Motivations -- we don't know them

I want to bring this up as a new topic because the issue comes up again and again, regarding different issues, and it bugs me. (Sorry, bugs – it bothers me.) Concerns are expressed that people are using iNaturalist for the wrong reasons or with the wrong effects. They’re just running up the leaderboards by agreeing with correct identifications! They’re using the computer ID’s without learning anything! They’re posting the same thing over and over, uselessly!

I have two problems with this. First, we don’t know people’s motivations. We see two people suddenly run up leaderboards and get to number one, well above the others. Can we tell the one “gamifying” iNaturalist from the one who is really checking ID’s for a taxon of interest? Not really. We have very little evidence about why people are doing what they do on iNaturalist.

Second, other people’s lives are their responsibility, not ours. Sure, I have opinions about other people’s goals and learning and appreciation of nature, but I don’t see much point in worrying about them. I myself am very interested to learn about to identify some organisms, but not motivated at all to learn others, though I post them if I find them in the course of taking other photos. I think providing data for future scientific work is a great goal of iNaturalist, but for some people iNaturalist is just a way to get a name for a new potted plant. And that’s OK. I try to help people learn and I appreciate others helping me, but as long as they don’t do actual harm, I’m OK with how they use the site.

Let’s worry about how iNaturalist works and how we can improve the data and interactions with the site. Let’s respect the right of other people have to have different goals and interests.


Hear hear.

Add to this all the handwringing about this observation is more important and therefore deserving of one’s time than that. Most observers probably consider their own observations as the most important ones, to them, for their own idiosyncratic reasons. People participating with a wide variety of motivations is one of the strengths of iNaturalist, not to be discouraged.


Well said! I look forward to linking to this post from lots of future topics… :wink:


I really don’t see why anyone needs to know about the motivation of other people. What matters is that they are motivated and interact with the website. Maybe someone just wants to learn how to ID organisms of a given taxon and uses already identified observations for this purpose and just adds another ID while doing so. I rather have 7 more people adding correct IDs to an observation than a single individual disagreeing with a correct ID. I’m wondering how you can tell whether someone who is adding an additional ID is not “really checking ID’s”.

I also don’t understand your second problem. According to what you wrote, your second problem is that other people’s lives are their responsibility, not ours? Honestly, I’m really glad that other people’s lives are not my responsibilty.

What is the point of this thread? Is it just venting? You tell us about the problems you have and in the last sentence you contradict your problems by saying that we should respect the right of other people to have different goals and interests.

1 Like

Is this partly in response to some comments in the top observers thread? If so, I don’t think anyone there is trying to judge the motivations of iNat users. To me, everyone seems pretty explicit in saying otherwise - though the thread touches upon this broader topic. In general there seems to be a few crossed wires in that thread…

This is perhaps the best thing I have read in a long time. One of the first principles of iNat is to assume people mean not harm. If people want to shoot to the top of the leaderboard, or not learn about species, then, yes, that is their motivation. It may cause a bit more work for others (correcting id’s etc), but so what. In the larger scheme of things, this is not a research project.


Well, there is a fair amount of whinging about what others on iNat should or should not do. Some of it quite heartfelt and very “logically” reasoned out.

But, people, in all their many aspects, come to iNaturalist from a very many different points of view.

I think this take on it is very refreshing. Thank you @sedgequeen and all the other posters who reinforced this POI.


There might be a bit of a misunderstanding: the last 3 sentences of sedgequeen’s post are example opinions sometimes stated by other people - not sedgequeen herself. And I don’t think she is saying that there is any problem with other people’s lives being their own responsibility. :)


Yeah, I think I misunderstood.


Interesting. I did not even know there was such a thing as leaderboards. Is there a way to avoid them? I often agree with research grade observations because it saves time (e.g. when I go through all observations of one species).


I don’t think you can avoid them, but they aren’t a problem as long as you don’t take them too seriously.


On any observation which is identified in some way, on the lower R will be a list of people who have identified the organism, from most to least. It is a useful way to find people who may know the Taxon and to ask for some help with identification. However, it is not a guarantee - I’m at the top of the leaderboard for many Canadian noctuid moths, but I am not always a reliable resource. I might go through a backlog of observations of a species, but in six months forget the pertinent features. As @sedgequeen says, it is not always a reliable tool. However, one gets used to who knows what if it is used enough. I know who to contact for confirmation of which species. Some people ‘game’ the system by identifying observations to get to the top, no matter if they know the species or not. Personally, I have never encountered this, but I suppose from comments that it is a bit of a problem.


Agreed! Well said.


‘Posting the same thing over and over’ seems to be a gripe. I’d like to know people mean by that. I often post the same species over and over, sometimes knowingly and sometimes in complete ignorance. I’m into ephemeral fungi that last only a few hours. I often post a particular species as it presents on different days, from different or the same locations. The iNat site even encourages that. And, if you ask me, it’s good to know where xyz species occur in the world. Are they site specific to that one place? Or like the Schizophyllum commune, do they occur in six continents?

The Psathyrella family has recently suffered a total upheaval where many genera have been renamed and or re-assigned. Posting again and again…or say rather sharing again and again…allows interested people to start a conversation. It’s a way of learning the new names, and making unknown species public.


I think what you are doing is admirable! I don’t think that is the kind of activity that seems problematic for some.


Welcome to the Forum!

I have lots of posts of Black capped Chickadees, White Breasted Nuthatches, and Hairy/Downy Woodpeckers. 2 reasons - in our winters that’s basically all that’s around. And I want to document them through time.


Forgive me if I´m wrong @sedgequeen,
…but as I read it @rita-de-heer , this part of the original post is paraphrasing parts of a parallel thread. …and if it is… I think it’s misconstruing the forum posters in dialogue there as having this gripe… even though myself (and @bazwal) are both quite explicit in saying we pass no negative judgement on this action (we are just discussing it in the context of leaderboards as a way one might attain higher numbers of obs per day ).

Indeed it’s something I myself do fairly regularly too. So… I wouldn’t worry much about the specifics of what is being mentioned here. I’m not sure repeat posting of species is something I’ve ever seen other people discuss as an issue anywhere on the forum. To me, this appears to be just some crossed wires.


I think maybe you have misinterpreted what sedgequeen has said? The way I read her post, she is saying the same thing you are.

She has summed up what she regularly sees other users gripe about, and has refuted by saying; its non of our business what their motivation is, and that ultimately they are still contributing data.

Her problem is that other people are griping about it.
Her last sentence isn’t contradicting that, it summarizing her point


I post lots of observations of the same species. In my mind it helps to record their distribution and alludes to their population density, or prevalence at certain times of year.

I’d argue only posting one of a species is more akin to leaderboarding as many different species as possible, without actually giving in depth information for any of them other than a single species in a single location in a single point in time