Records on iNat that are of "no value" because they're not identifiable

Just curious if anyone has a feel for what percentage of photo-records submitted to iNat are of “no value” because the photo is too poor to ID the subject to genus-level or even to a higher taxonomic level. In some cases, there is no subject that can be discerned. I seem to see a lot of submitted records from my area, typically IDed as “unknown,” that will stay unidentified because the photo is too poor. To me, these records clutter the database and would seem to eat up a lot of storage (especially when there are several pics in a record, all bad), although perhaps this is not an issue.


I have wondered about this as well. I suppose that it is to encourage new folks to use the site and learn to post better photos. However, some are so hopelessly inadequate, I feel that some frassing (like BugGuide does) would be appropriate. Perhaps if a posting is disposed, a note could immediately be sent to the poster explaining that the quality was too poor to be identified and please learn how to use the camera or phone’s focus and cropping tools?


I don’t know, but it’s been bothering me a lot too. I’ve seen a lot, especially of birds, that are just tiny blobs in the distance.


Well, here’s a discussion of how people can find such records salvageable:

And here’s an example approach to the general decluttering process:

Further, if an expert comes by later and sees that an observation wouldn’t be able to get farther along toward research-grade id (say some key field marks are not visible, or it needs microscopy), they can always mark it as “as good as it can get” and it will get filed as appropriate.


iNaturalist is a platform for helping to connect people to nature first, and a database second. If iNat caused these people to slow down for a second and pay attention to a non-human organism when they might not have otherwise, then these observations have value. If the observation serves as a reason for helpful, more experienced naturalists to invite the person to take clearer, better-focused pictures in the future, then the observations have value. If receiving that kind of feedback causes the person to look out for the same organism in the future, thereby developing a relationship with a non-human species, then the observation has value.

Do these kinds of positive outcomes happen with every blurry pic of a potted plant? No, but we should always remember that they can. I feel the same frustration with these kinds of contributions, but there’s always more going on than what we can discern from evidence left on the Internet.

And again, the data iNat produces is a byproduct. If it’s messy but people are outside looking at stuff, then the system is fulfilling its purpose. For those of us who care about the utility of the data, we have tools for assessing the data quality of each record, and they handle most situations like the one you describe.


I agree with kueda and to add some more points:
One is allowed medialess obs on iNat so it isn’t compulsory to have IDable images. Some obs are simply a person’s record of their sighting, so it might be a blurred bird that they confirmed with binocs.
As for obs that can only be ID’d to genus level, that’s an enviable level, even with great photographs, for difficult genera which have spp that one cannot tell apart. Bearing that in mind, so what if a blurry bird or butterfly image can’t be ID’d past genus? It is still a record of the genus.
Or look at it this way: A blurry photograph that looks like it could be something exciting is very useful as it tells ppl were to go to get better images.


Thanks for the various comments. I suppose if iNat staff don’t see these records as being a problem, then I shouldn’t. It does get discouraging however to look through new submissions from my area of interest on a daily basis and see multiple records that are simply unidentifiable – and marked as “unknown” on top of that – which I simply have to skip. Thankfully, unlike my role as a state reviewer for new records submitted to Odonata Central, there’s no obligation for me to deal with them.


Beautifully put, @kueda!


For what it is worth, with birds, an ID can occasionally be made from otherwise “junk” observations by recognizing habit, silhouette, posture, etc… Typical posture of a turdus on a lawn for example. The key word being occasionally.


I feel like I should also add that I don’t always add the kinds of helpful, encouraging comments that might lead to more obvious positive outcomes from these kinds of images. I find it wearisome, and the volume of undesirable stuff bums me out and definitely makes me stop identifying, so I do feel the pain (for me it’s less blurry images and more the inordinate amount of captive / cultivated stuff that no one bothers to flag as such). But every now and then I feel like we should make the effort to welcome and/or instruct folks who upload these kinds of observations.


While you all have heard my complaint about the iNat ‘mission statement’, here it really does apply. inat is not about scatting (frass is too insect specific) on people’s photos. If they don’t get an ID, they don’t get tracked as a species or exported to a database, so they aren’t hurting anything. I’d be pretty pissed if anyone came along and tried to frass on my blurry white pine photos especially given they are still diagnostic. I don’t really appreciate notes about it either, unless it’s to point out that i missed a diagnostic feature (for instance blurry pictures of ash in areas where both green and white ash occur are not going to be diagnostic to species).
As others have mentioned, if you know the species in question very well and are confident no ID improvement can be made (as with the ash example above), you can mark it as such.

iNat is a tool. Like a hammer. Some people use hammers to make things because they want to for fun, others because they need to, and many others for both. Some might use the hammer in weird ways like hitting their thumbs or throwing it at a wall or something. But the bottom line is a hammer is a tool that can be used for building. It’s not for ‘connecting people with metal’. Nor is a chair a ‘byproduct’ of a hammer. A chair is one neat thing you can make with a hammer. I don’t really appreciate my tens of thousands of data points i am using for conservation referred to as a ‘byproduct’ any more than i appreciate a photo i take being called ‘frass’ (aka insect poop). We can do two things at once without minimizing either. Really.

To me at least, inat is about sharing things found in nature and connecting people with biodiversity.


If you simply want to skip over the unlabeled submissions and save them for someone else to look at first, this may do the trick: Add this to your identification url: &hrank=kingdom or choose High as Kingdom in the filter panel.


This kind of statement will cost you experts and maybe some passionate regular users. I fully support the goals of engaging anyone and rewarding them for paying attention to nature. The education opportunities are also immense.

Although you think the data is a byproduct, it’s most likely the reason so many active naturalists stick around. I also think you’re underestimating the true value of what is being created here. Without some bottom on the data quality scale though, the project will accumulate more and more poor records. These will fatigue the users that come here for the data. Yes, there are tools to filter it but why are you making me look at a sterile patch of pavement from 4 years ago, still? Granted, I have low standards and couldn’t find an example (thanks, you just tricked me into IDing a handful of unknowns from my city), but a few of these photos really are contributing nothing and may end up harming iNat. What’s the harm in deleting them after a time?

BTW, I’d delete all the human records. We can already assume a human behind every record. We don’t need records with humans on both sides of the camera. This is more of a pet peeve than an actual request for change.


Agreed. If I thought iNat was ONLY about connecting people to nature and NOT producing information that could be used by biologists, resource managers, etc., I’d not be interested in posting much here. Not that I’m against recruiting more people as naturalists (that’s a good thing), but my main interest is more about data that are useful. I don’t view the data on iNat as a byproduct, it’s the main reason I’m here.


Classic example of a hi-jacking attempt on someone elses mission!

@charlie (using your analogy on the hammer, but not directed at your comments)
I can pick up a hammer, and find it to be a very useful lever for prying things apart, but to suggest that they should get rid of the big lumpy thing at the end because it is no use for prying things apart? LMFAO…

To continue the analogy of the hammer as a tool… it gets used in workshops with kids to get them creating things with their hands. Very seldom does anything actually useable come from those workshops, but many are done around projects that DO create (somewhat) useable things. I am involved with a project here in Gisborne called “Menz Shed”, which is a movement that grew out of the Christchurch earthquake, as a means for retired craftsmen to get together and help the quake affected
community. The key driver for the project though, was to provide a network opportunity for the retired gentlemen that had found their social circles greatly diminished, and the “byproduct” was the ability to share their skills and knowledge with others and help the community. There have been spin-off groups that primarily focus on providing the workshop side of things, but the core organisation is still very much about the original mission statement.

iNat is successful BECAUSE of it’s mission statement, and I don’t think for a minute it would fall over because a few experts got upset that the mission statement wasn’t changed to what they would prefer it to be. There are specialist prybars out there, but they are seldom in every toolkit. If you turn iNat into a specialist prybar, you would find it in far fewer toolkits!


it’s pretty awful to tell kids they can’t explore with and learn how to use a hammer, or use it for anything they want aside from harmful destructive purposes. But it’s also silly to go rip a hammer out of a master carpenter’s hand or call the beautiful table she makes a residue or byproduct or whatever because the hammer ‘isn’t for building, it’s for connection’. Most good tools can be used for more than one purpose. I am not at all saying that blurry photos do that, i am all for blurry photos, they are often utilitarian. I’m responding more to the ‘byproduct’ comment.

In my opinion iNat is successful because (not necessarily in order of importance): Good devs, a very functional database and website and app (it’s not perfect but it’s worlds beyond anything else), and a great community that includes all ranges of experience and several different motivating factors. I don’t think telling people inaturalist isn’t for data collection or that their data is a ‘byproduct’ is helping the community or site at all. For many people this is the ONLY way they can collect data for conservation, monitoring, restoration, etc. Think small towns, communities that can’t afford ArcMap, ares of the world where smartphones are readily available thanks to the flood of used ones from ‘wealthy’ countries, but computers and money are not. Maybe iNat is their only connection to the conservation community, and their only way to collect data in a way that it can be used by others. I don’t think it is fair to call that a byproduct.

And on that note i am gonna try to stop posting in this thread any further lest i get carried away.


I like this statement.

For anyone wishing to get a better grasp on navigating in-site searches with URLs please see this topic:


Lots of those - IS it a bird? Or dirt on the camera lens? What value can that have for iNat?

What @edLike said plus:

@dianastuder, The value may be to the individual who is fulfilling the mission of the site by connecting with nature, possibly using iNat to keep a life list (verifiable/ research grade or not) and becoming a part of the larger iNat community which in turn may actually be a good value re: return on investment in the long run for our community, the site’s future and the future of our own species and biodiversity. Sightings that aren’t research-grade eligible are still valuable to different researchers and while perhaps not representing the “solid” data point some scientists need for their work the qualitative anecdotal evidence may be enough in the context of the research of others. It depends on how you think of iNat I suppose.


No, iNat may have hijacked itself. This whole “data is a byproduct” idea just popped up. Read the Help - What is iNaturalist? Sounds like recording data is pretty important. Just found the About pages, certainly a more complete description of what iNat is. But even there, “It’s a platform for observer’s projects”. “It’s not for mapping anything.” I realize kueda is a founder but “data is a byproduct” is a crap description that can hurt iNat. The data is glorious.

All I’m suggesting is a low bar for data quality, a curbstone even. What’s the harm in deleting a record that can’t even hint at what living thing it’s attempting to document.We can attempt to ask first, we often do ask. iNat is the hammer. Living things are the nails. Why preserve the rock someone whacked and left wedged in the board?