The vanishing of a fellow iNatter

I hope this isn’t a taboo topic, but it’s something that has made me a bit melancholy. A strange thing happened recently on iNat: like a lot of identifiers, I keep bookmarks of searches for the taxa I like to ID, and I noticed that some 400–500 tiger beetles suddenly popped up in my search as “needs ID.” The dates of these observations were all over the place: 8 years ago, a few weeks ago, etc. A bit later, I noticed the same phenomenon in Erotylidae and Cleridae.

Eventually, I realized what was going on: a user who had been a good and avid beetle identifier had disappeared, and all of his confirming IDs had vanished. His account has completely vanished, so I can’t check, but I think he had around 40,000 observations and probably in the neighborhood of 60,000+ IDs. He focused primarly on beetles and herps (his username was derived from the Massasauga). I imagine there’s probably a bit of a hole left in herp IDs as well. I think he must have deleted his account himself, though I can’t imagine why; he seemed to enjoy the community and was always polite and friendly in the interactions I had with him.

Anyway, noticing this has set me to thinking about the whole subject of “digital losses” --how strange it can be to miss someone whom you’ve never met, but whose presence you value. A few prominent iNatters have passed away since I joined the site, but at least their data is still here–It’s just so strange (and sad) for someone to simply disappear.

There is a thread related to this topic, but I just wanted to open the topic for discussion of the more vague, emotional side of things.


That identifier was from New Zealand? - I think someone said on another thread.

There are blogs I used to read. Sometimes they leave a goodbye post. Or someone adds a goodbye comment for them. Or it leaves a quiet gap on the internet.


I think they were from central Texas; at least, that’s where most of his observations came from. Lots of snakes on rural roads (squashed and unsquashed).

Then the New Zealand and beetles is a separate and similar story.

Yes, the NZ story (well, one of them) related to spiders. The departure left a massive hole in the ID inventory.


Ah - this thread. Very much a parallel situation.

I can understand a user perhaps being concerned about privacy or data ownership, but it’s too bad that their ID’s can’t just be “anonymized” when an account is deleted. One of the strangest phenomena related to the disappearance was that his comments would be visible until I added an ID to restore Research Grade…and then they’d disappear when the screen updated. Poof. :(


Yes, anonymisation should generally be sufficient to avoid falling foul of e.g. GDPR rules. As you’ll see from that thread, I don’t think the developers have done the work yet, and I also don’t think the proposed solution is a very good one.


The sooner something can be implemented for this, the better, really.

Just for future sake, I am curious if iNat can ever “reinstate” lost IDs even though the warning is the data is gone “forever”. Presumably due to laws iNat cannot retain that data, but I assume there are previous site data backups that would still contain it if anonymization came to pass.


I think there is something akin to a death about someone disappearing and all traces of them disappearing with them. You lose their knowledge. You lose their voice. You begin to question their memory of them. Were they here? Do I remember this correctly?

It is all well and good to say iNaturalist is about observing or identifying, but for me it is about experiencing and sharing and a tremendous amount of joy is drawn from the latter. I like to see what others can share with me, both from their surroundings and their knowledge, and I enjoy them sharing what they can about what I show them from my surroundings. (Rare is it that I can share knowledge about what I am showing.) When someone disappears - or even just stops using iNaturalist - that relationship built on sharing, even though it is online, suddenly disappears too. That is what I mourn.


Depends on the way they back up the data. Assuming a daily backup, after a period of time you start to overwrite the older backups because they are no longer relevant. It’s called backup recycling.

Archiving of data from deleted accounts would be a different matter. I am guessing that based on the fact that inat people have stated that ‘principles’ are involved in the account deletion practice decision, that such archiving would be beyond the pale.

The fragility of digital data has long been a concern of mine. In this case, a user of iNat is able to erase all their contributions to the database and simply vanish, for whatever reason. Even if I never interacted with that person, I do find it sad that all their work can simply disappear like this. When I collected physical specimens for a natural history research museum, those specimens and their data became the property of the institution as soon as I deposited them there. If I were to have a falling out with the institution and were to demand my specimens back, well, too bad for me. Those contributions of mine are no longer mine to take back. I realize iNat is a different sort of “museum” for archiving materials so those rules don’t apply. That doesn’t make the loss less painful.


At the absolute least, if iNat could have something recognizing that the loss of an ID removes that suggestion entirely from an observation, and propose even a blank comment like this:

It would make a huge difference for preserving lost ID data, and without any breach of privacy terms. If there was some kind of past backup that allowed reiterating already deleted “top IDer” accounts in this way, to existing observations that were affected, I really hope it could happen.


Fine to discuss the issue generally, but let’s make sure to not publicly speculate about someone’s motivations for leaving iNat.


Beetle ider deleted their account too, it was mentioned in one of the topics.
There’s a whole topic about iders deleting accounts, because that is very disturbing for any observation they contacted with. I know of more iders deleting profiles than big users, I personally don’t know how you can do either, thousands of observations or thousands of ids, that was time of your life you wasted, and not only this, you decided that other people don’t deserve to not have a mess on their observations.
@silversea_starsong that was proposed like, in 2019 probably? It’s the best way to deal with the situation.


Two thoughts here.

One, is that, in rare cases, people can be victims of other people controlling them. Say an iNatter has a problem with an abuser or gaslighter. That person could go into their account and delete everything without the user knowing, just to be a pain and cause problems, one they find out what the password is. Can the iNatter reinstate what was lost later?

Another thought is that I notice on my own observations, almost every ID stops once it gets to research grade. We seem to think that it is not necessary to keep IDing things that are already research. This topic shows that that is not the case, and it is valuable to have four or five people agreeing on something. It seems redundant, but in two cases it’s not. One is that it is easy for two IDs to agree and be wrong, and the other is that one ID’er could disappear, and now the observation isn’t Research Grade anymore. I think I will, from now on, look for observations and ID them even if two people have already agreed and it is at Research Grade.


Yes, if you write to staff immediately, it can be brought back.


A few days ago, I got notifications of a few new IDs on my observations and figured out that these observations had lost some IDs and some people identified them again.

I keep on my computer (and on distant backups) all my photos and I copy/paste all the new IDs in the photo file names. I could restore the lost IDs online after being notified that something happened to these observations.

My guideline is:
Security of data is not a matter of confidence.
One has to take care of it on one’s own.


This was probably explained somewhere, but … if I were to delete some or all my RG records on iNat, would the corresponding records in GBIF also be deleted?

Sure they will be.


Not everything we do is intended to be around forever. When I was a kid, I used to spend time building sandcastles. When the tide came in and obliterated those sandcastles, does that mean that the time I spent building them was wasted? No, not if I enjoyed that time.