Share observations between users

With the decision this platform, like any concert you want to cover the new stuff and the greatest hits, so we need to get those greatest hits populated here for discussion and voting.

The proposal is to allow multiple users to be listed as observers on a single observation record.

This would cut down duplication, more accurately reflect abundance and frequency among many things.

Guidelines I would propose>

  • all users on the observation be able to add media, and that media retains the license of the user who adds it
  • the record itself is licensed in terms of eligible to share with GBIF etc under the license of the person who originally creates it
  • additional observers to a record can only be added by the original creator of the record, this can be either at time of record creation, or through an \invite\ process for already created records
  • users can not unilaterally add themselvers as an observer to a record created by another user as this would present a major issue/risk for obscured data
  • only the original submitter of the record may delete it. I’m not sure how to handle retention for other observers if the original submitter deletes - some attempt to retain for them, or do they simply lose it ?
  • the ‘group’ of observers can all add identifications, but in total they only count as 1 vote in the community id calculation. Maybe if a second listed observer adds an agreement, the single vote stays, but the text reflects that they too agreed ie ‘observer a and observer b suggested an id’

2 areas which will require discussion

  • adding records to projects, how handled if one user allows, and another does not, which includes sharing of co-ordinates to authorized admins in old projects
  • should there be a tool to allow merging of existing records (willingly or even unwillingly to deal with class projects where many pics of the same thing get submitted etc)
1 Like

Hmm, interesting.
The way I had thought about it working was keeping the 2 observations separate (they are separate “encounters” as there are different people involved) but having a way to link them. Then there would be a banner somewhere on each observation indicating that it was linked to the other observation(s).

Having them separate would eliminate the problem of one person deleting their observation though. Personally either way I think if one person (regardless of who it is) deletes their observation, the other person should still be left with an observation that has just their photos and information. Being separate also deals with the project problem.

However, having them combined would be better for identifications, because if they were separate observations I assume it would be harder to coordinate them all.

Also, is there a way to incorporate into this suggestion a situation where one observer wants to “formally” link multiple observations, or should a new suggestion be made for that? For example an insect pollinating a flower, or a tree over time.


The way I envision this, I’d be in the field with a friend or two, and only one of us would be making an observation. Say i was in the Midwest and went into a prairie fen with cassi and she showed me a bunch of prairie plants. Why have us both add them, when one of us can put it in and tag the other? Personally, i don’t think i’d use it much in this way if it required two separate observations. (though it might be useful to link several observations of the same organism, neat for tracking phenology and such, or an insect and a flower like you say). A few years ago an inaturalist user was visiting Vermont and we went on a hike and i showed her a bunch of plants and she showed me a bunch of birds. The plants we couldn’t both make observations without duplicates, but she was adding the birds to ebird and was able to put them on my list too! I thought that was neat.


Here’s a very recent example of 3 different observations of the same stranded sunfish. They are significant because this species has never been recorded in US waters before so it would be nice to link them in some way that clearly indicates that they are observations of the same individual. To complicate matters the locality is auto-obscured so there’s no way to easily determine if they represent one individual or several that have simultaneously stranded along the coast (as sometimes happens).


If the idea is to do this in some way that each user still enters their own observation, then it would seem the functionality already exists - again the dreaded Observation Fields. There are already multiple of them that try to implement this in different ways.

1 Like

I just made a feature request regarding fields that is probbly relevant here… and when it hopefully gets approved you can go look at it and add input and vote for it or not. (means i gotta unvote something to vote for my proposal too)

On eBird when a checklist is shared, each person technically has their own separate checklist. The original person’s list is duplicated when they share it, and then after that each person can only edit their own version of the checklist. But because the checklists are linked together, the system knows that all the lists are connected so it treats them differently than if each person had submitted their own list. (Here’s their help article about it. Before I read it just now I had never seen or heard about the “Group Checklist”, so it must be only used behind the scenes, but it seems sort of analogous to combined observations.)

I don’t think eBird’s system is perfect (since the checklists are separate, when searching through peoples’ checklists shared lists are usually just duplicates which can be annoying to look through) or that iNat should copy it but it might be useful to compare.


I’ll vote for this once my forum level grows, but some advantages I see:

  • linking observations of the same item by the same perso, but at different times. Ex: I’ve had observations of plants where I didn’t know what they were, then came back to find that they had flowered, or that the leaves had changed color. This is a limited possibility, as I’d have to remember this plant in the first place, but this feature could really help.

  • The other way linking observations could help is in cases where groups of students+teacher are photographing the same thing as a means to learn. It’s happened here, and while this is a great exercise that seems to help students understand the program, it means there’s suddenly 9-20 observations of the same wild lettuce plant, sometimes with different IDs due to the person misunderstanding.

  • it could also help IDers get more views of the same item. Person A may have gotten a photo of a bird’s cheek, while Person B another gets a photo of wing markings. Person C’s camera hates them, so there’s just a blur, but Person C will still get that ID.

tl;dr I like the thing[/details]


I’ve wanted a group observation feature since I’ve started using iNat. Reading through this thread my main concern is that if the original person that created the observation deletes it that it doesn’t delete it for the others. It would be good if it was marked as a duplicate observation on the others, but they (the duplicates) couldn’t be deleted except for by the individuals (even if the original was deleted). Think of it like a physical photocopy of a page out of a book. Even if the original book was burned or destroyed the copies of it are not automatically destroyed.


This is definitely a much needed feature.

There’s a growing trend of users submitting observations using another user’s photo in order to make their own observation verifiable. So you end up with multiple observations from different users but using the exact same photo. It’s not malicious, just a proxy for observation sharing since that feature isn’t available.

eBird does the sharing thing really well. Users can edit their shared checklists independent of other users, but shared species are treated as a single observation. On the range map, if you click on an observation, all users show up at the same point (rather than individual points for each user’s observation). In shared checklists, photos submitted by all users are included under each species. Of course there are other limitations here, e.g. iNat doesn’t use hotspots like eBird does (which aggregate observations from all checklists at a given location, even if the checklists aren’t shared).


I have wanted this for life cycle observations of one individual over time. That isn’t the topic here, but if it is elsewhere, someone point me to it, please!



This is something I have wished iNat had for a long time. Personally, I think it would fairly simple to put (for example) in the phone app a field like “Observed With”, then have a list of people you have previously shared observations with when you click on the button. The user you are sharing with then would get a notification on their iNat account saying something like “______ has shared an observation with you, click here to accept it into your account”. IMO, this is one of the most needed features of iNat so thanks @cmcheatle for suggesting it!


could this be handled through Annotations? Or is that not the route we want to go because they are supposed to be something visible in the photo? Fields are too non-standardized and depreciated.


Perhaps, although I still think it would be easier for a user (like me) that uploads most of their observations via the app to have an option when creating an observation to share with someone else. And also when you might submit a lot of observations at one time; going back through every one and putting fields in seems like a pain.


might not be what you are looking for…


i think an implementation of this this would have to be done in 2 phases.

in phase 1, iNaturalist would have to gain an ability to define relationships between two observations. the relationship would be initiated by the observer of the first observation and approved by observer of the second (automatic if the same observer). maybe the community could weigh in on whether they think the relationship is legit, and maybe the community could suggest relationships between observations. so for example, this could be used define interactions by saying that a dragonfly (obs 1) was eating (relationship) a fly (obs 2). or, alternatively, to track life progression, migrations, or identify multiple observer observations of the same individual, you could say dragonfly (obs 1) is the same individual (relationship) as a dragonfly (obs 2). or to define multiple individuals in some other set, you could say bee (obs 1) is in the group (relationship) as bee (obs 2). in this phase, you would also get a tool to be able to view these relationships in a logical way.

now for phase 2… if you currently think of the relationship between observations and pieces of evidence (which i’ll refer to as “assets” from here on), they can be 1:1, 1:M, or M:M (observations:assets). there’s also the relationship between accounts and observations, which is 1:1 or 1:M. because of the way iNat thinks about observation ownership i think M:M should not be allowed for accounts:obs nor accounts:assets. however, i think it would be handy to be able to share observations with another user. so if i took a photo of a peacock and Jane was there, too, then i can make an observation of the peacock, and ideally check a box and select something to share the observation with Jane. when Jane goes to her iNat account, she would see a message that says I shared my peacock observation with her and ask her to accept. if she accepts, she would get either new observation with my appropriately permissioned photo (if i chose to allow her to share my photo), or an observation with no assets. either way, her observation is automatically grouped with my observation (see phase 1), and maybe can get a special status or DQA flag if hers lacks a photo but is based on mine, which is verifiable. at that point, if she adds additional assets to her own observation, the special status or flag goes away. should she choose to share a photo back to my original observation, maybe she should be able to share to a specific observation, and there might be some sort of special indicator in my observation to show that her photo comes from a shared observation. if i get mad at Jane one day and delete my observation (or my account altogether), her observation is preserved, and her own assets are preserved, although mine are removed.


I’m going to move this from Feature Requests to General, just because creating this functionality would require a lot of work and it is not one of the big ticket items on our agenda for the year. I want people to be able to use their votes for other requests that can be implemented sooner.

I think the number of votes here definitely speaks for the community’s desire and that won’t be forgotten (but to be clear I also can’t promise this will be implemented, although I personally think it would be cool) we just already have a lot of big things on the plate for the coming year.

So definitely keep adding ideas and thoughts here, there’s been a lot of good discussion already.


@tiwane my ‘vote’ seems stuck in this even though it got moved, it still shows in my votes page.

1 Like

Thanks, I’ll look into this.


I see where you’re coming from, but I don’t really see there’s a need to move it. The votes aren’t really going to be used to determine what gets done, they’re really just a wish list and an indication of interest from this self-selected group (who’ve found the forum). Point out that something is ‘pie in the sky’ but let us waste our votes if we wish ;-)

1 Like