iNaturalist Family Tree / Sphere of Influence: How many observations are you indirectly responsible for?

Platform: Website

Description of need:
This feature would allow users to see how many observations by proxy they have added to iNaturalist by introducing other people to the platform.

Feature request details:
iNaturalist is a platform that grows more and more each day via word of mouth. Many of us love iNaturalist, and if you’re anything like me you’ll tell anyone who will listen about the platform in case they may find it adds value to their lives. Have you ever wondered what happened to those people you told about iNaturalist? Maybe they only posted one observation, but someone else they told posted 10,000! In brief, have you ever pondered your total influence on iNaturalist? Specifically, this is how many observations you are indirectly responsible for being posted on the platform.

This feature would track the observations (and/or identifications) made by the users whom you have introduced to iNaturalist, plus the people they have introduced to the platform, and so forth. Essentially, it tracks your ‘family tree’ or ‘sphere of influence’ on the platform. To state who introduced you to the platform, a box could be added under “Account Settings” like the image shown below.


Then, much like the Monthly Supporter feature, there could be an option to display the number of observations you are indirectly responsible for on your profile page:

I do not know how useful it would be to go into more details than this for the feature (I think it would be cool, but maybe not a good use of the developers’ time), but I do have a couple ideas I want to share. The first would be when you click on the “Observations by Proxy” link on your profile, you are redirected to see all of these observations. The second would be to visualize your ‘family tree’. Hovering over the user’s pictures would show how many observations they have contributed. Maybe the user’s pictures could even be scaled to size:

Anyways, thank you for taking the time to read my post. I have always thought it would be interesting to see this sort of data, but I understand it may not be practical to implement. Also, if anyone has any better name suggestions than “Observations by Proxy” or “Family Tree” I would appreciate some input, I wasn’t too sure of the best way to describe this.

Seems cool. Lots of people weren’t introduced by anyone tho so functionality might be limited.


It would be extremely cool to have such information, I agree, if it can be made to work.

As I see it, the downfall of the idea as proposed is people’s laziness and/or reluctance to share information. As someone who’s done a fair bit of web design over the years, often involving forms (for registering etc) to be completed by the general public. It is hard to overestimate the degree of apathy with which people treat such forms. I would go so far as to say that a significant majority of users automatically skip all fields marked as optional, especially if it’s not instantly clear to them how they benefit from giving that piece of information.

Furthermore, it’s often not clear who introduced them to iNaturalist. For instance, in my latest book (Madagascar Wildlife, 5th ed), I recommend that travellers visiting Madagascar log their sightings on iNaturalist. But when my readers come to sign up, even if they remember they heard about the site in my book and remember who wrote the book, they aren’t going to know my iNat username, and in any case they wouldn’t know whether to credit me or my co-author for the recommendation. I would guess that the majority of recommendations suffer from similar grey-area complications.

So if this idea is implemented by simply asking people to optionally report who they heard about iNat from, I’d honestly be surprised if much more than 10% of people actually do so. But let’s be optimistic for a moment and imagine a method can be found that successfully connects the the new user with the referring user in 80% of cases… there is still a mathematical reason that will present a huge stumbling block for this idea to work.

For the sake of a thought experiment, let’s imagine every user introduces (on average) 5 more users. Under such conditions, within five ‘generations’ you will have indirectly introduced an impressive total of 3,905 people to iNat. What effect does the 80% success rate have on that figure? You might initially think the reported figure would be 80% of 3,905 – but not so. That’s because the success rate is 80% at every single step (‘generation’). In other words, by the 5th generation, the system is only catching 80% of 80% of 80% of 80% of 80% (which equates to less than a third) of the true figure, and so your reported total of referrals would be 1,364 – which bears little resemblance to the true figure of 3,905.

And that’s using the fantastical 80% success rate. If my 10% figure is correct, the effect is catastrophic: on average, only around 1 of your 3,905 referrals would be successfully reported under such conditions.

So, I’d say nice idea in theory, but it would need some kind of robust automated tracking to work, and I can’t honestly see how that could be implemented.


I’m not a fan of this idea. One of the tings I like about iNat it that it keeps the ‘gamifying’ to a minimum, and keeps the focus mainly on observations and species.

Adding this is like adding some sort of LinkedIn/Facebook hybrid aspect, and would require users to add additional data that it not really relevant to anything.

In addition, it would only work if every user entered in information about who they heard about iNat from and who they told about it. Without that it wouldn’t actually tell anyone anything.


likely true.

there are many visualization tools out there, and it probably wouldn’t be too difficult to use one of these to make a custom visualization on your own, getting data from the API, but you would have to define the node relationships yourself. otherwise, the data is all in the system. for example, here are observation counts for me and you:,rynaturalist&place=any&verifiable=any.

if you just wanted to keep a total count observations for a set of users, you could set up collection project that includes observations from selected users.

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I don’t even remember who showed me iNaturalist the first time? Hey, maybe it was you, don’t you want social credit for my 6000 white pine observations?

On the other hand, maybe people would also blame you for my unpopular ideas about taxonomy, and you don’t want that

You make some really good points. I suppose this would probably only be interesting to those who are incredibly active on iNat, yet relies a lot on people who are unlikely to provide any extra information.

We were both exploring citizen science apps at the time (Project Noah, etc). I don’t recall who ran across iNat first either.

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