Upcoming Limits on Making Projects, Places, and Messages


We’re thinking of introducing the following changes:

  1. You must have 3 verifiable observations or 3 identifications for others before you can send a new message
  2. You must have 50 verifiable observations before making a new project
  3. You must have 50 verifiable observations before making a new place

These three kinds of content cause a variety of problems:


Some of you may have been hit by phishing attempts in the last few months. They’re annoying and for some people potentially dangerous. The intent here is to make it slightly harder for a newly registered user to just spam a bunch of people. There’s been some discussion of this, including fears about punishing new users, but I don’t think three observations or identifications is too much to ask of earnest new users.


For some reason, a lot of people sign up for iNat and think the first thing they need to do is make a project. I have no idea why, but the first thing you should do on iNat is make an observation or an identification. That’s the core of iNat. Everything else is ancillary, and this will hopefully help new users understand that. Projects can be a support headache and we receive many emails about them, most of which are from people who have barely added any observations and/or have a tenuous understanding of what iNat is about. Everyone who makes a project needs to understand iNat from an observer’s perspective, and if 50 obs sounds like work, good. It is.


No doubt many of you have seen the large number of duplicate places, which is confusing and mostly unnecessary. What you might not realize is that making new places that encompass many observations imposes a significant performance cost for the site as a whole. Making a place the size of Texas requires hours of computation time during which we cannot deploy changes to the site without restarting that job. Most people do not need to make a place.

I doubt this will cause any problems for folks in the Forum, since I assume most people invested enough to be here have well over 50 observations. Still, we’re interested in your thoughts.


Educators - How do you use iNaturalist or Seek?
Anything that can/ should be done about dysfunctional projects?
Educators - How do you use iNaturalist or Seek?

Will these requirements be made very clear to users? I think they’re a great idea, but I wonder if someone might try to send a message and be confused about why they can’t.



These changes seem sensible to me.



Kind of subjective, but people will see an error message when they try to do these things that explains what they need to, e.g. “you need 3 verifiable observations or 3 identifications for others to do that” Or for some things, like messages, we could just hide that button or gray it out if the user can’t send a message yet.



Sound like great ideas to me.

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Another reason I think this might be good is that it would make using iNat with a class less attractive for a well-meaning-but-inexperienced-with-iNat educator since they won’t be able to set up a project. Many of the issues with education usage is that the educator is often not familiar with iNaturalist.



I’m concerned that spammers, phishers, bots, etc would, upon learning about these regulations, just up their amount of spam output to bypass them.



it seems fine to me too. The one thing is that i am wondering about collection projects, those seem to be lower impact and easier to use so maybe the threshold should be lower for those.

I personally would also like to see a 50 observation requirement to do a blanket turn-off of community ID. When established, active users turn it off, they tend to be responsive to questions and it doesn’t cause problems but for whatever reason a lot of new users turn off community ID, create a few misidentified observations, then leave the site.

My impression is the spammers are mostly bots which can’t figure out rules (yet) rather than motivated individuals trying to hack the system. If ‘verifiable observation’ doesn’t include those which have been flagged, i think this will work pretty well.



Collection projects are less cumbersome on our infrastructure, but they also have the two other major problems associated with projects created by new users:

  • Even for new users who have read the Managing Projects page, they are still a bit difficult to understand and thus help@inat (mainly me, so I’m slightly biased here) gets questions that might not have been asked if the user had more experience.

  • As we saw with Penang and we see with some other school-based projects, the ability for someone with little iNat experience to create a collection project that has wide reach can be a liability.



As an educator and new user who teaches the same course term after term with college students learning to use iNaturalist on a campus, the same plants get photographed over and over. I was thinking that a project would be a way to keep these observations together, a way to allow other users to exclude this data. My students are learning and often forget to mark cultivated/captive. I try to catch this error post hoc. I tried Seek, but Seek has yet to successfully identify a plant here on Pohnpei. Not useful in college level botany. The 50 limit would functionally prevent my use of the project option as I do not have 50 RG. Perhaps that is the intent. And, yes, many of my students are users who will not use beyond the end of the term. But they come from small remote islands in Micronesia in the Western Pacific. Just inspiring one student to contribute from their home island would be of value. This goes back to the issue of abandoned accounts and the need instructors have for student accounts. A student account flag and a mentor-mentee relationship that would end if the student remains an active user for more than five months. Inactive student accounts would fall into the “iNat public domain” and could be controlled by curators. Then teachers would not have to use projects to organize class observations - which is probably not the design intent of projects.



I’d support that also. I’ve seen people post lots of observations at coarse taxonomic levels (e.g. “Beetles”), opt out of Community ID for all of them, and then go inactive. I’d welcome anything that gives users a bit of time to get to understand how the site works before doing things like that.

The suggestion is that all verifiable observations count towards the limit, so they don’t need to be RG, just have a photo, location and date etc. That should make it a much more accessible goal. But perhaps it’s a change that should be grandfathered in only for new users, so as not to remove the ability to create projects for users who currently can?



What is the barrier from you trying inat for a couple of weeks and getting 50 research grade observations? It would help you ice it with the students. (In your case in particular just make a project now)



We’re not planning on locking people out of projects they’ve already created, but if you don’t have 50 verifiable observations (RG or Needs ID) you would no longer be able to make a new project… until you reach 50 verifiable obs.



This sounds like a recipe for spamming random identifications.


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I have some concerns about how the project limitations will affect the earnest identifier who doesn’t contribute observations, but who does add a lot of value to the site, and who may need or want to create a project as part of their identifying efforts, like a “Native orchids of Brazil” collection project or something like that.

How can we make that possible? Even if we go with 50 leading and/or improving and/or agreeing IDs, what about the taxon specialist who is the only one contributing IDs for that taxon? Would like not to put-off folks like that from full participation in the site. Can there maybe be a way for a curator to override the limitation for a user, similar to marking an account as “not spam”?



I think these are reasonable, especially if they are explicitly made clear to users, ie on the project set up page. The only one I think might be tough is the project one.

It might also be good to have some kind of time limit you have to be an active user to make projects, since it would be easy enough to make 50 observations of random stuff on a walk around your neighborhood and not actually become experienced with the site (though I don’t now if many folks would be motivated enough to do that). Like, be active on the site for at least a few weeks or something.

I also second @charlie 's suggestion about having a 50 observation limit to enable turning off community ID. I’m not sure why some folks pick that right away on sign up, but it can be pretty annoying for the community.

On the whole, I’m in favor of these changes.



We’ll see, but I doubt it. We could make the requirement 3 improving identifications or 3 RG observations to add an element of community verification if the lower barrier ends up being too low.

I hear you, but I feel pretty strongly that if you’re going to ask people to contribute to a project or use projects at all, you should understand the experience of the people contributing to your project, and by “understand” I mean have firsthand experience with projects from a contributor’s perspective.



For traditional projects I can understand that, but for collection projects, I don’t think there is really any “user experience” for folks whose observations get included in the project, unless they are somehow made aware of the project’s existence via other means.

I would be good with making the observation threshold apply to traditional projects, but do something different (or not at all) for collection projects.

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Not opposed to this, but I would like to see if your hypothetical problem of identifiers-who-don’t-observe needing projects gets validated by complaints before adding that additional bit of complexity. Most iNat users could make 50 verifiable observations in a day, or less if they just uploaded past photos they’ve got. It doesn’t seem like a high bar to me for people who want to go beyond the basics of adding observations and identifications.



Hi! In response to the post by danaleeling,

I teach a course that utilizes projects to organize class observations, and I am a little concerned about the effect that the 50 limit may have on new teachers wishing to utilize iNaturalist in the classroom. I am not against this limit, but I am a little concerned. I too would like to see the addition tools for teachers utilizing projects to organize class observations as neither the collections projects nor the umbrella projects meet our class needs.