Overzealous observations

If you were to take this comment https://forum.inaturalist.org/t/overzealous-identification/5975 and change the word “identifications” to “observations” do some of the complaints apply equally?

If your point is to see how many observations you can make, without any concern to the quality of the observation, is that any more helpful/useful than someone who wants to just agree to every ID?

1 - There is no ‘quality’ requirement for observations on iNaturalist. As long as it is a real observation, it is valid. To achieve research grade status, it requires certain parameters (media, date and location).

2 - As long as they are unique individuals (or the same individual at a different time and or place), If someone wants to take the time to document each separate tree in a woodlot, they are fully within the rules and guidelines of the site to do it.

3 - There is no limit to the number of observations a user can submit.

If you feel any or all the above should be changed, then I would suggest adding a feature request that covers your idea.


I have a hard time seeing the legitimacy of this question. An observation is just that - something seen and submitted. The observation COMES WITH an ID and if the ‘overzealous observer’ is overzealously adding an overly specific ID, you could argue that the ID itself added by the observer isn’t ideal. However, there is no requirement for observations themselves to meet any criteria other than the data quality assessment. IDs are very different, because they aren’t just noting the presence of something, they are identifying it. An ID can be wrong but an observation can’t be ‘wrong’ as long as it follows the guidelines of the site.

Just because you don’t see value in something doesn’t mean others don’t. I work in the natural resource/ecology field and we suffer greatly from not having baseline data from 50, 100, 200 years ago. I appreciate all observations that are properly mapped and identified to an appropriate level. Period.


I have been reporting since mid-July. Because I’m working on a couple levels, I do both “first” and “frequency” observations. I feel as though the frequency observations are relevant for researchers that are gathering stats on population peaks and ebbs. I could be wrong. The firsts are for my own information and documentation.

I try to exercise all due diligence on my suggested ids, using outside sources as a last decision rather than relying on iNat contributions. I edit my pictures carefully and try to include shots that are relevant.to others for use their id process. I will continue to make a misidentification here and there, but I’ve been fortunate that I have some people checking up on my work, pointing out my errors, and I try to be appreciative of the learning that takes place as a result.

That being said, I can easily see how misidentifications are a problem. I often wish there were curators available to oversee things.


I can think of one iNat submitter who has submitted hundreds if not thousands of records of a few tree and shrub species from that person’s area. (Added note: the vast majority of these photo records are good pics and diagnostic for the species.) If you look at the dot map for those species, that person’s records alone provide a really good representation of the distributions of those plants. Personally, I would not have the time or patience to have done that, but I can admire the zealousness that effort required.


i think if i were just starting out, i would do just a few first (not hundreds) – just to learn the quirks of the system and the community a bit – and then ramp up over time.

i think overzealousness primarily would apply to relatively edge cases. for example, i would not:

  1. post a bunch of observations from your neighbor’s yard without permission
  2. post a bunch of observations of a threatened species without really thinking about the consequences of poachers (even if you obscure the observations)
  3. post a bunch of photos of, say, a nesting owl with chicks, even if they are not a threatened species.
  4. post of bunch of human or food photos. an occasional one is probably fine though.
  5. post a bunch of unknown things that could be life or not life. it would be better to do a little work upfront and try to figure out whether something is, say, a stone or a pupa first before uploading, i think.
  6. trample through a bunch of stuff just to get a great shot of a common organism
  7. get yourself in a tricky situation out in the field just to get a great shot of something

i’m sure there’s more stuff to not do, but you get the idea…

also beyond that, i think what we’re really trying to do is connect people (including yourself) to nature and build a community. so if you’re annoying a lot of people with your posts somehow, or if you’re not really getting in touch with nature because you’re too busy taking photos, etc., you may not be breaking any rules, but you may not be going down the best path.

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I ask because of some other questions and/or advice that has been asked.
I’m not questioning multiple observations of the same type of organism, provided that it is a quality/useful record.

But for instance I have seen questions on how to get more “experts” involved in IDs.
The poster for “overzealous IDs” finds this frustrating, so to that same type(scientist) of person doesn’t a bad quality observation frustrate as well? If they become frustrated they may lose interest in iNat. On the otherhand iNat says, their main purpose is not necessarily researchers… which may inadvertently be contradictory.

Another comment I have seen is “well iNat is not a site that requires perfect photos for IDs”. OK, but doesn’t a poor quality photo hurt the quality of iNat information overall? My definition of a poor photo, is something that is out of focus or too far away to see details, NOT anything judged on “artistic” quality. Even to a layman trying to research something they saw in their backyard, a poor photo isn’t of much value.

Now, many will argue that well iNat is a citizen science project first and foremost. Then another question posted is “how can we get more people involved?”. But photos of cultivated and/or cultivars of natural species is discouraged to some extent. That in itself may very well discourage new users, who are just trying to figure out what the “tropical foliage” plant they bought at Home Depot is.

I have strayed from my original point but I get the feeling iNat wants to be all things to all people and that may/may not work in the overall scheme. Do not think I am trying to be disparaging to iNat, because I am not.

It may not be more useful/helpful, but incorrect IDs could harm other user’s observations. You may fatigue the identifiers in your area or taxa group but observations are just raw data. IDs are an opinion based on the evidence presented.


I would much rather have lots of observations over incorrect identifications. Each decent observation takes some effort, whereas any user can hit the agree button thousands of times without necessarily knowing anything other than hitting a button.

I often take photos of multiple individuals in a flock and upload them as separate observations. I’ve been scolded by other users for this, but I use these data and for me (and probably for most scientists), you can’t have too many identifiable observations. The observations are easy to subsample, excluding multiple occurrences if that’s what you want.

I haven’t run into users who upload thousands of “bad” observations and I can’t really comprehend a world in which somebody knowingly takes thousands of terrible photos and uploads them just to boost their number of observations. I have uploaded plenty of poor shots, but I only upload ones that I believe are identifiable. More typically it seems somebody will upload 20 or 30 crappy photos of various things (pets, friends, sculptures) for a class project and then delete the app off their phone.


If you have a concrete example please share here or at help@inaturalist.org if you want to keep it private. But outside of a few rare instances (usually involving competition and classes) this hasn’t happened, especially the low quality part. As @cmcheatle and @charlie said, it’s fine to add as many observations as you like as long as they abide by the policies of the site.

The cool thing (again, echoing charlie) is that we simply don’t know what might be useful in the future, as far as data is concerned, so more observations is fine. Rampant misidentifications are significantly more problematic.

iNaturalist can’t ever be everything to all people (we’ve turned down requests over the years that we thought would be beyond the scope and focus of the platform) but we do want it to be a welcoming community for anyone interested in sharing and discussing the wild organisms they’ve found, and a community that produces solid data.

That includes making it (relatively) easy for anyone to post a photo of a wild organism, and for them to interact with others in a civil fashion, which I think has been pretty successful. Not perfect, of course, and compromises have to be made by users and by the platform. Garden plants are a good example. Some observations of garden plants are allowed, but they are not shown by default because the focus of iNat is wild organisms. However, anyone who wants to look at these observations can do so easily.


No it does not, because that would suggest the only value from a record is from the photo.

This https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/10963079 is a truly crap photo (I chose my own record to avoid going down that road), yet I would argue not only is this a valid, acceptable record, but is in fact a valuable one as it represents one of the few documented records of the species.

There seems to be a new trend to suggest that I should have deleted or never posted it.


I wouldn’t call that a poor quality photo at all. It is certainly identifiable. This is a poor quality photo https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/32380272, sorry if my opinion offends anyone, but it is what it is.

Furthermore, if it is a rarer sighting, then certainly a poorer quality photo has more significance, than a poor quality photo of a very common species.

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One of iNaturalist’s goals is to accumulate LOTS of verifiable records of species A at location B at time C, for many species at many locations. This database can be used for numerous purposes, including evaluating changes in ranges over time. Getting LOTS of records takes LOTS of observers.

There is a theoretically simple way to get LOTS of good quality photos. Pay the observers and supervise them to be sure they get paid only when they submit good quality photos. However, practically that requires too much supervision (paid) and way much too much money for photographers.

The observations posted on iNaturalist are donated by volunteers. What motivates volunteers? We do things that we enjoy and consider worthwhile. In other words, we do what we want to do. And we can pick up our marbles and go home. The people in charge of volunteers (I’ve been one) have to keep the volunteers coming back by keeping the work fun and/or feeling very worthwhile. We can try to shape the volunteer work toward what we need most, but we’re going to have to accept some slack, some inefficiency. As long as iNaturalist has server space to store the photos, iNaturalist should accept even poor quality photos, because it keeps people coming back and perhaps posting better ones next time.

(Plus, of course, there is that goal about getting people to look at nature.)


If it’s a poor quality photo, no-one but the observer may be able to tell that it’s a rare species anyway. :)

The best thing you can do in any of these sort of situations is to politely let the observer know that closer, sharper photos are generally always better. If an observer is new to iNat or has little knowledge of biology, they may not know that all photos are not equally useful for identification.

You might also give a friendly encouragement to the observer to keep an eye out for the rare species for next time!


I would see it as ‘quality is in the eye of the beholder’. We can probably all agree on examples of a extremely ‘bad’ photos and extremely ‘good photo’, but the spaces inbetween are where things get murky.

The way I see it, since this is civilian science, it means people will likely be making due with the equipment they have. I started on here with my mid-range quality smart phone and a lack of knowledge. I have a few friends who are starting with less, and I just tell them to post what they can, no matter how terrible they may think it looks. It’s still a record. If someone’s getting an account on here in good faith, I feel they’re a valuable part of the community.

(Of course my perspective is biased due to being in an area where there’s not a whole lot of active iNatters, so I welcome anyone who could make it harder for people to see where I live based on the amount of observations I’ve submitted.)


People don’t post poor photos on purpose. We aren’t all good at photography, we don’t all have good equipment, and even the best of us produce poor photos, some of which we want to post for various reasons (e.g. to support the presence of the species on a bioblitz). I think failure to get an identification can be enough of a discouragement for poor photos.

Here are a couple surprisingly useful really bad photos by an observer who usually takes good photos but also enjoys photographing plants from a moving car, something that tempts me, too. In the first poor photo, I couldn’t ID the tree but the grass in the foreground was identifiable. In the second, identifiers discussed and changed the ID, and I learned something I could apply to other photos.


You never know. Well, almost never.


You could have a $50k camera and still take terrible photos. It requires practice. Even the best photographers will have a few terrible shots for each good one.


Very true! However, some cameras and cell phones that people use for photos on iNaturalist will never take a really good photo, or least never take a good one at the distance the photographer is trying to use it for.

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Although learning the photo app can help a lot! My first photos were very hard to find the subject. I then learned how to crop on the phone. Then getting in focus pictures of spiders was an issue. I then learned how to set it to macro. So my photos have improved tremendously.


I would love to post picture perfect images. But unfortunately, with my current gear it just isn’t possible. I’ve posted some very poor quality images, and often they don’t get much of an ID, understandably. But other times, even with poor quality, we can get good IDs - sometimes they surprise me! And whilst the image might not be a great example of the species, if the IDs are accurate, it adds to data regarding distribution, etc.

Also, some people just like to post what they saw… even if it’s not clear, and thats fine! At worst it doesn’t get to Research Grade. This is why we have filters. :pleading_face: