The vanishing of a fellow iNatter

Unfortunately, there are folks who need an immediate and tangible demonstration that their actions can have serious consequences. And yes, resentment and spite factor into it as well. Maybe that’s unfathomable to some of you. That’s OK. Lots of different people participate in iNat for lots of different reasons. So far, this discussion has seemed very abstract to me. Nobody is allowed to mention those who quit, or to speculate as to why. The major contributors who quit are painted as selfless saints. Fair enough. Many no doubt were. I’m just somebody who saw a job that needed doing and felt that if I didn’t do it, nobody else would. As I don’t quite measure up in the sainthood department, I tired of doing my (largely) thankless job while simultaneously fighting against some who persisted in thwarting my efforts. Not being a saint, I wanted to strike back in the only way I (legally) could - by withdrawing my contributions. Petty and spiteful? Ok, fair enough. It seems to be assumed that those driving out the major contributors are pathological fiends of some sort (surely not any of “us”).

If I were one of these major contributors of which you speak, the message I would get from this discussion is: “We appreciate your wonderful contribution so much that we must remove your right to withdraw that contribution should the day come when you can no longer put up with our BS”. Is that really the message you want to send? Admittedly, not everyone will take it that way, but it’s something to consider before proceeding.

As far as taking a more leisurely approach to IDing goes, I wish I had the luxury of working on IDs on my own schedule. But that isn’t how our project works. There’s no sitting with my feet up eating bonbons. There are deadlines. Yeah, I could ignore them, but that would just make someone else’s life more difficult. Yeah, I could assimilate the observation data without vetting it to stay on schedule, but then I would just be doubling my work. Down the road, I’d have to make corrections in two places instead of one. Yeah, I could just live with the errors, but I have a strange, anachronistic “Not on my watch” attitude about it. In addition, errors in observation data have a habit of breeding. People base their IDs on “accepted” species ranges and phenology. Errors in published data are used as evidence to support subsequent errors. These things are best nipped in the butt (as our premier would say).

If I even take a few days off during the field season, the backlog quickly builds to the point where catching up becomes daunting, and that can be fatal. When there’s a significant backlog, I feel pressured. I start to get rushed/sloppy. People get upset because I correct their IDs without stopping to provide an explanation and pointers to references (which I normally try to do). To some extent, we are victims of our own success. If we do a good job as IDers, it encourages folks to submit even more observations, and to tell all their friends about how great iNat is. If we pull the rabbit out of a hat and positively ID a blurry photo, we foster a belief that anything is possible, and create more work for ourselves. Prompt and thorough vetting of observations comes to be expected as the norm. As things stand, I can just barely keep my head above water, but I can only do so by keeping on top of IDs during the field season. The off season is dedicated to processing the observation data from the previous field season (and weeding out errors I missed earlier in the process). What few lulls there are in the action are devoted to ongoing efforts to clean up historical data (which provides an object lesson in what will happen if I slack off on vetting the incoming observation data).


Each ider should do their best to build a network of other people able to identify, otherwise it will become a mountain impossible to climb onto, it’s not a “you must”, but “you win from that and will feel less pressured”.
By deleting out of spite you don’t make it worse for those you’re in argument with, but observera who had nothing to do with the situation. Those against you will just be happy if you quit/delete.


To some extent, I have done so. I believe that gradually, the number of IDs I have had to correct for my taxa of interest has gone down as the regular contributors have improved their identification skills on their own observations, and have branched out to helping ID other people’s observations. (teach a man to fish and all that) But it still takes time to look at an observation and click “Agree”, or to look over the Research Grade observations and click “Reviewed”. And as I said, the more efficient we get at providing IDs, the more observations get submitted. So even if I spend less time on each observation (because fewer corrections), there are always more observations. Though it does appear that things may have levelled off. I probably look at ~40K observations per year on iNat, though that isn’t reflected in my ID stats (it’s based on the number of observations I download, and I give most of them at least a cursory glance). This summer I had to take a few days off to deal with a death in the family and I had folks tagging me and sending PMs because their observations didn’t receive my immediate attention.


You have reminded me that even before I knew of iNaturalist, getting data straightened out was tedious and frustrating and took an enormous amount of time. Just the usual errors that any human introduces into every process. Just the usual “interference” from politicians or administrators. Just the usual frustrations of equipment breaking down or back-ups not being made or, I don’t know, Covid making people sick and thus slowing down an already tight schedule.

I don’t ID at your level of expertise, but I can appreciate your work and your knowledge. In case no one has said this to you, thank you for the work you do here on iNat.



I love engaging with nature in ways that are not iNat, but for me the fact is if iNat shut down, i wouldn’t be interested in re uploading all of the observations somewhere else, nor keeping the photos and somehow tracking them internally. For things associated with work i have a work database I use, but otherwise, without iNat, i’d mostly be back to just not making observations at all on my own time.

That being said i do periodically download a spreadsheet with all my species IDs and location, because i am paranoid i would lose that due to some unforeseen issue.


Not only can I imagine it, I think it is probably the leading motivation of account deletion. People get angry and want to strike back by taking all their data. They want to hurt iNat as revenge for whatever made them angry. Sure there’s probably a minority of cases where someone deleted their account for another serious reason, fear for their physical safety or whatever it is, but I can’t help but think, given current options, a majority of non-angry people who need to leave would simply walk away and leave the account open.


If i ever did leave, i would not delete my observations and IDs, but would want it very clear that i was gone, so i didn’t get contacted about my observations or have people asking me things in comments that i won’t see. I’d want it to say inactive user kind of like the inactive taxon label, or else just anonymization. I suspect some people wouldn’t delete their whole account if these options existed.


I love it!


Well, if the site keeps growing you may have no choice. I used to have aspirations of ‘review every single plant observation in Vermont (a state in the USA)’… as of 2012 or so that was very possible, but a few years later the site got so popular i could not, and at this point there are far more observations i haven’t reviewed than those I have. I love that iNat grew so much but it does result in a deterioration of the ability to manage quality of some specific datasets.


This idea or something similar would be a good option even aside from its relationship to account deletions. I think an advantage could be that inactive accounts couldn’t be tagged (ie, they would show up as greyed out and unselectable in the autofill) which would let users trying to tag them in comments, etc. know that they were unavailable. This would just help cut down on identifiers/commenters wasting time in trying to contact people who have left iNat or are on extended hiatus.


I have trouble fathoming folks who say that if it weren’t for iNat, they wouldn’t do X,Y, or Z. As I said, I sometimes have trouble understanding other peoples’ motivations. I wish I had the time to put my own observations up on iNat ( for “posterity”). I just don’t have the time, except for a few observations from far flung places where I actually need input from others on the IDs. For my own observations, I put them straight into the database I manage. So if that project dies, so will most of my observations. (the cobbler’s children are the worst shod)
But I get not wanting to re-do the work on another platform. I used to put all my observations on another platform. Due to persistent mismanagement of that platform, I abandoned it (as did many others). I could resubmit all those observations on iNat. Someday. Maybe I can enlist the help of the elves, but they have yet to touch those shoes I left out on the porch.


I have also had worrying thoughts along these lines:

iNat has been pretty clear that account/content deletion is possible - it’s referenced in both the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. If they made a substantive change to this, I would think they would need to let users know. This could lead to a one time spike in account deletions by users worried about privacy or just worried about losing control of their content in general. This could lead to many more account deletions than would otherwise have occurred without a policy change.

Not having the ability to delete accounts/content might also lead to fewer people using iNaturalist in the future. However, I expect assessing how many potential users could be discouraged from using iNat due to a policy change like this would be very difficult to evaluate.


Seems very sensible. Just recently, I had a fellow IDer go inactive for a while due to old age and failing health. People still kept tagging them. And due to privacy concerns, I didn’t feel that I could explain why they were not responding.


iNat motivated many of us to start doing something, starting from naturalising as a whole and down to learning new groups. I wouldn’t think about photographing as much as I do before iNat, I deleted photos that had no artistic value, didn’t photograph lifers if I knew photos would be awful/far. So, if there’s no iNat, there’s no reason to spend so much time doing that, I could play video games all day long and be happy about it. iNat is my main activity and there’s nothing else job-like I do, so it’s very much more than just another website to upload photos for me, these come and go, but iNat has a purpose that makes you stay.


Ok, but now that you’ve “caught the bug”, if iNat were to vanish for some reason, wouldn’t you try to find a way to do the same thing, via some other venue?

Note that I’m not a professional biologist - this is all a hobby for me. I started before the various online platforms were “a thing”, and when I found out that even back then, much of observation data then in existence was actually contributed by amateurs, I got more serious about it. I used to think that the platform I was using previously was the best thing since sliced bread, but I got over that. So now I continue with the work in a different way. (Because the observation work is important and fun, regardless of how I go about it) I really should be putting my photos somewhere like iNat, but the backlog is now so massive that I will probably never do it.

None I know of, those that exist are some European sites and I don’t want to participate in them, sadly there’s no local website for all forms of life, only birds. I would keep observing, but much less “weeds on a sidewalk” type of things.
I hope you will start uploading when possible, I was surprised how quick backlog got down when I started doind it!


Well, i don’t really have the motivation to manage an Excel or Access database for my personal biodiversity observations, since i already do that for work and don’t want to on my free time. And I have zero interest in cataloging and managing photos on my computer. And, I don’t have Arcmap for personal use and mapping things on my own is a pain. iNat does the photo management, database management, etc, and makes wonderful maps, so I can do the part that’s fun for me and not do the tedious data stuff. I just wouldn’t do that on my own nor would I be likely to start again on a different site unless there was an import option directly from iNat.

For work stuff, I’d obviously still collect biodiversity data that i collect as part of my job, but i use iNat as a sort of mobile field notebook, and without iNat i’d probably be collecting less incidental data while working (for instance, insect observations), because i have no real mechanism to use it. Also iNat makes me more able to share wetland ecology data with laypersons. Without iNat it would be harder to do that.


I’m wondering why multiple deletion options aren’t possible and wouldn’t satisfy all deleters, something like:

How would you like to delete your account?

  1. Delete my profile, journals, observations, IDs, and comments (currently the only option).
  2. Delete my profile, journals, and observations, but keep IDs and comments with my username.
  3. Delete my profile, journals, and observations, but keep IDs and comments with anonymous username.

Or even a delay on deletion, something like they can do option (1), but it goes into affect in 4 weeks, and user gets emails/notifications weekly that account will be deleted in 4 weeks, 3 weeks, etc. click here to cancel.


To give some aspects to consider regarding your initial question:

I wouldn’t say it destroys, and many observations are likely not affected by the disappearing IDs (because of same IDs by other IDers or the observer).
But it is also not reverting the status of the obseration:

  • because time has passed. If the community ID changed upon ID deletion, it might get lost amoong the gazillions of old observations with a broad ID. Experts might only look for recent observations
  • because you interacted with the observation and the observer. Say, I observe a beetle unknown to me, and I tag a coleopterist or notice that I receive an ID shortly after uploading. I am happy and ‘tick off’ the observation in my mind. If that beetle expert then leaves the site, my ID is reverted without me noticing. Had that expert never interacted with my ID, I would’ve sought the help of another beetle expert shortly after uploading to get a better ID.
  • because one can only disagree with the community ID, so that further IDs of a parent taxon don’t count as disagreement. Say, some observer claimed to have seen an Exemplum gratia. But you as an expert disagrees, but it belongs to the family Exemplidae. Then another expert also joins in on family level. Later, you leave, taking the ID with you. The community taxon is back to wrong species level, although the second expert intended to disagree as well, but couldn’t (due to limitations how the platform works).

And apart from these examples, many contributions in this thread made it clear that the decision of a prolific IDer leaving emotionally affects others - or, in other words: it makes people sad.