Upcoming Limits on Making Projects, Places, and Messages


I’m definitely on board with this
99 percent of all the spam I’ve ever
Received on here were from zombie
Accounts that fall into this category



Um. One of my friends, who is a legit, eminent, published ecologist studying my favorite local ecosystem, recently signed up for iNat. It looks like he’s uploaded 40 observations, made 2 IDs, and set up 3 collection projects to collate observations. I’m glad I don’t have to tell him to go hike around for another weekend uploading until he’s got his 50 observations.

I’m as frustrated as anyone else here with coerced editors, bad automated uploads, etc., but iNat has a lot of real-life experts who are generally not power users the way most of us on the forum are. This strikes me as similar to the dilemma I have to deal with in my classes–the more assignments you pile on to coerce the less motivated students to prepare themselves for class, the more irritation and busywork you generate for the people who don’t need that stimulus.



it doesn’t seem to me like the solutions(?) you’re proposing here really address the problems you’ve identified. and if you’re not really fixing the problems, then this seems like a waste of time to me.

you might as well tokenize everything and at least make a revenue stream out of it. for example, 1 ID or 1 observation earns you one iNat token. you need 3 tokens to send 1 message to 1 person. you need 50 tokens to create a project or a place. you can also buy tokens for $1 USD a pop.

it’s not difficult to load 3 or even 50 photos that can become observations, if you just do the bare minimum. once a spammer has 3 photos to load, he can just load the same 3 photos for each spam account he creates. it’s such a low bar that i just don’t see how this prevents spam messages.

if you really have no idea why people do what they do with projects, maybe the right thing to do is to find out why people make these projects. if there is a lot of customer support associated with projects, why is that? if you limit the ability to make projects and just make people mad and/or have to answer a bunch of new inquiries about why folks aren’t able to make projects or how they can activate the ability to make projects, does that limit actually fix things?

again, it seems like a limit is the wrong solution for the problems you’re describing here. if you think that people don’t realize something, it seems like the right way to address that is education. if you think that there are too many duplicate places, then maybe make some tools for identifying those, and maybe have someone go through once and systematically work on getting rid of those. maybe if someone creates a place in the future that has, say 90% overlap with another place, then maybe that triggers some sort of process that makes the user aware of the other place but allows him to create it if it can still be justified.

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There is a lot of focus on the project aspect here, and I would like to provide a little bit of perspective from the other side of things.

Last October, I led a workshop on using iNaturalist Projects at the Texas Master Naturalist State meeting, intended for people already familiar with iNaturalist. I stated specifically in the abstract that attendees should already know how to make observations, and they should already be somewhat comfortable with the app and/or website. Also, at the meeting, there was another workshop that had a more fundamental “How to use iNaturalist” focus, which would have been perfect… if the people scheduling the meeting didn’t put my workshop in the morning, and the beginner session in the afternoon

It was a 4 hour, train-the-trainer workshop. The people in attendance would be the folks setting up projects for their chapters. They would be the people who would need 50 observations in our current discussion.

My intention was to demonstrate the project types, and provide examples of how they could be used for chapter projects, and then break up, spend an hour making observations, and regroup to watch how the collection project I had created as a demo grew as people uploaded their observations, with the statistics and all that fun stuff. I knew I would have some people who weren’t too familiar with iNaturalist as they should be, so I included some slides on how to make observations in the beginning, which I planned I could go through in no more than 10 minutes.

What ended up happening: About half of my workshop attendees had never used iNaturalist before. Those beginning slides that were supposed to take only 10 minutes took over an hour to get through because I had folks asking basic questions. We did the in-the-field observations, but the live demo of watching the project grow essentially didn’t happen because I was still trying to help some of the newer users get their accounts set-up correctly, and some folks still had issues with their settings.

Despite this, it was a great session, and I’m glad I was able to help everybody who came get more comfortable with iNaturalist. But just imagine if those people were teachers who decided to set up a project for their classroom, and they didn’t have the benefit of a workshop! How would these teachers help the students with technical questions, or issues with their settings, if the teachers themselves haven’t made enough observations to get comfortable with iNaturalist? How would the teachers learn about the “rules” of iNat if they’ve never used it themselves?

50 sounds like a lot, but it’s really not that many. They don’t have to be 50 different species, just 50 different individuals, or even just the same individual on 50 different days. Even if you’re strapped for time, you can get creative. I’ve made observations of things that have grown on food I accidentally forgot I left out before going on vacation (slime mold!), and I’ll probably take some photos of what I have growing on my leftovers when I clean out my fridge this weekend.



@pisum I have been meaning to start a thread for educators to share their experiences, and finally did so here: https://forum.inaturalist.org/t/educators-how-do-you-use-inaturalist-or-seek/2112 You’re right in that it would be better to know specifically why people want to start projects so quickly, but my experience tells me that a lot of messaging, which we can’t really control, involves the creation of projects.

That being said, I think the underlying goal here with the observation quota as it relates to projcts is to help people succeed with creating and running a project, and that is more difficult to do if you’re not familiar with the basics of iNaturalist (as @nanofishology said much more eloquently than I am doing here). It takes a little time to learn those basics, and even the best tutorial and messaging won’t be a substitute for real experience, from my perspective.



I like to point out that there has been a recent protocol published to incorporate iNaturalist into botanical research collections. It is in the process of being widely accepted in the botanical research community from what I have heard. And I myself have published a Medium story on how to use it in batch uploading. The protocol specifically says (paper, Appendix 1):

1 Creating an iNaturalist account—
2 Creating a project in iNaturalist—
3 Creating iNaturalist observation records—

Having the 50 obs limitations would break this protocol.



i think you’re thinking mostly about running bioblitzes and similar events here. i don’t disagree that it would be helpful for someone running an event to have and understanding of how to create an observation. but running bioblitzes isn’t the only use case for a project. i just went to the main projects page (https://www.inaturalist.org/projects), and while the CNC 2019 umbrella project is listed as a Featured Project, neither of the other Featured projects, none of the 8 Recently Active Projects, and only 1 of 8 of the Recently Created projects looks to me like a bioblitz type of project to me.

in fact, one of the other Featured Projects, an Ontario Parks umbrella project (https://www.inaturalist.org/projects/ontario-parks?tab=about), along with all of its subprojects, seems to be a more typical use case for projects. these Ontario Parks projects were created by an ontarioparks account that has only 9 observations. that kind of account seems like some sort of administrative account, probably created because it would be inappropriate in this case to have a personal account be the owner of these projects. i wouldn’t necessarily expect an organizational account like that to have a bunch of observations. it’s possible that the actual person/people behind this organizational account has lots of observations in their own personal account(s) though.

similarly, a lot of the parks in my local area (Houston, TX) seem to have had places created by an account greenspaceintern, which has no observations.

even if the people behind ontarioparks or greenspaceintern did not have personal 50-observation-creation experience, i’m not sure how that kind of experience would have helped them create better projects or better places in these cases.

now, i’m not claiming that my sample of projects and places is representative, and i don’t claim to understand those better than you guys, but if you guys haven’t already, you might want to pull some statistics to see how many projects and places would and would not have been affected if the proposed rules were in place back in the day and then look at what kinds of projects and places these are. i think that would inform your decision process here better than feedback from this thread alone.



I would reduce the observation limit to “40”, personally.

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No particular barrier, and I now realize that I do not need a project to track contributions by my students. Nor would a project be appropriate. Geo-filtering and following students will work well enough for me to keep track of them. Perhaps my entry to iNaturalist story is unique, but I had 30 minutes usage of the app and a single observation before I introduced the app to my students. I had not planned on using iNaturalist, but PlantNet had upgraded days before the class in a way that suggested the app might not be as useful. I had roughly four months of PlantNet use in preparation for that class and did not expect to use iNaturalist. Having now used iNaturalist, I would not go back to PlantNet. In light of this, the limits appear reasonable given the havoc that new users can generate. I have no idea how to surface the teacher’s guide to educators upon first use, but given the problems teachers such as myself can quickly create, a pop-up on first run of the app “Are you a teacher/instructor intending to use this app with students?” would have helped. A “Yes” would open the teacher’s guide.



I wish I could double heart this.



I did not use Places, Messages or Projects yet so i think you do not need them. If those things cause huge problems i would just disable it. I still did not figure out how to add in an easy way galls (galwespen, galappels) to a gall project…so i just left it.

I only know another observation site dropped all rights to only a very few and if you want something you have to request it. I am suprised about the (too much?) amount of (query,export) options this website has. That other website is reducing the amount of options for the third time during their third redesign causing a lot of rebellion between the users.


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.

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I use all three of those, and I would not be using iNat if it did not have them!



I am a relatively new user. My motivations for recently becoming a much more active user included: iNaturalist assignments for students; tracking observations in five adjacent natural areas.

I made places for four out of five areas (one already existed) and I then linked those places to projects I created for the five areas. I made an umbrella project to link all five. I could be wrong, but I believe that all of this was accomplished before I hit 50 observations.

At a busy time of the semester, having to reach 50 would have been discouraging and would probably not have happened. Perhaps there are other ways to vet people and sidestep the problem?




i am sure this will make me sound like a jerk, so apologies i guess, but the site is already growing faster than infrastructure and development can manage, and really for the community to manage… and nearly all the problematic observations come from students assigned to use the site (rather than finding it and wanting to use it on their own)… so… since growth for growth’s sake isn’t a good thing and we want to do our best to support the community and data…

maybe it wouldn’t be a bad thing if less teachers who had barely used the site started dumping students with no inherent interest here for us to manage data quality for?

This is no comment about Declan at all and the fact that you are even here probably means you are way ahead of most but… the situation is a real frustration to those of us who ARE invested in the community… and unless someone is paying me i don’t want to spend time basically grading papers for students who don’t stay in the community or give back.

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is this a verifiable fact? and does this matter in the context of the original discussion?

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I don’t know how one would quantify that but it’s definitely true both from my experience having been here since 2011 and also judging by issues in the forum

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I am now beginning to see the magnitude of the identification problem, the catch is that if the desired effect includes having…

the limits may not work. As I noted, I was having students download and use the app with only 30 minutes of experience with the app. Coming from PlantNet, I was blissfully unaware that there was a community working on identification confirmation, unaware of iNaturalist community etiquette. I did not know that projects, places, nor messages existed. Thus I suspect the issue of teachers and their students will be an ongoing issue and not one these limits will significantly impact. Ultimately there is no functional way to keep a teacher from telling their students to download the app and go out and identify organisms. That said, I still think the limits makes sense because projects and places apparently have heavy computational impacts. I am left wondering to what extent the identifiers are falling behind the observers, which might lead to the question of how to encourage more observers to learn and engage in identification.



Yeah, i apologize if I seem anti-teacher, i am not at all. I just don’t think the way most teachers/students have used the site works very well (with some notable and important exceptions). There’s been one teacher dumping students on the site (dozens a year, each having dozens of observations) for at least 7 years and during that whole time has only contributed 53 observations! Meanwhile an entire preserve has literally unusable data because of nonsense IDs, things that aren’t mapped properly (because the students were not taught how) and lots of other issues. Of the hundreds of students that were put through that project, I only know of maybe 2 or 3 who stayed on the site after the class ended. And, to the extent that I still do ID help there, i am still sorting through all of them including ones from 2012. But… to be honest i stopped doing ID in a whole mountain range of southern California because I got sick of dealing with this issue.

I suppose one unintended effect of this policy could be teachers using projects less, which might cause more problems versus having them use collection projects to track their students and do data curation. On the other hand, if this stopped 50% of the duress users, it would have a massive positive impact in data quality. I’d be OK with the policy having an override for teachers, contingent on them reading the teachers guide and checking a box that they agree to curate their students’ observations on at least some level.

I’m also open to other ideas but this problem has been going on almost as long as iNat has existed and over all this time no one has come up with a better solution, so to me it seems worth a try.


The category of "cultivated" is problematic for plants in urban landscapes

Since it’s not always possible to tell when a new user is a student or not, this is impossible to quantify, but qualitatively / anecdotally I can tell you that almost every single time we on staff deal with copyright infringements, hate speech, plagiarism, the occasional inappropriately exposed body part, or just have to look at 100 observations of the same potted plant, the users involved seem like students, e.g. they have email addresses corresponding to a school district, or their photos show a classroom or schoolyard in the background, or they’re participating in a project that explicitly states it’s for a school. And again, this is anecdotal, but usually if we can actually track down the account of the teacher, they have zero-to-few observations.

These changes aren’t intended to and will not stop this kind of bad behavior absolutely, but we hope they will mitigate some of it.



Go with your instincts. Not everything is 100% provable. You can always change back if you sense there are unintended consequences. 50 verified observations is a very low bar. It is totally reasonable to want people to understand the platform.

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