Temporary freeze on large places, life list updates, and taxon changes during April 22 - May 4

Cross posted from the blog.

In preparation for increased iNaturalist activity during the upcoming City Nature Challenge, iNaturalist will implement a few temporary changes. Starting on April 22, we will temporarily pause any changes to a few lesser-used types of content on iNaturalist that are more intensive. Most users will not notice these changes because they do not directly impact observations, identifications, comments, or projects. However, for anyone planning to use the features below, we want to give advance notice so you can plan and prepare accordingly.

Large places cannot be created or edited
Creating or editing large places that contain many observations can slow down the site. Normally, if you have more than 50 verifiable observations, you can create a new place as long as it’s smaller than the size of Texas and the kml file used to create it is under 1 MB (curators can add places up to 5 MB). Starting on April 22, places must be smaller than roughly the size of West Virginia (~24,000 square miles or 62,361 square km). New places must also contain fewer than 50,000 observations (the threshold has been 500,000 observations). If you try to do this, it will give you a warning message like it currently does with the larger thresholds.

Life Lists will not be updated
Every iNaturalist account has a Life List that is updated asynchronously as your observations change (with variable speed). We’re also aware the Life List updating isn’t perfect and doesn’t do a good job of cleaning up older data as observations are removed or taxa change. This approach has not been scalable as iNaturalist grows, so we’ve been working on a new Life List feature. Stay tuned for more on that. In the meantime, we’ll be temporarily suspending the updates to Life Lists as they currently exist.

Taxon changes paused (applicable for curators only)
No taxon changes or edits to taxon ancestry (including grafting taxa) can be implemented starting April 22. If you try to do this, you’ll get a message that such changes are temporarily unavailable. You can still draft taxon changes and save them to be committed after the restriction.

These temporary limitations will be in place through May 4 , which includes the observation period of the City Nature Challenge as well as the upload/identification period. During the 2019 City Nature Challenge (which generated nearly a million observations made over just four days in the participating cities alone), notifications (e.g. about identifications and comments) were delayed up to several days due to high activity. The site, mobile apps, and API remained functional, but some aspects of iNaturalist (especially notifications) were slow. Limiting the features above will reduce the delays.

With much of the world under a variety of stay at home, shelter in place, social distancing, or quarantine orders, we are not sure what this year’s City Nature Challenge will look like. However, based on last year’s event, we want to be prepared. This is a set of tools that we could also implement in the event of a similar spike in activity, even if without advance warning.

Other things we don’t recommend during this anticipated “peak time”:
-csv uploads: If you are uploading a csv of observations, expect considerable delays.
-csv data downloads: If you are trying to download a csv of observations, expect considerable delays.

We’re grateful for everyone who is able to make iNaturalist a part of their life during these unusual times. Please stay safe!

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Thanks for the notice! By the time that’s over, my regular semester will have ended and I can hopefully provide more active assistance with fern curation and taxonomy again.

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