New User Confusion

“I have submitted images to iNaturalist before, but thought you needed to know what they are? And it seemed a little time consuming to put in all the details they require?”

I reached out to a photographer I know and suggested that they contribute to iNaturalist, and that was their response. I figured this would be the sort of negative feedback that the administrators here would benefit from hearing. There is apparently a need to improve the onboarding process here.


My experience as a newbie user here (less than a month I’ve been using the platform) is that it’s fairly easy to add records - the date and location are usually generated from the photos themselves, so you don’t need to input them manually (of course, I’ve had some that were made a long time ago that didn’t have the needed metadata, so I had to input the location and date manually, but that’s rarely, rarely the case). As far as the species - the AI behind the platform seems to be doing a great job at least for suggesting a possible genus, so one doesn’t need to be an expert to post a suggestion, and of course, a user can always leave the record as unknown and wait for a fellow expert user to help with identification.


It’s clear the person didn’t spend enough time to learn the website work, just telling them that they can add a high taxon rank and save their pinned locations is what can solve their problems. There’re tutorial vids and graphics to learn that.


I think Joe’s comment was more to let iNat know about some of the feedback from users/potential users which is valuable information. I agree that the statements are misconceptions or based on unknown knowledge but there are ways that iNat can structure things to make these more apparent (for example automatic, quick tutorials when you sign up or otherwise, I forget if these are included as I signed up so long ago). As someone who is president of a bird club mostly comprised of people much older than I, I understand the accommodations that need to be made and challenges that come with that in terms of helping those who are less tech savvy to understand the way things work.

In this instance the person is a photographer who is probably using a DSLR or other dedicated camera which does not have built-in GPS. He may be thinking he has to manually add locations to each photo rather than being able to select them all and add a location or area for the bunch, or for the lazy like me, buy an attachment for your camera that add GPS location to the metadata automatically. This can be very time consuming if you don’t know the other, faster methods, so the issue is not necessarily with the iNat workflow, it’s more making things more apparent to the end-user.

Overall though, all of this is very positive. Being presented with this feedback and when warranted reacting and making changes has potential to increase your user count and participation, and diversify your audience. You can’t fix what you don’t know, so being made aware is the first step in the process.


My reaction to that is perhaps the photographer is used to sharing photos on sites where it is about the photography skills?
Then the time consuming details are not relevant away from iNat. We each choose which social media works for us and speaks to our own view of the world.
To me the what is it and where, comes before that is an absolutely outstanding photo.


The photographer is actually a pretty avid naturalist and regularly submits to a facebook ID group. I was surprised when they mentioned their aversion iNaturalist.


Or leave a coarse ID, as @fffffffff said, instead of unknown (pretty please). :slightly_smiling_face:

Oh, thank goodness!


There’s a lot of defensive replies but honest negative criticism is rare and is always valuable, even if it is based on a misconception. So it’s pointless to suggest what the new user is doing wrong, or not doing, or not understanding.

If it’s important to get more users, improve the “onboarding” process; if it’s not important, accept that you’ll lose some when they download the app and reach the “now what?” dead end.


Can you maybe tease out, what tangible differences they perceive that make iNat harder than FB? Is it that iNat takes that little bit longer to submit, with the needed details?

Again, my experience is that FB can slide into nasty arguments. Is. Is NOT. … Whereas the same discussion plays out on iNat ever so politely.

@ourmikegeorge Defensive? No. iNat is about observing nature first (so there is a learning curve) and social media second. We would like observers to come back to follow the ID trail and read notifications. The link dumping abandoned orphans add more noise and less signal. Speaking from my own lesson learned here.

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This was already pointed out but please don’t counsel observers to submit observations without an ID. The system should strongly discourage such behavior.

Assuming the observation has an observed date and location (which are separate topics, I think), here are three important tips for observers:

  1. Add an approximate ID at the time the photos are uploaded to iNat
  2. Avoid over-specifying the ID
  3. Do not automatically agree with the first positive ID that comes along

Apart from adding an ID to begin with, these best practices require little or no extra effort on the part of the observer.


the app itself says no biggie about adding an ID.


Some people can’t learn new ways, I don’t know who suffers from that the most, those people or we who would like to see their data and to see them in the community. I’ve seen people saying it’s to hard for them and I clearly see they hardly tried, it’s ok, maybe with time they will come back and see how they can participate. Keep showing your own example to people and when they’ll be surrounded by iNatters it would be impossible not to join. hah, kinda villain-y, but same happened to Facebook, local people refused to join it, now almost everyone is there.


just a couple of random thoughts while reading this thread.

I was, by nature, someone who wanted to always do things the right way. And that (to me) meant understanding all the guidelines, processes, and rules before I did anything. I also lived a few decades before computers and the internet.

While trying to find how to do computing and interneting, I got some guidance from my children and from younger friends I met online. One of the things I had to learn to do was just to jump in. Sometimes, you can break things by mucking around. But lots of times, no harm is done and things can be fixed. That was a leap for me and may be for other people. Just something to keep in mind. Some of us have a strong history of what I call analog mindset in a digital world. We have to work to switch our natural tendencies.

I can remember participating for the first time in a wiki. To get me started, my patient younger colleague gave me a few initial steps to do then said, “You can’t break anything. Don’t worry. Any mistake you might make can be fixed.” That mindset helped a LOT in my jumping into this foreign world.

Later, I went on to develop and manage my own wiki set up. I worked hard at trying to give people the info they needed without overwhelming them. And by reassuring them, ‘no mistake is unrecoverable’.

When I considered joining iNat, my first reaction was ‘too much to figure out, I’ll just keep doing things on my own and use this site as a resource’. But I was kind of motivated to join so I dug in to ‘figure things out’.

I started by trying to read all the rules and guidelines and set up, and - honest feedback here: I found it too overwhelming and bit disorganized. One step didn’t lead naturally to the next for me. If I had a question, I couldn’t easily find an answer. I tried doing site searches for answers and got up so many hits, many unrelated to my question, that I deemed it not a good ratio of time spent vs knowledge gained. I thought back to my own wiki and wondered how much info was too much not to be overwhelming.

So, I thought, just let me try making an observation without reading all that stuff and making sure I did it right. And I did. I think I might have seen an issue with a few right off the bat. I saw I left something off that made a difference so I deleted the obs and reuploaded it. Or I couldn’t figure out why someone said ‘plant’ on one of my observations till I realized I hadn’t put in my own suggestion (or hadn’t done it right so it didn’t ‘take’). Then I dragged four photos of the same insect into the upload screen and got four observations and someone asked me to combine them.

Slowly, I figured more and more things out but I did them by trying stuff and fixing it when it went wrong. I didn’t do it by reading very much of the guidelines or initial information I could find.

In the last month or so, I have figured out how to do some things better - features of the site I didn’t know existed. But I learned those by being active on the forum. To this day, if I wanted to know something I didn’t understand, I would likely search on the forum for an answer and then, if needed, ask here. I find the info presented on the iNat website too hard to find - too hard to narrow in on for just the info I need.

What I did - that someone who leaves after an initial glance at the site didn’t do - was to just jump in and give it a try. And I had a decent amount of motivation to learn something new. Not everyone is comfortable jumping in and giving something a try, especially when it seems like there are lots of ‘parts’ to navigate. And not everyone feels that iNat has something to offer them they can’t do on their own. After a few decades (add these decades up… I’m old) of learning new processes and services and software, I’m done learning new things unless I REALLY want the service. I’m pretty much all about the fun, these days, so if I have to spend more time learning someone’s set up than I spend reaping the benefits from that set up, then I don’t bother. That’s a personal decision and not a reflection on the site, setup, software, etc.

In trying to help other people learn new things (I have been an educator in many venues for many subjects), the bottom line is, someone has to want to learn that thing or it ain’t gonna happen. And I’ve learned to respect that attitude. That’s their choice and I can’t change it. So, some people just aren’t going to grab onto iNat the same way I have (Like one of my friends who wants to learn about and document the wildflowers around her cabin but just can’t jump the hurdle of joining an online site on the internet that she doesn’t understand and isn’t sure how much of a security risk it is for her. Her handbound journal is familiar and comfortable)

But I can do all I can to help it be an easy thing to glide into for anyone with any interest. And, if I would give any feedback on what it was like for me to join iNat, I would say the initial information seemed overwhelming to me. As someone who spent months setting up the tutorials for my wiki project, I know how much time and effort and thought has gone into the information presented for users of iNat. But I didn’t find it easy to get at what I felt I needed and, like I said, just stopped trying to figure out by reading and instead tried to figure it out by doing.

And I have a feeling that an approach like this is not unwelcome by the administration of iNat. But I do think it’s a tad unwelcome by some users of iNat who like order. If the only way I could get my wildflower friend to join iNat is by saying, ‘just upload the photos… don’t worry about putting in an identification… that will come down the road*’ … I would say it in a heartbeat - even knowing that somewhere, some one is groaning at another clueless newbie.

(*both by getting an identification from others and from learning how to do that step next week when they’ve conquered a few initial steps this week).

Because I have learned that, if someone is struggling with fear or anxiety or a conviction they can’t do something, the one thing I can do to help is to break the task into smaller steps and let them conquer the easiest one first. Then we move on to the next.

I’m way too wordy (my online name is Magpie and I earn it by collecting prowess but also by fitting one definition of magpie as: ‘loquacious talker’). But education has been my passion for the majority of my life and I think anything worth talking about is worthy taking a long time to say (so says Treebeard, anyhow).

I think this topic is valuable. I agree that feedback shouldn’t be seen as negative, especially if it was offered as a plain statement of one’s experience. And I always think it’s exciting when people discuss how to convey info in a way that is effective for people who could benefit from that info. :-)


I know some nature photographers who are quite good and some of them regularly submit to Facebook. I’ve encouraged them to submit their pics to iNat, but they have no interest. And trying to get specifics from them on where and when a photo was taken can sometimes be a chore.

Not every nature photographer is inclined to see the importance of the data associated with a photo, such as coordinates. Perhaps they are more into the artistic side than the scientific side of photography and reducing their “art” to a simple record in a database is unsatisfying to them. But I really don’t know.


When I started on INat, around a bioblitz, I was overwhelmed by notifications, and ignored them. Trod on a few angry toes, and have since learned to, keep up at the back.

On social media I remember kind people who took the time to help me (especially when I started blogging) Absolutely not a digital native, I learned my way working at university libraries. Now I feel obliged to pay it forward, to help where I can, answer questions, find those useful links.


And very well worth it in this case! Thank you for sharing some very valuable perspectives that I think the site and all of us can learn from.


I appreciate that you took the time to pass on an outsider perspective. Lots of sites & forums that I have participated on in the past tend to fall into a feedback loop where the the forum, which might only be regularly used by 1% of a site’s users, and then only those most committed, becomes the core venue for feedback. This largely misses out on regular users and privileges the “power users”. And it entirely misses out on those who, for various reasons were somehow excluded by the site. I’m not saying that a site should try to include everyone and be all things to all people, but the voices of those who might be a good fit but weren’t able to get fully onboard are particularly valuable.


I’ve been on iNat for several years and still haven’t read the instructions. No surprise to my wife. I just blunder along. I learn new things from this forum, some of which I actually remember and use. We all figure out things differently.


Check out the Facebook group they are posting to. I’ll bet they are getting dozens to hundreds of “likes” and much discussion around each high quality photo. I belong to several such groups and that’s what some people want/need. I’m usually just an ID’er on those groups, my photos aren’t nearly good enough. On the other hand, iNat posting gives you the satisfaction of contributing to something far more substantial and less ephemeral than Facebook… to say nothing of how amazingly useful it is. That’s what I want/need, and maybe that’s what should be emphasized during the onboarding process?


That’s a good point; I think you’ve hit on the difference. The vast majority of iNat observations receive very minimal attention, and I can see how that would be a turn-off for many.

Actually that was what I was going to reply to Cassi’s note

True, but when you don’t add an ID, your photo gets even less attention, and many newbies already find the lack of attention frustrating.