Proposal for ID Hackathon

iNat is really convenient to organize and conduct BioBlitz. I feel we could build some muscle on making iNat a go-to platform for IDBlitz or IDathon, if you will.

Any thoughts?


I like the idea! The number of observations needing IDs can seem overwhelming at times. It can be a lonely pursuit working away on them, which suits some people (like myself) but not everyone. An event focusing on the ‘how-to’s’ and etiquette of identification might encourage more users to try it, too.

I think it would be the kind of thing to organise during the Northern Hemisphere winter, when there often seems to be a slow-down in the numbers of observations being added.

I wonder if it could be promoted within other social media and places like research institutions and universities, to get more experts involved in sharing their knowledge, even if only for the duration of an event.


It’s a fun idea. One obstacle would be the frequently-discussed issue that a person can get credit for an ID by agreeing with already-suggested ID’s. An “IDathon” would tempt contestants to do a lot of those without even looking at them, and that would create a worse mess than leaving them un-identified. So we couldn’t go there unless someone could figure out a way around that issue.


I would suggest that when promoting it avoiding any focus on the number of ids or having any tables of how many ids people made would help.


Or, it could be an Unknowns+Life ID-a-thon. That allows for the largest possible set of participants, and you can track communal progress (total Unknowns IDed) rather than individual.

Also, if we can get staff on board, maybe we can make this an annual end of year event. Pick a weekend in December or something.


i like the focus on identification, but honestly, i think that an annual effort for mass identification would not be ideal process-wise, unless the idea was that on a given day, experts all over the world devoted a day (or maybe a weekend) to hosting virtual meetings that showed others how to identify things. so for example, imagine that on that day, you could get expert advice on how to identify all sorts of things and to ask experts all the questions you had about a given taxon or taxa in a place, and then all those virtual meeting videos could then be turned into online references thereafter…

the reason i think a mass identification session would not be ideal process-wise is that most people would just start identifying with the default settings, which would mean you could potentially have lots of people starting at the same time all going after the same observations. sure, that could be solved by asking folks to use certain settings, but then you still have the problem of system slowdown if many people are identifying all at once, and i think that would be a frustrating first experience for many new identifiers. (there may even be technical issues if you try to, say, host an identification party at your house. you may all end up using the same internet connection, and it’s possible that that could cause unexpected issues…)

also, i think human learning works better with incremental efforts. it’s one thing to have folks who are already expert identifiers come in one one day and do a lot of identification, but it’s another thing for unexperienced identifiers to try to ramp up their identification skills in a very short period of time. i think it’s better to process to ask identifiers to do small chunks frequently, and add to the things they are able to reliably identify gradually over time. so, for example, you could ask folks to identify something entirely once a week – #IdentiFriday maybe? – so that they can reliably identify 52 new things by the end of the year. or you could go with an approach of asking folks to try to identify 3 observations a day. that doesn’t sound like much, but if you can increase the number of people who are willing to identify based on setting a low bar like that, then that could still end up being very significant overall identification capacity.

i think if you are going to have mass identification sessions, most of these really should be attached to the BioBlitzes that often generate the observations. every BioBlitz organizer needs to be encouraged to think about recruiting identifiers, not just observers and to devote a day or two at the end of each BioBlitz just for identification.


Agreed. There are tons of identifications that can be made with little expertise. Just requires engagement. (insect, arthropod, plant, fish, bird, etc.) People get anxious about the idea of mass identifications somehow equating to inaccuracy, but I worry that attitude’s more of a deterrent than a precaution. If one simply wanted to see numbers go up one could deal with unknowns without any malign.
Or even do basic things like bringing kingdom to class. There’s a niche here for almost any skill level.


OK, have a bunch of disjointed thoughts y’all:

It might be fun to talk over one of the iNat Discord chats while doing IDs. In smaller sub-groups ideally so that chat doesn’t get crowded.

Sometimes these sorts of events are multi-day, with optional learning workshops available. I’d be happy to lead a beginners’ general-ID or moderate-level plants-ID lesson.

I’ve managed volunteers before, and you generally get two types: those who show up once for a bigger group event, and those who decide they really enjoy the work and stick around. 90%+ of volunteers will be in the first group. It’s the source for the regulars, so you want to engage them as best you can, but at the end of the day it is intrinsic motivation, not extrinsic, that makes people stick around.
I love myself a leaderboard, to be sure, and I love watching that ID number tick up. But I’m a power identifier because I love doing it. I love helping people, I love learning about nature, and I love the iNat community. If it were just about getting a high score I would have burnt out and left a long time ago.

The server burden might be a good reason to get staff support. If they know it’s coming, they can probably prepare accordingly.

Also, I’d HIGHLY suggest that everyone participating set Sort Order --> Random so as to avoid overlap/crowding. We can just make sure that all relevant links include the sort-by-random setting baked in.

Human learning is absolutely about incremental effort. But honestly… I think teaching people how to do IDs is another topic. That’s why we’d want people to focus on Unknowns. People who get a taste for IDs and want to learn more can attend follow-up sessions, e.g. ''Let’s Clean up Kingdom Animalia".


At the end of last year the folks in the US State of Illinois made a concerted effort to tackle our “unknowns” and got them down to near zero (there will always be some in that category). We didn’t have leaderboards, but we could see the count of “unknowns” drop as we collectively tackled them. I could participate even as someone without a lot of knowledge because I could generally recognize a broad category (“that’s a butterfly or moth”) and if I was wrong, it was at a high level so not at risk of becoming research grade with a careless agree (“oops that was really a sawfly larva not a lepidoptera caterpillar”) Tackling “unknowns” might not immediately reduce the number of “needs ID” but with some categories it really helps (bird and butterfly folks seem to identify things as soon as you put them in their bucket so I may not get them out of needs ID but I got them to the people who did).


I really like this idea. The more observations gotten off of the “Unknown” board the better!


We are currently in a Southern Hemisphere Bioblitz.
Plenty to ID.

I also wonder why some people have a HUGE number of obs, but NO IDs. Surely they can ID something at some level sometimes? They are here on iNat, they are observing nature …


Oh I love that background photo, are those Morea? The radiate ones that used to be called something else… sorry, off topic for the thread.

I do like this idea and I agree the unknowns are a good focus. I wonder, if the iNat blog mentioned an effort to reduce unknowns, would that maybe inspire users to post less of them in the first place? We can dream.


Perhaps iNat will make draft mode possible, for the ones who are coming back later to ID

Background photo might be Australian? Colour could be Moraea flaccida, but don’t usually see them so densely together?

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Moderators / iNat Staff,
It seems we have a quorum who like this concept in general and some who suggest to proceed cautiously. Is it possible to bump this up to a Feature Request or would you like me to post a new thread?

Well, yes… It’s just that there are a fair number of intimidating instructions and commentary on IDing. I occasionally have taken a stab at Unknowns, but with some feelings of trepidation over all the strong feelings around incorrect IDs.


I understand that initial hesitation (especially if you are snarled at!)

But it can be SO fascinating and intriguing, if you follow your notifications.
It is a learning curve, another aspect of honing your observation skills.

But I am very wary of trying to help out away from my Cape Town and fynbos comfort zone.


iNat doesn’t coordinate bioblitzes or other events (including the City Nature Challenge) - anyone can create a project or journal post to use it as a platform for their own events or calls to action though. What would the feature request entail?


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Hey guys! I made a thing! Check it out.

Announcing the 2021 ID-a-thon (all welcome)