Long-range funding plan for iNaturalist (is there one?)

Maybe this is posted somewhere, but am curious what staff and users think about the long-range plan for iNat. How sustainable is the current growth rate of the site? Is funding sufficient at the present time to keep iNat functional for the next few years? Are there other sources of funding on the horizon? Where do you foresee the site being in 5 or 10 years?

Although not directly comparable, the photo storage website Flickr is going through financial issues and has been for some time. Too many “free-riders” and not enough subscribers to Flickr Pro. Since I pay to store thousands of photos on Flickr this is a bit alarming.

Having seen other database platforms that seemed viable go down after several years due to loss of personnel and funding, this issue of sustainability is also a personal concern of mine (as I’m sure it is of other users) and is often in the back of my mind when I post records in iNat.


Hopefully people are not using iNat as a photo backup service.

It is important to remember that iNat’s data (at least the research grade stuff) is also copied into GBIF which hopefully is at least as stable as iNat into the future. It would be nice if iNat would make a stronger effort to standardize their data elements such as annotations and observation fields onto the DarwinCore terminology used by GBIF and other external sources to ensure these data are also portable and can be shared.


I used flickr for some years and can see where their problems started, as already mentioned it’s a photo store, and for me it was unfortunate to see how I chose the best shots while others definitely just uploaded everything they got, it doesn’t have the best design to see photos either and well, everyone can steal your photos even if you choose that they can’t download them.
iNat definitely grows each ear and even if it doesn’t have a pure scientific goal as was stated in another thread this week, still it gathers a lt of pros and amatours, and those who fits in the middle. Photosites rise and fade but theme forums live for 20+ years and I’d prefer to compare iNat with them.


First of all, a huge thank-you to the iNat team! The year in review stats and graphs once again were amazing to see, and the beautiful development of this platform is fantastic to watch while also contributing to the data set.

I strongly support that plea, though I’m not sure if Observation Fields have diversified to such an extent that there’s no point in structuring these across the iNat network.


I think the Flickr issue wasn’t just that people weren’t paying. They did some kind of weird bait and switch stuff where they encouraged people to upload ‘free’ photos and then changed the price after people were invested. Maybe that works on some people but in my case it just pissed me off and i stopped using it. Also they had a really poor (in my opinion) tiering system - you could have barely anything for free, or millions of photos for a lot of money, nothing in between which is what i would have purchased. if anything. And i don’t believe it was ever run as a non profit as iNat is. Which isn’t to say non profits can’t have financial issues, but it’s kind of a different model.


Is iNaturalist database enough protected against a total disaster (piracy or fire)?

Do you have more that one backup (updated at least once a month?), stored at more than one other location?

I heard of someone that got his computer hard drive out of order and, at the same time, his backup hard drive out of order, so that he lost all his data. Personnaly, I have 3 backups of my data, 1 at home, 1 at my father’s place, 1 at the office, updated from time to time, depending on my activity. (And nothing on the cloud… I don’t need it).


I believe, but someone from the staff can verify they are using cloud storage (which I seem to recall is actually donated by Microsoft)

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That was only the final phase. IIRC, Flickr originally had a fairly vibrant, photography-oriented community using its internal forums, sharing photos, and so forth. At some point it got assimilated into Yahoo, and the community features sort of stagnated, while I think they increased the storage limit (maybe as a loss leader to attract users into the Yahoo network?) Community activity more or less withered and it got overtaken by other social media sites and relegated to the status of a file dump. The “bait and switch” came after SmugMug bought it at the fire sale of Yahoo and AOL assets, and apparently they’re still losing money on it, so I don’t expect it to last all that much longer.


Sustainability is definitely a problem. Two of the most popular and useful sites about nudibranchs identification(SeaSlugForum and Nudipixel) are gone.

First one was a forum, made and supported by Bill Rudman, and is among the first and most relevant source of taxonomic information about nudis in the web. SeaSlugForum was discontinued in 2010 due to technical and financial problems, but was luckily archived. Although, It would have been so much better if it continued to work…

Nudipixel was more of iNaturalist-style site, made by enthusiasts. People could upload there their Nudibranchs photos and their ID was supported by experts. Country, month and year were also presented with every photo. Due to abundance of photos and IDs, supported by real experts, this site was very useful for nudibranch identifications, especially for the newbies. I think the photo collection of sea slugs on Nudipxel was larger than all the records of this group on iNat today. But this site gone completely, and not archived at all… And all the work of photographers and experts who contributed to this site has vanished.

It would be very nice to know that our efforts would not simply vanish as many sites on the web. I think that the sites alike are as useful as the libraries and should be supported by the government on a permanent base, but this is likely not yet the case…


I’m sorry I even mentioned Flickr since it is a very different web platform. The point I was trying to make is that any website created to store and manage large amounts of (photo) data and that lacks reliable funding and support is potentially unsustainable … which means a lot of work by a lot of people could evaporate if or when it fails. The SeaSlugForum and Nudipixel sites mentioned above sound like better examples (and a warning).

I just hope the iNat team is thinking long-term. Better to plan now than when problems arise.


I backup on the other side of the planet (China vs USA), but nuclear war will eventually make most things a mote point.

I would like to see (and this is a pie in the sky), that anyone wanting to create a platform like INat, first look at what is out there. Instead of re-creating the wheel, add their funding in to improve the wheel.

With a platform like INat (or equivalent) where it allows you to customize so much, it could easily be used for just about everything.

From what I have seen on this platform the INat team would look at any way to improve this site, and accommodate other fields of interest.

This would assist in pooling resources for the greater benefit of all users, both amateur and professionals alike.


I agree with this. Smaller, specialized on-line databases are probably most vulnerable to going extinct after a few years as people move on (or pass on) and funding disappears. The bigger and more diverse (and more useful to more people/programs) a platform like iNat can become, the better chance it will survive for many years. We need to make it too big to fail.


Careful what you wish for. I was on Google Plus. All gone!


hmmm… generally, i don’t disagree. but what exactly is the thing that makes iNaturalist what it is? why did this person post this thirsty koala sipping a cyclist’s water to Instagram instead of iNaturalist? if there was a way to extend Instagram so that you could get organism identifications and data for research, would you still need iNaturalist?

funding and infrastructure are important, but i think it’s usually the vision and the people that execute that vision (including the community) that are the things that differentiate between success and failure.

the specific community here, and the amazing database and data visualization tools, are far beyond anything Instagram would ever provide for tracking organisms.


Sure you’ll need iNat anyway, Instagram has a whole different purpose, not many people would enjoy tons of your not the best nature photos, even now when you post a lot at once you get comments to stop, think about posting 50+ observations a day.


Here I saw fears - whether Inat will close?
Of course, it depends on money, on management.
Perhaps from something else that is not clear now.
Inat is very good. It looks like a very successful project.
I hope Inat will develop. I wish this for inat.

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Yes, agreed, but in reality you also need consistent funding sources to retain staff and infrastructure to keep anything like iNat going long-term. It would be helpful if iNat staff could tell us how they see things proceeding over the next decade or more, how donations from iNat users are being applied, and what other funding sources are being used now or may be available in the future.


Everyone who is able and willing can also start making donations to iNaturalist, they have a monthly donation option now and I don’t believe there’s a minimum amount requirement so you can just chip in a few bucks a month to help keep things running.

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