Open letter of apology for once being a reckless user

Hello, this is my first post on the forum and honestly may be a weird one to make, but I thought it has an important message, especially because of how much concern goes around about potential misuse of iNaturalist.

When I first started using iNaturalist, it was because it was advertised to me on Twitter, I think, as a way to simply figure out what stuff was, through the computer vision, on the app. (I should also add, it was not being advertised by anybody associated with iNaturalist. It was a thread of sorts, probably made by a young person. It listed environmental-related apps, with brief overview.) Obviously, that is not what the sole purpose of the site and app is. I did not know that though, and downloaded the app, unaware the website even existed. There really isn’t a whole lot of info on the app, which I personally like the simplicity of, but as a new user, I just didn’t really understand the depth of anything I was doing. That being said, I wasn’t aware anybody other than myself would be looking at anything.

I feel very ashamed of this, but admittedly, I did not use my own images usually. I was using the app as a way to just figure out what certain pictures were, and very rarely were they pictures I took that I was using. Instead of using iNaturalist as a way to interact with MY surroundings, I was using it as a way to basically just see what other things were. With this type of mentality, I began using it to educate my kids on what certain animals are, still, completely unaware other people saw any of it or that anything would be used for data.

I let my kids use it, who were definitely too young according to guidelines, which, naturally, I had no idea existed. This is all very embarrassing for me to admit but I feel like I am not the only person who didn’t know what they were doing, which is why I feel like outwardly taking ownership for it. My kids used it exactly how I used it, which is the incorrect way. Very rarely adding location or date, just a picture and the guessed identification. This must’ve caused quite an upset with many people, but I was completely unaware.

I am sure MANY clues were given that this was not the purpose of the app, but I guess I was just inconsiderate and didn’t pay much mind to it. I do not remember at any point being aware of the actual purpose, which is solely my fault. I was really reckless and didn’t understand the purpose of the app. I didn’t use any of the functions other than the suggestions, so I never looked at comments until AFTER my account was suspended. Admittedly, it dawned on me immediately after that I should have been more careful and that it was foolish of me to assume I could just use it however I felt.

Anyhow, once my account was suspended, I FINALLY, looked up the “app” on Google, discovered there was a website, a messages feature and that MANY people had sent me messages instructing me to stop using it how I was using it. So the community did it’s part, but I did not.

So I cleaned my act up, and learned how it’s supposed to be used. Admittedly, not all of my observations are great, and I do still allow my kids to use my account for exploring places or figuring out what species are based on the suggestions, but I do not ever post them, as they aren’t mine. My son especially loves this site. He is 11, and autistic. I mention his autism because the repetition of making observations and documenting things makes him really happy. He loves taking pictures when we go places and I upload those, and he loves to see the data go up and hopefully contribute to somebody somewhere. So, my account is nowhere near perfect, but I am VERY careful about following guidelines and doing things in an appropriate manner. I feel ridiculously idiotic for not understanding the purpose of the app and site, and for not caring to take a closer look. That is 100% my fault, and I am so sincerely sorry for trouble I undoubtedly once caused.

I understand how some people don’t understand certain parts, as I was once there. iNaturalist is extremely accessible and clear, I just didn’t put the effort in and I, again, am so sorry for that. To everybody, because it truly does negatively impact others when mistakes become serial and don’t stop. I want to thank everybody for being so kind to me, those who dealt with my account as a negative one, or those who help contribute to my positive observations, moderators, everybody. Having messed up so bad made me really dive deep, and it is a much better community and site when it is used properly, I’ll tell you that.

I just wanted to get it out there. I feel immense guilt, but know that I am no longer in that position. It also may be helpful to see how potentially unaware some users are, even as grown adults, as embarrassing as it may be for us to admit it. Anyways, thanks for reading if anybody does and hopefully I don’t come off too silly.

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While I appreciate your diligence and respect for the iNat community, I hope I speak for the vast majority of iNat users that you shouldn’t feel saddled with “immense guilt”. Community science databases are strange and many kinds of users with different histories are present – including those not typically represented in more 'academic data sets." I think all of us curators and long-time users are pretty used to the anthropological foibles of the platform at this point, and have learned what is truly important to the concept of ‘data quality’. Welcome to iNat!

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I learned my lesson over a year ago, and have been using it in a dignified way since then, so I wouldn’t really consider myself new by any means but to the forums I am. That’s another thing I didn’t understand immediately. I was using the forum not logged into an account, unaware that I would have to make one. I guess I do a lot more embarrassing things than I would like to say, but I guess it feels good to say it. I do feel less guilty knowing I’ve contributed more positively than negatively at this point, but I basically did ALL the wrong stuff at first.

I feel like without saying such, some people may just remember me for that bad usage, with no trace of remorse from me anywhere.

Thank you though. I do hope that vast users feel similarly, because I’d like to think, since I experienced it from that perspective, I tend to enjoy helping seemingly confused users more than some people do. And I believe they do deserve some help in the right direction, as the misuse is probably accidental, like mine.

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Welcome back to iNaturalist then! If I put myself in your shoes, I can definitely see how tempting it is to use the website/app to simply fulfill a general curiosity and figure out what this flower is, or what this strange bug is.

But every user uses iNat in their own way, some like the hobby of just documenting their findings, others like to focus more on the identification side.

So please continue using iNaturalist, and use that as a platform to encourage you and your son’s growing interests in the natural world. Remember, no matter how poor quality the photos might be, those are your observations that you share with all of us, it is us who gets a glimpse of what you see.

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I think it’s all fine and hope you would not feel such a burden - if you do, the burden is shared. :relaxed:

I’ve read many times that the staff hope to someday implement “improved onboarding” for new users. Until such new techniques or features are implemented, it should be understood and ~accepted~ that new users will have their own ideas about how the site and features work.

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Hey Dallon, nice to see you here.

Your experience does reflect the fact that with something so multifaceted as iNat there are bound to be misunderstandings of the purpose and relationships between things like apps, websites etc. I think these days hopefully a lot of the activity like you describe early on is directed to the Seek app instead (though I personally don’t know a lot about that). It’s definitely not unusual for folks to really only know of iNat as another app that automatically identifies things. There are a lot of users who misuse the tools and then just bounce, leaving others to clean things up. You’ve stuck around and made it right.

I don’t think you should feel guilty about letting your kids use your account (the right way) or even letting them post observations through your account- age restriction guidelines are really there to protect kids from the dangers of strangers on the internet, which they’d be more vulnerable to with their own accounts- but if they’re using using your account you have oversight of any issues like that. It’s great that your son gets something out of using iNat, the “neurodiversity and inaturalist” thread here in the forum attests to the fact that many people on the spectrum find iNaturalist a very rewarding activity.

Not sure if you know this, but there’s a specific term some iNat users have for posting lots of observations taken from a moving car, which I’ve gotten the impression you do a bit of. I can’t remember what it is though. One of NY state’s most prolific observers, Astrobirder, does a lot of that. Sometimes it can get annoying to have to go through correcting a hundred blurry trees, but on the flipside it does build up good distribution data over time.

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As a long time educator, it hurts my heart to see people agonizing so over mistakes. Mistakes are part of learning - for all parties. You kept saying you were 100% at fault but also that you didn’t understand the depth of the service and never knew those were messages. That’s a learning opportunity for iNaturalist, not just you.

A good friend once told me, shame is never a good motivator. And many people on this forum have said (many times), we don’t know the intent of any user so let’s all assume the best and not the worst. It’s easy to forgive someone who learns and grows. Thanks for the apology and explanation but don’t let shame linger any longer.

So, with that said: I’m glad you’re continuing to use and enjoy the site. You wrote, “not all of my observations are great,”. If you’re worried about the quality, don’t. I post blurry pictures, pictures of sidewalk weeds and common insect pests. I even post pictures of animal holes in the ground, old bird nests, gnawed beaver trees and poop on the path (when I’m quite sure it isn’t domestic dog poop!). Some photos will be unidentifiable but if I get an idea or a suggestion of what it might be, it makes me happy. And all ‘poor’ photos teach me how to get better photos for identifications.

Mostly I’m excited for you because I KNOW how much more fun it will be for you and your family going forward. I have become much more observant of nature… much more knowledgeable of nature… and much more appreciative, protective and even a little worried about nature. That’s the goal of the site and I think you’ve got some fun times ahead of you as you use iNat more and more.

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There’s this project: Road iNatting
https://www.inaturalist.org/projects/road-inatting

and someone (on this forum?) once linked to this pdf:
https://theprairieecologist.files.wordpress.com/2020/01/a-field-guide-to-roadside-wildflowers-at-full-speed_january2020-1.pdf

old thread:
https://forum.inaturalist.org/t/observations-of-trees-taken-from-moving-vehicles/21598/2

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I’m glad you stuck around and iNaturalist is working for you and your son. Posting lots of photos of the same common species has value in this changing world. I’m glad your son is into that.

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There was a particular vernacular name for the process though (I think from discussion on a discord server? That’s a dimension of the community I’m not really familiar with) that was named after a particular user, verb-ing their username, sort of like “redpolling” became a term for a particular activity.

That sounds great that you get to use iNaturalist with your children and that your son is getting so much out of it.

As other users stated, citizen science apps like iNaturalist just “naturally” are not something most people are accustomed to, and I am sure a plethora of users start out similar to how you do. I think most identifiers/curators are understanding of that and so we try leave comments that help point new users to tips and guidelines so to help them understand, although I know a few get tired of it. But I don’t think its anything to be guilty about forever. I think you working towards using iNat the “intended” way makes up for anything prior as you and your family are helping add to the data.

Now that you are where you are, you can help others too.

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Pay it forward, especially when you see someone new on iNat. TBH I think we all floundered at first.
That is why you will see lots of forum posts
How do I …
Why does …
Can someone remind me where this is hidden (reorder photos for example)

You may find this thread interesting. I did, and it continues to unfold as new people find it. Fair warning - It is long
https://forum.inaturalist.org/t/neurodiversity-and-inaturalist/17268

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That mostly shows how adding message function to the app (at least it’s on android now) should’ve been done long before, yes, as you see on your own example, people who start with an app are ones we see more “problematic” use from, it’s not their or your fault, but the way community advertises the app and how app lacks a lot of what website and forum has, I think main part of how not to get into any trouble on iNat is to start with website and read everything you can on the forum, it’s like you don’t get even half of website functionality and non-written rules without forum. So, we as who tell others about it, should make accents on how it is a compilation of cv and community and how you need to go to the website, that’s what I try to tell those interested in what I’m doing.

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Agreed. The app is often spoken about in isolation from the website as the thing to join and even I have been guilty of it, but the website has infinitely more features than the app (I can’t believe you can’t even see messages on the app) to the point where the website should be what’s advertised instead. At least until the app improves to nearly its level.

I somewhat begrudgingly use the app for two purposes: 1, getting a genus-level ID of a plant in the field when I just can’t wait until I get home to find out; and 2, uploading all the photos I took from my phone, which is the important feature for me. Every other aspect of iNaturalist - exploring, identifying, conversing - practically must take place on the website. Whenever I talk about how much I love iNaturalist, I’m really talking about iNaturalist the website.

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“Ethaning” :wink:

OP, very kind of you to apologize but most important, as many others have said, is learning from them.

And even if you were still making the mistakes you’re feeding your son’s interest in nature so you get a pass! We’re all really glad you and your son are into the site.

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Now I use website for phone photos, upload everything from the phone (also allows having memory not at 97% all the time and no need to delete anything) to my laptop and then can upload everything from the day in 2-4 batches instead of spending the whole evening uploading one by one via app, but yeah, I also use it to id something quick if it’s a cool interesting plant or use for birdsongs that don’t require better than phone quality.)

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Every time I get the opportunity to tell someone about iNat, I always make sure to emphasize the extremely better functionality of the website. And, you are spot on with everything else you’ve mentioned about iNat.

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Wow! Thank you for the heartfelt write-up @dallonweekes. I don’t think that you should beat yourself up over it. Not many people would have the courage to admit they made mistakes and own up to it - I am impressed! Thanks for sharing.

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Thank you! I don’t want to blame myself too much because there is a major lacking of information on the app, but again, I dig the simplicity, as much as it did hinder me initially. It’s easy to use, as long as you know how to use it.

I’ll admit, I’m not sure if that last bit is in a “all the lousy pictures will be fully visible to everybody” or as in, “even the lousy quality ones are making a contribution”. Either way, that type of individuality is definitely preserved on this site which is fantastic.

My mentality with low quality or blurry pictures is, if I know what it was or I believe that somebody else can decipher at least a general idea of what it is, it’s upload-able with good reason, especially since pictures aren’t technically even a requirement.

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I would argue that there’s essentially no major guidance on the app, though it all seems very obvious to me now, I think it’s clear that it could be very conflicting or unclear to others. I think it’s great that it’s something people talk about, which is why I wanted to make the post explaining my mistakes, because I think I am not the only one who could learn from it.

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