Recruiting more identifiers

It’s also a toggle on the identify page itself

Following up on the comments by @markhagg, I think it would be good to consider ways to encourage higher quality observations. Maybe something as simple as letting viewers give a “gold star” or “thumbs up” to observations that have sharp photos, clearly show diagnostic characters, have multiple photos showing all parts of an organism, have photos showing the organism in context, helpful notes, etc, etc.

I see this as different from the current “fave” which seems mostly to be a way to mark observations that are in some way unusual or of particular interest to an individual user or esthetically pleasing. The flag I suggest here could be applied to anything no matter how common, it just recognizes that the observer did a good job of presenting the evidence.

This might help guide identifiers, but more usefully could guide users to more informative observations when looking for information about a taxon. I think it might also be a good counterpart to the existing leaderboards that tend to incentivize quantity.

And maybe this is a side track that should be its own topic…


Or hey, just add a comment to the ID, which is more personal anyway. Having an expert say “great photo of achenes!” makes my day, and I’ll try harder next time.


Anything that lends itself to generating a leaderboard of some kind (“I have more useful/pretty/scientifically accurate observations than you”) will be gamed and exploited. Maybe that is wanted, I don’t know. I’d love to see the existing leaderboards go.

More helpful for the purpose of actually spreading knowledge would be to have a way to annotate photos with diagnostically relevant details. Or if you do want to reward people for lots of good contributions, a low-volume way to publicly acknowledge excellent user behavior could be a good idea.

Also, this stuck out to me:

Identifiers are users, and users are identifiers. That’s what’s so great about iNaturalist – it gnaws at the ivory tower, erodes the whole professor vs. student relationship. If something helps identifiers, it helps everyone, and if it helps users, it helps everyone. It’s the same thing!


One of the advantages I see to flagging observations is the ability to find useful information. Say hypothetically there is a plant with big showy eye-catching flowers, but to confidently ID to species you need to see the fruit or leaves or stems. I would like to be able to efficiently find observations that show these features, but they often get lost amongst all of the observations that just show the big flowers.

And yes, the ability to annotate individual photos would probably help here also.


I second the importance of adding ways to assess observation quality. For me, my main motivation for doing IDs is to learn more about the taxa I am identifying instead of curating species range maps or helping other people learn how to do IDs. Only high quality observations showing key characteristics are useful for that purpose. I tried IDing regardless of quality before but got burnt out and frustrated. Now I switched my interest to microbes and the fact that you need a microscope to even make an observation of most of them acts as a good quality filter in and of itself and it’s a much more enjoyable experience. The main problem is now that I’m still pretty clueless about how to ID microbes instead of having inadequate details to work with.

The best approach I found to focusing on the higher quality observations was to only ID obs from a list of users that I found who tend to make good observations. And I am very conscientious about the quality of my own observations as well. Right now there is basically just one person IDing my stuff, often coming down to subspecies when I couldn’t even guess at kingdom. So I am very paranoid about not filling my feed up with just any old observations in case it causes me to get unsubscribed. I find that posting observations as a small constant trickle instead of in huge batches seems to get me higher ID rates. I can certainly relate as when I am IDing stuff and see a huge batch of things from one user I tend to start skipping them. So maybe adding an option to spread out when your observations get published would be a good addition to the draft mode if it ever gets made, as well as an option to just present a set amount of observations for you to ID each day.

Another problem is when someone posts an observation with excellent photos showing all the key characteristics and ID’d to species and they still tend to sit there without any additional IDs. I tend to glance past these observations since I usually don’t know how to ID things to species, but if I would just pay more attention to them I would eventually learn how to ID them. Right now, there is a notion that you should generally avoid adding coarser non-disagreeing IDs to observations, such as #3 in Identification Etiquette on iNaturalist - Wiki. I think that guideline should be chucked out the window because adding a coarser ID would at least cause me, and presumably others, to pay more attention to these sorts of observations.


If we can ever get to a clearer system of disagreeing versus non-disagreeing higher-level IDs, I think I would agree with you here.

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I think it might be useful for a bot which is evaluating picture quality to send a message to users (particularly new users) with feedback on how to improve picture quality, saying, e.g. ‘‘I see you’ve observed some trees! I note that you have not included additional pictures showing the leaves/bark/fruit/etc, which would help experts ID your observation…’’


That would be pretty complex for a bot. And each taxa is so different. Some trees, just one picture, even a blurry one from a car, is fine. Others you need specific diagnostic characters such as bud scales or fruit. It all depends on the species

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Even if the species can’t be identified, it could be useful data. I have one “observation” that has no associated media. I saw and heard what could only have been a pair of golden-cheeked warblers in an area similar to their required habitat but outside their known range. But each time I was ready to take a photo they moved to another perch, and by the time I figured out that I should record video so I could also capture the sound they were gone. Still, by making an observation no one else could confirm, I prompted an expert to drive a few miles to check the site out. He determined that the area didn’t have the required habitat, but was similar enough to have warranted confirmation. He also gave me a better idea of what features I should observe in which species to document whether the habitat is suitable.


I think by simply helping others id things on their own can help a lot. For example, I noticed there’s not many plant identifiers on iNat. And because of how daunting plants may be, it may discourage someone from helping another. Yet in my area, WA and OR, there’s a field guide on the web called “Wildflowers of the Pacific Northwest” and not only does it give very detailed range maps but it also shows that a lot of species in the Pacific Northwest are monotypic to the area, such as Common Yarrow, Pearly Everlasting, Common Sunflower, Marsh Forget-Me-Not, etc. So when I id, I looked up those locations with those monotypic species and I know its the only species in the area. So I think getting new identifiers started on that will help build confident.


I ran into one guy who was very offended that I put general level identification on his insects, when he knew their names and was planning to put the names on them. Persistent, too! One guy. Memorable, but nobody else has been mad enough to complain. I continue to do it.


Recruiting academics: The professor who introduced me to iNaturalist includes the number of observations he posts and the number of identification he makes in iNaturalist on his yearly report of accomplishments, under “outreach.” We can remind profs and others with similar reporting that iNaturalist can count!


I’ve begun sending a link to my iNaturalist post when e-mailing an expert to get a tricky identification. (This works better for me than just e-mailing the photos, because I can link to an observation with lots of photos, which would overload an e-mail message.) One of the experts has now logged in to iNaturalist and I will encourage him to do more identifications here.


I’ve managed to hook one or two this way also. Much nicer and more information rich presentation than photos attached to an email, and easy to interact and create an accessible record of the interaction over time. No reason to ever email photos for ID again, in my book!


A post was split to a new topic: Create Forum category for ID requests

@sedgequeen, I recently got into an ID war with someone with > 1000 observations. I would put his unidentified things into their high level taxa and he’d put them right back. I asked why he put genus & species IDs in as placeholders. He said he used a different taxonomy scheme and didn’t want people to mess it up.

I’ve also had a couple of people ask me to withdraw a species ID because there is a taxonomic reorganization or disagreement going on. If you put questionable ones at the genus level, it’s easier later on to go thru the genus for observations that need a species ID than to go thru all the species IDs and decide anew they’re questionable and then sort them out.

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Politely suggest he can opt out of community ID. iNat works on the basis of community ID, and unless he gives you a good reason to change your ID, you are perfectly entitled to ID as you see fit. I would agree that putting a genus level ID while a review is going on is perhaps a good reason, but “I use a different taxonomy” to me suggests he should “use a different platform” :)


The issue may also be that he is using placeholders, instead of the observation description or a comment (or a tag), to store his alternate taxonomy. Placeholders disappear when regular IDs are added.

Ultimately we are supposed to respect users’ requests to leave their observations alone, but practically speaking, users wanting their unknowns to be left alone will be fighting an uphill battle with all the dedicated identifiers on iNaturalist. As @kiwifergus suggests, they may discover that they are on the wrong platform for their needs.


Not to go off topic, but what would be the use of using placeholders or their own taxonomy on this site?