Recruiting more identifiers

I think an underrated way of recruiting people to the site is actually just telling them how cool and useful it is and putting it in a context where it appears useful to their work. I’ve been telling my honours supervisor about iNat for months. Last week he got me to put up photos from one of the 3rd year courses he runs. I know this isn’t him engaging directly with the site, but it’s the first step to it (he now refers to iNat as ‘awesome’). In a few months I’m giving a seminar/workshop at UNSW about iNat and how to use it, so hopefully that will attract some IDers out of the professors that attend.


Hi all,
I’m a mid-level user and try to do ID’s on an irregular basis. In fact, I had made a mental note to try to do more and then stumbled across another thread in this Forum where some folks were taking the position that it is unhelpful and even unwelcome to add in a simple ID such as “flowering plants” or “insects” when an observation is uploaded as “unknown.”

Frankly, I try to get as detailed an ID as I can, but will add the cursory category quite often since there are so many unknowns. I feel like any generalized ID helps those experts find the observations they can ID with certainty much faster.

Having said that, the thread suggesting that adding a general ID isn’t welcome really made me rethink helping in that way. Just saying…

And, I am not in favor “gamifying” the app or site in any way – doesn’t Seek do that already?


Another mid-level user here :wave:

Going off what @jakubmamulski said, making it easier to ID observations from the mobile app would definitely help. While I try to ID on a semi-regular basis, I know I would ID a lot more often if I didn’t have to get on the computer every time. I know there’s the “explore” option in the app, but I don’t find that useful for adding identifications to observations. What I’d love to be able to do is hit an “identify” tab in the app that would take me to recent observations that need ID, with similar functionality to the website “Identify” experience (e.g. being able to search by place or taxon). If it were easier to identify observations through the app, I could see a lot of folks (including myself) IDing in short spurts while they wait for the bus, coffee, or whatever it might be. I don’t think gamification is as important as ease-of-use.

I also want to second @bobby23’s comment regarding “converting” observers. While recruiting outside experts will undoubtedly help, there are a limited number of them. I think cultivating a network of users with mid-level expertise (whether geographically or taxon-based) will likely go a lot farther, particularly if there were easy-to-use resources, whether in the form of mini-modules, “Field Notes”, or another format, on iNat to help.


Do you remember the thread where people said it was unhelpful to ID unknown obs as simple stuff (could you link me)? I thought the opposite would be true; general IDs nonetheless narrow it down and allow people following certain taxa to see the obs.


I think it’s useful, @scubabruin. And it’s not unwelcome. Keep it up!


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I’ll try to find it

Cheers paloma and scubabruin. From an extremely quick skim the only problem seems to be that you’re IDing things before the user can ID it themselves? Personally don’t think this is an issue at all (assuming you give a correct ID of course). The problem with not giving IDs for unknowns is Questagame. I don’t know what experiences others have had, but for Australian obs, quite a lot of Questagame obs are unknowns, so the issue of the uploader coming back later because of e.g. slow net isn’t the problem here

Yes, that’s the thread. If you go through the many comments, you’ll find a few comments about coarse ID’s not being welcome (not just for the power users), but in general. They talk about beginning users getting these coarse ID’s and how that could turn them off from continuing to use the site. I’m not loving the ideas espoused on that particular topic thread, but it’s an interesting question on how to get more ID’s and more identifiers on iNat.

Yeah I just read through the thread more and understand the viewpoint of disrupting someone’s workflow. Seems callous, but I think those people just have to deal with that disruption; personally I think giving coarse IDs has more benefits than downsides. This of course comes with a caveat relating to taxon level. I never make an ID as coarse as ‘bird’ or ‘arthropod’ (I only coarse ID to family or below as a general rule), but I can see how new users might just put ‘bird’ and it be an annoyance.

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If I had a dollar for every western sword fern I’ve identified …


I suspect workflow differs greatly among identifiers. I usually start with a species with which I am familiar and work on attempting to confirm or disconfirm the species for a Needs ID. I often keep RG visible - I sometimes see a misidentified RG and will include a comment when I do offer an alternate identification. If I finish the species review, then I move up to the Genus level and look to see if any of that species is present at the Genus level. I then back on up to family or higher, adding in a place filter if there are too many to review at a higher level. I also sometimes scan the unknown at the Plantae level just to see what is out there at that level. Thus I start lower and move up. For my approach, having the user identify the plant to as specific a level as possible is beneficial. Leaving something that is obviously a plant at the completely unknown living organism level means I am not likely to see it: I have the plant filter on when looking at unknowns. But I may be alone in my approach.

I concur. No idea how to do this. And whatever system is used should reflect identifications which met with community agreement. Otherwise random identifications to run up an “identification score” is a risk. If pressed for ideas, perhaps little badges that display on the lower corner of profile picture. Or colored dots that change at specific thresholds (100 IDs, 1000 IDs, 10000 IDs,…)? Or a tagline that posts when one IDs along the lines of “identifier”, “regular identifier”, “top identifier” etc. for increasing numbers of identifications made.

I concur, but my guess is that the curators are already overloaded. Still, there should be some effort made to include identification information that helps key out similar species, certainly in the plants. Sure, some determinations may not be photographable, but where there are differences, these should be noted. In my own head I am thinking of how can one distinguish between Spathoglottis plicata and Spathoglottis unguiculata. The taxa pages do not appear to include the useful information that while S. plicata has a somewhat global distribution while S. unguiculata is considered to have a more limited range in a few islands of the southwest Pacific. This and other distinguishing morphological characteristics might help observers as they learn to identify and thus aid in recruiting more identifiers.

When I see that Canada has reached a million observations and that there are seven million needing identification, there is the suggestion that identifications are unable to keep pace with observations. One comment on another thread noted that Project Noah may have run into identifier issues, and they are only working with a total of 825K observations while iNaturalist is working with something on the order of over 18 million observations. Finding ways to recruit more identifiers seems to be potentially a critical need for the health of the iNaturalist ecosystem. The “You know you’re seriously into iNat when…” is now at 100 responses focused on observations and none on the joy of identification, a hundred-to-nothing does not seem to be a promising sign.


I think more competitiveness is not a good idea here on iNat. We need more cooperation, not more competitiveness.


it might help to also have a way to identify who’s committed to identifying certain taxa (or taxa within specific geography). in my state, we have an adopt-a-highway and -beach program, where volunteers commit to keeping stretches of beach and highway clean. they even put up signs saying who’s committed to cleanup. maybe(?) something like that exists on the curator side of things, but it might be nice to have an adopt-a-taxon thing in iNaturalist for the general user base. if there is an expert who sees that there are one or more other volunteers who have adopted a particular taxon, maybe that expert can focus a little more effort on training those others up, and then feel comfortable shifting attention to something more pressing, only coming back to check once in a while.

it might also be nice to identify certain taxa that are relatively distinctive and low volume, since these would be perfect for adoption by newbies, after a bit of training. for example, Pisum and its 2 species, and Dracopis and its single species would be perfect for adoption by newbies. of course if newbies want to adopt taxa that are higher volume or require more training, that might be ok, too.

finally, it might be nice to do an analysis of which taxa have a lot of ID needs and why. for example, there are a lot of Plestiodon in my area that are just left at the genus level because they could be one or another species, and no one has gone in and checked the “as good as it can be flag”.

maybe there are a lot of moss and fungi that just can’t be identified to a low level because the evidence isn’t good enough. so they’ve been left at kingdom / phylum. So maybe someone can explain how to take it down a little bit more, and folks can take these down to at least Order and then close those off (if they can be closed off that high).

maybe there are legitimately some taxa where iNat has no experts. maybe those are the cases where someone can be recruited or someone can do some research to make some headway in those cases.

also, identifying in bioblitzes often seems to be an afterthought or a necessary evil. maybe that could be changed by organizing identify-only bioblitzes. it could even be a daily activity. for example, each day, an expert can do a short write-up about how to clean up a given taxa, and less-expert volunteers can then go in and then do the dirty work. (and then once clean, someone can then go in and adopt the taxa to keep it clean.)


A quick thought: perhaps there is an opportunity here using SciStarter. If I understand this correctly, iNat could post a project on SciStarter seeking identifiers. Of course, that may only be possible after some sort of ID tutorial is in place. And, as plenty of folks have suggested, it might make sense to have tutorials for different taxa. You may not get an expert, but you will attract an audience who is interested in this type of project.


A streamlined 45–60 second version of the Identify tutorial video would go a long way.


this would be fun, it would be neat to focus on different taxa that are in need of ‘help’. Though most of us are specialists to some extent, even the generalists (i’m pretty lost with most animals for instance).


we could probably get this going in a “help me clean up this taxon today” thread in this discussion board. every day (or whenever you’re planning to clean up a taxon and might need some help), someone can come in and post some instructions on how to clean up the taxon (or link to a journal post or something like that), and then people who are willing to help clean it up can say so (or maybe vote “yes” on a quick poll), and then do it. do you have any taxa that would easy to write up some quick instructions and could be cleaned up with the help of 1 or more other volunteers over a few hours?


Definitely! Though not right now. :)

I think your best strategy for getting experts to identify iNat records is to keep adding to the value they get from the program. And I think your doing a good job here. The tutorials on photography and taxa specific hints make the records easier to ID. Making an observation is easy. Making a good observation for many taxa can take patience and a fair bit of work. Good records can be part of conservation and distribution studies. Maybe offering help get permissions from observers for a project would help. The idea of contacting 10s to 100s of observers to gather obscured locations is daunting (or a tutorial if tools on iNat can help with that.).

Maybe featuring papers published using iNat records would encourage folks. Zoouniverse and Folding@home seem to make an effort to notify participants about results and papers.

Also, IDing records can be hard. I’m a decent naturalist but even taxa that I know can be difficult from a photo. I’m much better in the field or with a specimen in hand. I lose confidence when working from photos. I know many experts would like habitat, substrate, and other info that often can’t be gleaned from most iNat records.