Should I try to be frugal with iNaturalist's bandwidth?

For example, I’ve stopped taking observations of Columba livia, and I only submit Apis mellifera observations if they are:

  • Near known wild hives
  • Far from human settlements
  • Have suspected Varroa mites

This is because I thought it might be a waste of iNaturalist’s bandwidth to post stuff which are only casual because they’re cultivated. Should I be worried about taking wasting iNaturalist’s bandwidth with casual observations?


I would like iNat to list our activities by the burden or not.
Electricity and water usage, carbon footprint.
The answers are scattered across various forum posts.
Then we could consider a Tread Lightly option where appropriate.


I don’t think users need to worry much about the impact of individual observations on iNat load (Places are a different story…). iNat is mostly for wild observations, but casual observations are ok too as long as they are marked as such. Additionally, if users use one of the compatible licenses, their photos are hosted by Amazon, which reduces load on iNat.


that’s the technical load, but there’s also the load on the user community – specifically, identifiers. adding your own identification to each observation, and making sure each observation has all details captured as well as possible ensures that identifiers don’t have to spend too much extra effort trying to look at your observations.


This is a great idea. It’s easy to see the use of digital resources as “clean”. But if there’s a coal mine supporting your playful use of generative AI, for instance, you’re just as liable for the environmental consequences as the guy who loves to modify his diesel engine to bypass emissions controls. Those things are morally equivalent.

What happens here on iNat - although it’s tremendously fun for many of us - also has an important mission, which mitigates and justifies its use of resources. And iNat has made it clear that part of that mission is to engage the non-scientific/non-naturalist public… if that means extra observations of mallards, those ducks are serving an important purpose. But for me, personally, no, I’m not going to use resources - whether it’s iNat’s or Amazon’s - for observations that don’t have at least a little of what I’d judge to be redeeming value. That’s just me. But I think others here might be interested in considering those consequences as well, as @dianastuder mentioned.


Rock pigeon (feral or otherwise) observations aren’t casual unless you’re posting your friend’s fancy pigeons. Posting every single pigeon in a city might be a bit of a waste of bandwidth, but then again it could be useful for someone trying to determine what percentage of pigeons in Toronto have red plumage or something.


I think if iNat ever becomes worried about bandwidth, they could just delete all the “human” observations of selfies, random toys, people’s lunches, and blurry sidewalks. Until that happens, I’m going to assume it’s not a major issue, and just observe whatever I feel like!


Yes! What you said!


Compare the size of iNaturalist to the size of Facebook or Instagram or Google or Amazon. Instagram probably has more storage dedicated to pictures of people’s meals, Amazon more bandwidth devoted to pages selling dodgy electronics, and OpenAI likely used more electricity to train CrapGPT (no, that’s not a misprint) than iNaturalist could even hope to use. As far as resource use goes, iNaturalist isn’t even a rounding error.


I tend to crop photos when I can to save on file size for that reason and I’ve wondered if that is a waste of time.
Some cropping helps see the observation, others eliminate dead space in the photo.


Images are already downscaled during upload to a maximum of 2048 x 2048 pixels.

I wouldn’t consider cropping a waste of time, however. Uncropped photos where the organism only takes up a tiny portion of the image can be frustrating for IDers; I’d much prefer cropped images where I don’t have to search for the organism of interest.


Water and electricity to store social media? If mine is stored, I want it to be ‘useful’

I wouldn’t worry too much about iNat’s physical bandwidth/storage concerns, especially if you’re using a Creative Commons license with your images and sounds. I’m not a dev, but probably a bigger burden than storage costs might just be the size of the actual iNaturalist database and what it takes to search, reindex, organize, etc. Each record creates more cells in the database which need to be indexed for search.

I agree with @pisum that the bigger issue is the load on the user community. Try to observe judiciously, and also give back by adding IDs to other users’ observations as well.

As far as I can tell, the original post was not related to iNat’s actual resource use or carbon footprint. If someone is concerned or curious about that, it would probably be best to discuss it in a dedicated thread, although as noted it’s been discussed multiple times before (I found these with a simple forum search):

If you’re concerned about climate change and carbon production, I’d think iNat’s infrastructure is relatively inconsequential. Rather than trying to crudely determine (with really nebulous information, as Ken-ichi explained) iNat’s carbon use, a more efficacious use of time and resources is to effect broad, substantial change via political means, donating to conserve natural areas, and modeling and publicizing behavior and habits that are more impactful at the scale which is needed.


But for me, personally, no, I’m not going to use resources - whether it’s iNat’s or Amazon’s - for observations that don’t have at least a little of what I’d judge to be redeeming value.

And yet you wrote this post.

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I think judicious use of the site for posting records is a good idea. So what’s judicious? I guess that varies on your interpretation and need/desire. I just did a quick calculation and my average is one record posted per day over the last 11 years. Probably not very many compared to some folks, and many more than others. Also, I try to ID 3-5 records for every one I post.


Using pisum’s tool to see how many days I’ve been active, I calculate 12.7 observations per day and 15.7 IDs per observation. I try to be frugal by not posting common plants or repetitive insects.

I worry more about my carbon emissions from the driving I do to get to sites where I walk and make iNat observations. On the other hand, many of those sites I go to are owned by conservation agencies and organizations and I know from conversations with the managers and biologists involved that they appreciate very much knowing what’s on the land they own. Often, they want to know where common plants such as exotic invasives are, so they can target removal efforts. So, what’s the overall effect of my iNat activities? It’s really difficult for me to know.

I certainly try, as @tiwane suggests, to help by identifying lots of Needs ID observations. But even that uses energy, if only for my own laptop, and what is the overall benefit, if any, to IDing common species that are all extremely well-documented in my region? I don’t know. I really don’t know.

I keep coming back to my own personal first principles:

Have fewer or no children (easy for me to say; I never wanted kids anyway).

Own less stuff (so maybe I shouldn’t have bought the quilt fabric I just acquired, especially because I may never get around to using it nor do I really need more quilts, really. Oops).

Protect land from development and other intensive human uses (I’m in the process of writing a will that leaves 75% of my estate to land protection efforts).

And yet, obviously, those first principles are very, very hard to implement.

I don’t know. I just don’t know.


For this reason I try to limit the number of photos I put on each observation, even if I think they’re pretty.


As a side note: I have avoided posting as many new topics to the Forum as I might otherwise have done, for this same reason.