering an avalanche effect which can’t help but damage the iNat platform as a whole.
Without intending any form of value judgement, could the answer be some form of two-tier participation? With an easy first approach so the “snappers” can still try for an ID, then a more stringent full registration that involves a certain amount of effort and knowledge of how iNat and the ID process actually work, so only those with a real interest will embark on signing up? Not sure how this could work in practice :thinking:, but it would be SO good to move away from quantity to see some encouragement for real quality interest and commitment (both observer and identifier).


I am unwilling to do that. Since it is also the window in which we catch newbies and encourage them to stick around, to come back. If ‘nobody on iNat did anything’ it becomes another abandoned profile, with unanswered identifier questions. It encourages me to persevere if newbies respond in even the very smallest way!

That starts from, am I interested, do I care, do I have some taxon knowledge to apply. Or am I happy to leave this one at Lepidoptera and follow the discussion from the sidelines by Following This Obs.

@lynkos here in the Forum we have barriers, and rewards. Within iNat itself, where it MATTERS (who cares if I have used up my allocation of hearts here today?!) - we have neither barriers. Nor rewards for learning to iNat and adding value. The barrier to creating a new place applies to VERY few observers.

I read this yesterday evening. I wonder about the future of iNat. And how much our ad free experience, mostly paid by our 2 large sponsors, is in turn directed by their choices? I am haunted by Google Plus, exploding across the world, then imploding to gone. Facebook, Twitter …
Social media is doomed to die


I’ll resist the temptation to comment at length for fear of going severely off topic, but I found the article VERY interesting and so, so true. Things move so fast… up, in, down and out in the space of a few years, or even months. iNat SHOULD be a very different sort of creature, but I too can’t help wondering :crossed_fingers: .

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