Is very vaguely categorising helpful at all?

I love the idea of and I want to help out. But my stuff-recognition abilities are pretty basic, and I don’t want to miscategorise things accidentally. So what I usually end up doing is loading up the “identify” page and making it show me everything “Unknown” in my country, and I sort of plod through everything top to bottom until I get bored. I categorise by things like “plants”, “flowering plants”, “mammals”, “birds”, “reptiles”, etc. Sometimes I can get specific and choose “grasses” or “limpets” or “poppies” or “swans” or something!

So I guess what I’m wondering is, is this helpful? On the one hand, I’m guessing any identification is better than none, but… would this stuff get categorised more specifically just as easily if I did nothing?

I have a friend who hangs out in the “birds” category, just identifying unknown birds. Maybe there are people who do this for “flowering plants”, and those people wouldn’t see the observations if people like me didn’t categorise them even very vaguely?


That is useful. Many of the experts and people more knowledgeable about certain taxa don’t look at the Unknown uploads very often. They stick to what they know and that makes sense. By categorizing Unknown stuff even generally like your examples, it helps those observations get seen by people who can help. I do that frequently during local bioblitzes to help the less experienced users get their stuff identified even if the best I can do is “flowering plant” or “bird.”


Yes. It is helpful, and encouraged. There is a discussion here about etiquette in making identifications that might be helpful to you-- Watch out for placeholders (discussed in the cited thread).


Keep doing it if you find it fun, because it is helpful! Yes, people do monitor birds, or insects or salamanders or snakes. The various plant categories or fungi can take longer because there are so many records, but you’ll have filed something properly for when someone is ready to come across it.

Lately, even turning Unknown into Life if you can’t figure out if something is say, a plant vs a fungus, is somewhat more helpful, because people have been looking through that ranking a little more, eg this example: so that someone there could maybe move the mystery forward a little farther.

I became hooked on id’ing from the coarsest level listings (unknown/life) because I get a survey of interesting things to learn about that are varied (I love birds but I would actually get bored if I only went through those). Plus, the really weird stuff often ends up there and it’s fun to see how those get worked out- and then learn more about the really weird things. (Who knew I’d end up wanting to study slime molds? But they are so beautiful as well as mysterious.)

After a year of doing this, my id’s in some areas are gradually getting slightly less basic. That would probably happen for you as well if you keep rolling!


Thank you everyone! I have read the wiki page recommended, and will keep on doing my thing. :)


Yes, for example, I have a setting so that anything that gets called “mollusk” or “mollusc” or “Mollusca” anywhere in the world gets onto my dashboard.


Starting at the end and moving to the front can catch things that have been languishing the longest, also you don’t partial ID something where the user fully IDs in short order, often once they get home to a computer where it is easy to see and cross-reference in other windows/screens.


Alas my friend, you will only get better. Glad to have you . Carry on.


Starting at the end and moving to the front can catch things that have been languishing the longest

Genius, I didn’t know you could do that - great idea. :D


I will make 2 comments about starting with the oldest

  • someone has already likely done that, yet they are still there, which means they are likely there for a reason
  • even when you add a classification it will stay at the back of the ID pool (While you can reset the order to most recent updated, the default is recently added) so it relies on an identifier getting to the end of the list

To my mind it is still better to do the newest ones. If you are worried it is an experienced user who is skipping name entry in the field etc,then just skip it if when you open it you can see the observer has a decent record count


I’m giving it a try now and some things appear to have been labeled already but they’re still in the Unknown pool, so that’s confusing me a bit!

But a lot of them have placeholder text with a very specific identification so those are pretty easy to tidy up. :)


if we don’t deal with the older ones we will just get more and more of them. I vote for looking at them, at least some of the time. Yes some are very hard or possibly impossible to ID. For really old ones with multiple coarse IDs and a user who is no longer active i sometimes do check the ‘no further ID possible’ box. if the user is active leave a comment.

That being said, while this work is important, it’s not something everyone needs to do. If you would rather ID new observations, by all means do that. But i wouldn’t say there’s no value in people looking at the old ones. And in the case of my filters for plants, i got to see a bunch of really neat and weird stuff @kueda found in 2008 or so that i have no idea what it is (but it was fun to look at).


I did not mean to say don’t look at them. The thread was about doing high level/coarse ID’s. If you think you can id them at a fine level, older ones can be productive. If you only feel confident doing coarse id’s newer ones are likely more productive. Both in terms of someone else seeing them to refine them, but as a personal learning element you can get if someone does id it.


You can also use the ‘random’ filter and get a page of obs from any date. I don’t think you get pages with this filter, and you have to refresh the page to get another lot of obs showing up (but I may be incorrect on that one).

I have found that if I go through all the Lepidoptera obs and put an ID of Papilionoidea on the butterflies, that they get ID’d within a couple of days by the butterflyterists who are obviously starting at that level on the Identify page. So, yes, any refining of an ID is useful.


The (slight) drawback for me for doing Random sort is that sometimes stretches of Unknowns or Lifes are context-dependent and that bit of context can help id. Like, for a flower photographed by a bunch of people during a bioblitz, you might get several angles right there next to each other as separate obs.

Side response to other replies: Yes, oldest ones are getting to be the hardest or weirdest ones. I like to mix it up and alternate looking at Unknown/Life olds vs Life last updates (which can help with what other people have caught in the olds recently), but avoid “fresh” unknowns from experienced users (there’s a thread here about potential issues somewhere).

…Found it


I am really enjoying going through the oldest Unknowns and categorising them broadly, and I assume someday someone will do the same but with Fungi including Lichens and it’ll get sorted a bit more specifically, etc. :) Some of the observations have great photos and will make good detailed records when someone with specialist knowledge comes along.


I do the same thing. I learn from experts as they make the species identifications and it’s interesting to me to see what will get ID’ed quickly and what doesn’t. The boilerplate text is helpful because you can also help in recognizing duplicates, multi-species observations and captive/cultivated species -

I’m glad to hear people think it’s helpful. I just figured I was helping clean and curate the data for others to use as my way to give back to the community.


Coarse IDs are the bulk of my IDs!


It strikes me that another way to make important contributions without observing or even knowing organisms is to document the phenology, life stage, or, when obvious, gender of the organism. There are many observations of fruiting, flowering, or budding plants that are not identified as such. There are many caterpillars not identified as larvae. And so on.

Without that information being associated with the observation, it is impossible for people to search for a match to those features in their own observations. So even if you don’t know which Prunus is which, or even if the observation identified as Prunus really is a Prunus, you can improve the information associated with it in ways that will help others immensely.


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