Taking identifications to a new level: the Identification Center

Platform(s): website

URLs: https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/identify

Description of need:

Greetings everyone!

My name is Paul and I have been using iNaturalist for a few years now. It’s been an amazing tool to learn more about the fauna and flora around me, and thanks to this platform I have ventured out to new places, looked differently at nature around me, and engaged with new people in my quest to better understand and observe nature. I have a great appreciation for the organization behind iNaturalist and the community that it hosts.

Like many people on this website, I am someone who likes taking photos of nature, and I do not have any formal training in biology. Thanks to this community, I have slowly increased my knowledge and over the past year or so I have wanted to contribute more than just observations. However, while trying to contribute to the identifications on the website, I have found some stumbling blocks. I have read on this forum how increasing the number of identifiers and identifications is something many people seem to support, and something that might even be a bottleneck for iNaturalist, so for this reason I have tried to think of some changes that would make it easier for people like me to make the transition from observers to identifiers.

I have tried to make this idea as concrete and specific as I can. I have no doubt that other people have better ideas on the specifics, but I think that creating some sample screenshots and providing quite some details on this idea help create a more nuanced discussion and will make it more feasible that (something like) this becomes actionable. At the same time, I am also gladly proven wrong and if people believe that there are existing tools or better ideas around resources for identifying then please share your input. Any feedback is most welcome.

The main ‘needs’ that I have felt are the following:

1. Better access to identification knowledge

I have found it very hard to learn how to become a good identifier. To become an amateur identifier, I think someone needs access to locality-specific knowledge, as well as a certain level of confidence that their identification efforts are actually reliable enough for the website’s purposes. Being location-specific is instrumental: I don’t need to know how to identify all squirrels in the world; I just need to know how to differentiate between those that are very similar looking in my region, for instance. There is a wealth of knowledge already on iNat, and there are many people that generously share their knowledge through discussions in the comments, but this knowledge is very hard to find because it is so decentralized.

2. Motivating tools to encourage identification efforts

The current ‘center’ of identification efforts is found on the ‘Identify’ page. This page seems very useful for seasoned identifiers, but it is daunting and uninspiring to new users (at least, to me). It is very hard to understand how well we’re doing (say, as a local group, or even as iNat as a whole), even though identification is the one thing where you can easily track and show progress.

3. A stronger feeling of community among the (wannabe) identifiers

It helps greatly to feel that you are part of a community in order to get started in a new activity. It also encourages participation if you feel like you are part of specific, ongoing efforts. I think forum posts such as IdentiFriday and Mission: Impossible - Identify Plantae in Africa are great examples, but they are very much hidden away for non-forum users (and even for forum users), and I think that they can occur much more frequently with better structures in place.

Feature request details:

My suggestion is to create a new ‘layer’ on top of the ‘Identify’ page, which allows for a great deal of exploration and understanding of the identification efforts and the associated resources. Let’s call it iNaturalist’s Identification Center. This is NOT a replacement of the current Identify page, and that page can remain in place as-is (but the Identify link becomes a dropdown menu with more than one option underneath it).

Let me explain through this sample screenshot:

Just like other parts of the website, the ‘Identification Center’ has a standard format whose content is adjusted based on two parameters: the chosen place (search box linked to the Places in iNat), and the selected category (‘Iconic taxa’).

The screenshot above shows you the Identification Center for insects in Valle de Aburrá (a place in Colombia). The key elements in the Identification Center (and their rationale) are the following:

Progress bar: it is very encouraging to see how much progress is made, ie which part of the total observations are RG. This can also give people that organize events (such as a local event to identify as many observations in a specific category as possible) a certain goal (e.g. reach 90% or 100% completion). It will add to the feeling that your event or your group has reached a milestone. It also encourages people to mark the box that the taxon is ‘as good as it can be’ which is also a good thing.

Oldest unidentified observations: I think these fall by the wayside, due to default ordering of a number of pages on iNat. Feels good to show what those oldest pending observations are.

Identification guides: these are instrumental in teaching new identifiers how they can help ID species in their local region (be it in their city, country, local biome… whatever scale makes sense). The idea is to motivate all our experts to help draft very easy-to-understand documents in a standardized format to specifically explain how you can make positive IDs for the species in your area. My suggestion would be to really encourage a collaborative effort here. For instance, beginners can help draft documents, filling out the basic info for the most obvious species in the area, and then invite seasoned experts to comment and expand. This can be done in something like Google Slides, where collaborative editing is easy, and which doesn’t need any complex system changes in iNat (the only requirement would be to create a list where the titles/URLs of the guides can be linked to iNat taxons & places). I have made an example guide here: Identification Guide: Squirrels of Panama.

Sidenote: I think that student projects where students are tasked with creating a new, non-existing draft guide for a local taxon are more valuable activities than getting students to upload new observations to iNat, which seems to be a common classroom exercise.

If a guide is not available for the chosen taxon and place, then a ‘higher’ place’s guides can be pulled in (in the example screenshot, insect guides for the department of Antioquia or the country of Colombia could be shown, for instance). There should also be a full section with ALL guides on the website, where people can search for and learn from all these guides.

Local curators: this is a list of people that have signed up to become the official contact points for identifications of a certain place & taxon. These people commit to a) being contacted by newbees with questions, b) help organize local idenitification events with a certain regularlity, and c) monitor the forum for questions pertaining to their area. The name ‘curators’ might be confusing with existing curators so perhaps another name is better…?

Curated sub-categories: these are links within the ‘iconic taxa’ that have their own page for the chosen place. This only makes sense if there are enough resources for these taxa (at a minimum there should be an identification guide, and sufficient observations), so these will need to be activated manually for each place by the local curators. When a sub-category is opened, the exact same ‘Identification center’ page is shown, but now filtering only for the chosen taxon. An example is shown below.

Upcoming identification events: curators can (and should!) create events. Events should have a specific scope (place + taxon), and for the duration of each event at a minimum there should be a curator available to help people with their questions. This could all be done online and by simply having an online chatroom that is buzzing (could be an external platform such as Discord, or by using the iNat forum), it will feel much easier to ‘jump in’ and get started. Could of course also be used for in-person events, workshops, etc.

Getting started: quick-links to get started. Includes the actual identification (the link will take you to the existing Identify page, for the chosen taxon + place), and a link to the forum. Perhaps for each page in the Identification Center (taxon + place) there is a specific thread in the forum, which is monitored by the curators.

The two images below show two other pages within the ‘Identification Center’. The first one is for Mammals in Panama. The second one is a sub-category within this main page, which is shown when people click on the ‘Curated sub-category’ for Sciuridae.

I think that this kind of extra layer to the identification system would greatly help share knowledge around identifications, it would strengthen the community, and it would give people encouraging tools to reach new milestones. Over time, I think this could have a meaningful contribution in the quantity and quality of the identifications on iNaturalist, and it would also help people make more meaningful, lasting connections with nature (I feel that there is quite a difference in understanding and appreciation if you move from observer to identifier). Lastly, I think that no complex, structural changes are needed to the iNat platform and a lot of the required work (such as recruiting curators and writing the first series of identification guides) could be done by the community while the developers look at the technical parts.

Note: shout-out to user severinus who kindly explained me how to identify Sciurus variegatoides ssp. helveolus, which started my journey into identification on iNaturalist. And also many thanks to the 961 identifiers that have helped identify my own observations!

I won’t use - good as it can be - I do ID to the limit of MY knowledge, but I cannot say that no taxon specialist could take it further. They can. And they do.

A lot of the functions you would like are active around City Nature Challenge and Great Southern Bioblitz. And there are other small local ones in between.

I appreciate specialists who use resources to go all the way to the finest possible ID. But we have a huge need for second tier identifiers. For people to sieve out squirrels from Unknown, or to add the second ID to the blindingly obvious ones. Then the specialists can enjoy working thru where they might find something interesting.


Yeah I fully relate to the reluctance to use the ‘good as it can be’ button, but a genus-level RG is more useful than one that remains in Needs-ID limbo forever. I imagine that if we use the button enough to filter out low-quality obs that are highly unlikely to be ID’d, the needs-ID list will clear out faster. There would, hopefully, be a point where the appropriate specialists could spend their efforts going over genus-level RGs to ID them to species, rather than get lost in the Needs IDs with questionable quality

The sugested overlay seems like a pretty complex change, if not structural, then at least requiring a lot of coding of visuals.

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Yeah same here.
I think the simplest thing to do is to go to the explore page and click needs ID/unknown button and soft through those and ID the ones you can. That’s what I do.
I like the idea of guides but I don’t think any place will get to 100% ID, and especially not to species level, because of plenty of low quality or inadequate pictures.

I definitely like the idea of u using students maybe not to create guides but to teach them how to identify by having them go through the unknown IDs and get them to at least a basic ID life/plants/animals/etc, maybe take it a bit further for those that feel more confident.

I have had generous help outside of the forum by some of the members that have provided me with guides on how to ID bumblebees since that is one of my main interests.


While I support anything that will get more people identifying on iNat, an issue here is many of the suggested improvements are already in place.

  1. Community. This is very much already there. All of us have a network of people who we tag or DM. On the bee side, several of us chat quite a bit, and we even have a page to message on. Plus we keep an eye out for new identifiers. Right now there’s a couple of people who have been putting up good ID’s who we’ve given advice to, or sent resources. If you’re trying, and putting out ID’s, I think you’ll find that the current identifier community will spot you. This is also where you can find ad hoc events. Occasionally, a few of us will get together to knock something out: Some of us just nailed down Bombus impatiens, a couple of us tackled the Apis mellifera for a project that reached out, several of us went at a couple of hundred observations for a project manager a couple of weeks ago.
  2. Guides. There already are guides on here, but they are with the identifiers. So getting into those groups by placing ID’s will get you all the guides you need. Beginners making guides is really a non-starter. Students or very new identifiers aren’t aware of the fieldmarks to note when making a guide.
  3. Local Curators. This is another one that is kind of already there. They’re not official, but the leaderboard for an area can quickly show who is making the most ID’s and whose profile suggests expertise. I don’t think these are the guys who should be creating events though. ID events tend to just pop up. An issue arises, and a few people who are knowledgeable get together and handle it. When these happen it’s to deal with specific things.

Another consideration, I don’t really want new identifiers working the older observations first. 5 plus year old observations were made back when everyone’s camera was crappier and fewer people were aware of what they should be photographing. So I think having someone start there would be discouraging.

I do agree that starting local is a lot easier to get started with. That’s what I did. I’m not against a change like this, we need more identifiers (comparing the identifier numbers from 2020-2022, it doesn’t appear to be getting better), so if this made it easier for new people to dip their toe I’m for it. I’m just not seeing much that isn’t already there.


Thanks everyone for input so far, much appreciated. Before responding to a few specific comments, I just want to clarify a main idea behind this proposal. A key thought (in which I might be wrong) is that there is quite a large threshold for beginners to pick up identifying on iNat. This is at least how I experienced it, and I tried to unpack the hurdles I noticed in order to make it easier to capitalize on people like me. Whether or not this group is indeed significant, and whether or not this is something worth putting time in, is debatable. But I think quite some people here on the forum are by no means beginners in identification. Either you are good at it because of your background in the field, or you got good at it by virtue of using iNat for a long time. But I think it’s worth exploring what the experience is like for someone not in your shoes.

So in terms of most of the items already being in place, I appreciate the overview but at least from my perspective the threshold of actually accessing this knowledge is quite high, and I think only really persistent beginners will get there. If we lower the threshold, I think many more identifiers could learn the ropes and join the ranks.

I think that there is indeed a large community on iNat, but as an observer I don’t feel that there is an accessible community of identifiers. I can tag individuals, but it is hard to feel part of a group of people that collaborate to identify specific parts on iNat, as a beginner. If there were a clear community structure to the identification efforts then it is just much simpler to raise your hand and say “I’ll join you, tell me where to start”.

Again, experience will vary, but getting ‘into those groups’ is what I find hard to do unless you are quite committed to spend time understanding networks and people. And putting some efforts in getting the guides out in the open in a central location seems very worthwhile.

My idea is that beginners help with the basic guides. The kinds of guides that allow people that are quite clueless about identifications to get started. That allow them to identify the simplest of observations (and honestly, a large part of the observations can be (crudely) identified with only a little bit of locally specific instructions). The idea about all this is not to target and expand the specialist identifiers on iNat, but to figure out how we can use the enthusiasm and interest ‘at the bottom’ to become identifiers of the easier, simpler observations on iNat. As an example, please have a look at the guide I wrote for squirrel identification in Panama. Personally, I think this is a very useful guide that can help identify 70% of the observations of squirrels in Panama, even though it was written by a beginner.

Agreed. The idea of showing oldest observations is to encourage more senior people to also look at those. For people to get started, they are initially directed to the regular identification page, which shows most recent observations first.

Thanks for being open to this suggestion and I hope my comments clarify how I look at this and perhaps nudge you in the direction of reconsidering the value of this.


A lot of thought went into this Identification Center idea. Kudos to you on that. There are many identification resources out there (scattered and mostly inaccessible or not obvious) including scientific journal articles and guides like yours for squirrels (and some I’ve created myself). I’ve always lamented the fact that these resources are not all in one place and easily accessible–but I’ve had a difficult time imagining how they could be brought together. The main problem being that it would have to be curated by people. Guides like yours for squirrels (and mine) which are on personal websites (including Google or other personal cloud storage) will come and go with time–links will become broken. A collection of resources would need to be curated, which means the interface would need to be like a wiki. Willing curators of these collections would also come and go. Those are the challenges that I’ve been contemplating.

I really like the idea of a species-focused forum for identification discussions (or any higher taxa). Currently, these sorts of discussions are fragmented across dozens of individual observation pages and are rapidly buried and lost. Just having a forum like that would go a long way–and should be fairly simple to create (I think).


Just to say I really like your idea of the identification centre, Paul. The page you show for insects in Valle de Aburra is really clear and engaging. (I never use the ‘identify’ page for identifying, I find it really crowded to look at, and first impressions are important aren’t they?). I have seen the forum laments that not enough people identify, so I think your idea of gathering resources and human help into one place is an excellent way of encouraging people, and all would benefit from combining knowledge in that central place (and as you say give more of a feel of community, not such disparate discussion).

I like your idea of collaborative documents. I was thinking of making an identification sheet or two myself but at the moment virtually no-one would find them, and it wouldn’t be something that would be suggested automatically should anyone find a related plant/animal. But an easy-to-find document that people could add their experience to would be great, and somewhere like a forum where you could ask questions. Somewhere where you could cut through all the info you’d find in a field guide and point out the distinguishing features between two likely species.

(Regarding squirrels, there are literally two in the UK but you often see observations that people make where they only put ‘tree squirrels’ and don’t plump for either - a little prompt to look at an appropriate guide and they’d have the confidence to know what the species were, and before you know it they might be tackling more obscure things?! I suppose it’s all a mammoth task but everyone’s on here because they like the natural world and want to know more?)


There are organisms that cannot be separated from other species in the field or from photos. They might need microscopic examination, chemical tests, etc. There are quite a number of valid reasons to use the “good as it can be”.


Absolutely, those are valid reasons for taxon specialists.
But don’t apply to my knowledge and skills.


I very much agree with the proposal that identification resources be more centralized, or at least more accessible in an organized way. What about using the Taxon pages this way? Each Taxon page, at any level, could have an “ID resources” button that would lead to whatever resources anyone wanted to attach to it: local guides, a forum for identifiers, a literature bibliography, a way to filter for top identifiers of that taxon in a particular locality (for which the search structure already exists, but this would go from a taxon page rather than from an observation). These would accumulate in a haphazard fashion, but anyone would know where to look for them. Would need to show how to add the resources to the taxon-page link, and these resources could be flagged, so if someone suggested a dubious resource others could respond. Anyway, great thoughts!
PS. this could also be a way to organize the many “guides for how to take good photographs of taxon X”


The About tab on taxon pages would be where I expect to find ID and field mark info. Currently defaults to Wikipedia, if available. On a scale of 1 to 10, that quality varies from minus 3 to plus 15. But mostly not helpful for ID purposes, or even distribution.

iNat journal posts, which can be linked to in comments on obs - is a good way to make useful info available.

@phoekman back to your how to encourage people to start identifying. A human mentor - who could ask, what are you interested in, where? Then give you a dedicated link to chew thru. Done that? OK now broaden your search, up a taxon level or out a geographical level.
Bumblebees? Sort thru Pterygota. Or look for bumbles on the distribution map which are way out of range (ours are carpenter bees, no bumbles here)


Glad to hear the idea resonates with you, @pfau_tarleton and @ffnaturalist!

@janetwright and @dianastuder: in terms of using the taxon page I think it would indeed be an upgrade if there are more hands-on identification pointers made available there. However, I think there is really great value in making identification resources more location-specific. At least for me as a beginner, I struggled a lot to figure out how I could differentiate between species that are present in my own area. Having to weed through detailed descriptions and long documents that try to describe all species in a genus, for instance, was overkill. All I really wanted to know is how to differentiate the handful of species in my area, and what those markers are to differentiate just those species. Being location-specific and much shorter, this would greatly increase accessibility to beginners, I think. Similar to what @ffnaturalist described around UK squirrels.

Lastly, using just the taxon pages for this would not add much to the community feeling of identifiers. So yes, I think it’s an upgrade, but at the same time I think we could do more.

@dianastuder the process you described above is indeed a great route to becoming a skilled identifier. And I think something like the Identification Center I described above would make that process much more approachable and appealing to a large group of people that are currently primarily observers.


i suspect it would be better to add an optional section to a project page that would allow curators to specify good resources. this way, your resources could be circumscribed to whatever other criteria (ex. place) delineate your project.

it might actually be easiest to give each project page a Wiki tab or section that could be updated with whatever the curators wanted to add.


What I do is change my browser (Firefox) zoom to 133% then there are only 4 picture across. You can also limit the number of observations per page. Here is an example URL: https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/identify?per_page=8&order_by=random&order=asc&place_id=125100


You’ve certainly put a lot of thought into this, and into creating these prototype pages - congratulations on the initiative! Obviously a new interface like this would be a lot of work for the iNaturalist team, as well as for whoever is going to curate these pages, so even if they decided to take it on it would take a long time to appear. I wonder if you could use journal posts or a wiki post here on the forum to set up a working prototype with as many of the features as possible, for one place, and test it out for a while, inviting people who you notice are identifying in that area? Most of the features you show could be set up in the form of links. It would be a bit more static than what you imagine, but it would start to give an idea of what might work and what might not.


Yes, yes, yes! That would have the outside-iNat benefit of teaching them analytical skills, too. Maybe this could be mentioned in our guide to edicators.

I appreciate the thought and work that you put into your mockups. A barrier I see is that (some) specialists do not seem to understand how to interact with nonspecialists. They will ask expert-level questions like “how did you rule out such-and-such?” when the newbie was not aware that there even was a such-and-such to rule out. I have even done this myself sometimes, although I am working on remembering that many trying to help have not had my level of experience.

The main thing I see that isn’t already there is the central, easy-to-find location. I have the impression that that is what is being proposed.

The problem with having a background in science is that it can tend to lock us into a scientific thought pattern to the point that the only solution we can think of is “we’ll train them to think like us.” That box is too small.

I’m not sure how long it took me to realize that the species name at the top of an observation is, in fact, a link to the taxon page. It doesn’t look like one unless you happen to hover over it.


8 fits my screen - so that is my chosen display

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Yes, the About tab in taxon pages would be the place to house this information. Right now, I believe the “About” tab contents are controlled by iNat staff, or maybe curators. I’m suggesting that other users be able to add links there to their own resources such as identification guides, their own journal entries that help with identification, or other resources.