Require a comment when adding a coarser ID to an observation

Platform(s): All

URLs (aka web addresses) of any pages, if relevant:

Description of need: To discourage members from purposely downgrading IDs just for the fun of it or for spite. It would also help discourage new members who have not read the site’s suggested rules of etiquette from accidentally causing a misunderstanding.

Describe the iNaturalist community need that your requested feature addresses. Include screenshots, URLs, and other details to help us all understand the issue.

Feature request details: We spend a lot of time researching an ID for an observation we are pretty sure is correct and someone comes along and downgrades it with no explanation. This is especially annoying when the observation is already research grade. All they have to do is click one of the two options that pops up, which makes it too easy. Maybe they are right, but how are we to know that without an explanation?

I approved this request, and in a perfect world I’d be for it. It’s something that’s been considered and discussed a few times over the years, but it comes down to practicality. There are simply too many observations for people to go through and ID and provide explanations for. I just don’t think it would work at the scale iNat operates at, you can’t expect people to identify hundreds or thousands of IDs a day and provide lots of explanations. Generally, if someone has a question they can ask the identifier and most folks are pretty good about providing an explanation when asked.

If you see any user doing this, please flag their IDs and/or reach out to with details. In my experience someone behaving in this fashion at a large scale is pretty rare - it’s usually the result of an interpersonal tiff.


Explanations always enhance an observation, but it seems to me to be unreasonable to apply this to some and not all observations.

How do we really know someone is “purposely downgrading IDs just for the fun of it or for spite.”

There will always be someone who is having their fun or being spiteful.
We can attempt to educate them, but in the end it is up to them.


Frankly, I’d be concerned some people wouldn’t want to correct an incorrect ID if they were required to explain why each time. It would feel tedious and would slow the process down quite a bit. A process that can take some time already if somebody is doing a lot of IDs.


There are so many unidentifiable observations that need to be corrected with an upper rank ID. So, if it would always be necessary to explain why an upper rank ID is provided it would turn out to be relatively to highly time-demanding.
Definitively, it is mostly a matter of availability of time to provide an explanation but only when the observation is made up of sufficiently informative photos. Instead, if an explanation is asked, it is a matter of politeness to explain the reasons of the downgrading identification.
In other cases, I think it is up to the identifier to suggest the author of the observation to post more informative photos.


Do you have an example of one of your own obs, which you feel was ‘spitefully downgraded’?

I have seen joke or malicious IDs with a silly or patently wrong sp. But not using taking it to a broader ID - where is the fun in that?

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Disagree on this. There are so many thousands (millions?) of bad CV suggestions, that requiring a comment on each of them would making cleaning up the mess incredibly frustrating. I identify grasses, and the CV suggests all sorts of random species for pictures of grass leaves which are unidentifiable. Requiring a comment to downgrade these to Poaceae would just add a bunch of useless comments saying “unidentifiable”.

I would support this request if it distinguished between IDs added manually and IDs added based on CV. If the user took the time to type in a name, having some discussion would be useful. If it was a CV ID it should be able to be disagreed with without comment necessary.

Most CV ids tend to be by users selecting the top suggestion without much consideration (yes I know not all users do that, but the ones who tend to consider their IDs tend not to accept CV ids which are obviously incorrect).


That shouldn’t be shared here, it could be negatively calling out specific users.


I completely agree. IDs are easy come, easy go in my opinion. If someone takes the time to type a message explaining their specific ID that they researched, I’ll take the time to explain myself if I bump it back. If someone just clicks the suggested ID on a taxon I’m familiar with and it’s not not correct, I don’t feel the need to say “the CV didn’t get this right”; I just click disagree. Of course if anyone leaves a comment asking for an explanation for an ID I give, I’ll reply. But most users don’t ask; many probably aren’t even active by the time I’m IDing.

Taking a few hundred unwarranted CV IDs of unidentifiable images back to a reasonable taxon level shouldn’t require typing “this is not identifiable to the level suggested from this image” on each one. As someone with over 100,000 IDs added (and others on the forum are way, way beyond that number) this would slow down the process by adding comments that 99% of observers won’t even look at. If someone adds a coarser ID on one of my observations and I want details, I’ll just tag them and ask them about it, and most IDers are extremely responsive and helpful.


Why is it that observers always want to put all of the responsibility for communication on the identifiers?

Two threads where identifiers have responded to similar suggestions:
Dissenting ID Comments Would be Useful
Request Documentation when research grade is changed back to needs ID

I recently had someone get upset that I didn’t provide a reasoning for correcting an ID even though…

  1. My profile includes:

If you think I have made a mistake or if you would like me to explain my reasoning behind an ID, please don’t hesitate to @ or PM me.

Indicating that I happy to provide explanations when someone indicates they are interested.

  1. I responded less than an hour after they @-ed me and provided my reasoning.
  2. The species were not particularly similar and there are many descriptions both online and in print that could easily be looked up.

I have @-ed observers asking for more details on why they disagree with my own observations, and because I’ve always been polite, I’ve generally received polite (and often helpful) responses.


For some cases it is not easily doable, and given the amount of Needs ID obs still around I understand it is not possible for each (+ personal preferences, anxiety ect.). But when a mistake is widespread, it does not take much time to write a generic comment and to c/c it, and it can be helpful to users too.

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I don’t think I’d like to see this functionality as I think it could do more harm than good by discouraging people from making IDs or slowing down the rate they can make them. It also seems inconsistent; if we required supporting text for IDs that downgrade, why not insist on the same for those that upgrade? Finally, if people are intent on making mischievous IDs, as suggested, what’s stopping them from pasting, or even typing, some nonsense to beat the system?


I totally understand the desire from some users for explanations in these situations, but I really think the only workable answer to this is by setting people’s expectations when they start iNaturalist with a good onboarding tutorial.

Those who are very engaged in their identification and want an explanation need to understand that it is perfectly fine to ask for one but it cannot be an expectation. I’m just starting to go through European Sphaerophoria observations. It is widely accepted that Sphaerophoria scripta females cannot be distinguished from many other species except with a clear view of the arrangement of hairs on the underside of the hind femur (almost never visible). There are 2500 observations of S scripta females on iNat because it’s what the CV suggests… (The species is extremely common in Europe and males are easily ID’d - I’ve just been through and sex-annotated them all…!) These females are almost all still in the NeedsID pile because no-one has fun bumping them back, but also no-one can confirm them so the observations don’t get engaged with at all - and some interesting misidentified species get lost in the mix. (I did this two years ago too).

Adding explanations (even copy-paste) adds substantially to the time it takes, so I only do so if there is some sign that the user would be interested in the explanation - because most people aren’t.

If we were able to set people’s expectations through onboarding that explanations are not to be expected automatically, but can always be requested if interested, then I think that would improve people’s experiences of the site.


Not everyone would see your profile. For example, profiles are not viewable in iOS.


I try to leave comments when I can, especially on users that seem engaged - but requiring comments to downgrade every blurry picture or single shot of the top of a brown mushroom or endemic north American species that has randomly been IDed as an endemic European species is only going to serve to discourage people who do high volumes of identifications, which is something that is something this site desperately needs.

Observers can always just ask for clarification, most people are happy to engage with someone who wants to learn more!


As one of the people who makes hundreds of IDs a day some days (I went through every needs ID ant in NY state this spring) I this this could be OK if limited in scope. Requiring a comment on all dissagreing IDs would just slow down IDers massively, the one way I could see this being manageable is if the comment was only required on IDs that meet all 3 of the following creteria:

  1. The ID is a disagree, not just a less specific ID

  2. The original ID (the one that is being disagreed with) is not made by CV

  3. The disagreeing ID includes the taxon of the original ID (eg lion->mammal, but not lion->reptile)

That said, I don’t see this doing much, I’ve never encountered retaliatory IDs myself, but I don’t see how a comment would stop them (but blocking and flagging would) and trolls generally put in specific but wrong IDs, not broader IDs, and are not going to be stopped by a comment either, so I lean against this, even implemented the most limited way, it adds work for identifiers, and does not fix either of the problems it was intended to. Implemented in a less limited way (eg applying to a lion->reptile situation) would be a massive interference with identification to the point of causing major sitewide issues with data quality, and negatively affecting observers who are less likely to get their obs IDed

And please do feel free to message me with any questions about why I IDed something the way I did


This proposed feature would absolutely discourage identifiers from correcting incorrectly IDed observations and reduce the amount of IDing identifiers do (it certainly would for me, personally). I am strongly opposed to it.


Like, I just cannot see forcing people to do this. There’s few enough, say, Fungi IDers as it is. I do my best but I’m certainly not the most prolific, and the thought of having to comment every time I bump a Coprinellus micaceus or Amanita bisporigera or (insert difficult mushroom species here) back to section or genus because those observations almost never contain enough information to properly ID them (IE, microscopy or DNA sequences or chemical tests etc) makes me shudder at the thought of how tedious it would be.


So with the staff not for it and the community weighing in pretty heavily against it, I’m going to set this topic to close in a few hours.

That being said, I do want to acknowledge that it can definitely feel bad when someone disagrees with your ID that you were pretty certain of, without leaving an explanation. In general, though, most people will respond to questions when asked. And again, if it does look like the IDs are intentionally inaccurate, please flag the IDs so curators can take a look. Curators can now hide intentionally inaccurate IDs, so they can quickly deal with it if necessary.

Also, if anyone making IDs has some text they want to add for common ID mistakes, I definiteley recommend using a text expander.


I also don’t like the idea of being forced to type a comment each time I do a broad disagreeing ID, but I do see the OP’s point. Could some of the common reasons be folded into the “supporting”/“not supporting” stage? I.e., instead of 2 buttons, have 4:
“I am not sure that this is Species X, but I am sure it is this broader group”
=> [supporting]
“This is not evidence for Species X, please see the taxon photos”
=> [would probably cover most of the very wrong CV suggestions, observer accidentally hit the wrong taxon next to the one they meant, etc.]
“This is not evidence for Species X, because the photos do not show the necessary characters or the suggested taxon cannot be IDed based solely on photos”
=> [would cover the really blurry photos and the visually indistinguishable groups]
“This is not evidence for Species X, ask if you have questions about the ID”
=> [all other disagreeing IDs]

Then some abbreviated version of each of these could appear where the * appears on the disagreeing IDs:

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