Why do some serious "power users" add so many unknown observations?

One reason I add multiple obs with no ID initially… I have a flaky computer and it crashes at really annoying moments, like when I have been waiting for all the pics/and meta data to upload so I can start adding the IDs, get about halfway through them, and down she goes… start all over again! If I’m feeling organised, I will break them up into smaller groups… but mostly I just get them up there and start adding the IDs later.

I do find it frustrating when I know the ID, will be putting it on within 5 mins of it uploading, but I get bombarded with questions within a minute from 2 or 3 users regarding it… I feel like saying “just wait, you will see I already know what it is if you just give me a chance to finish the upload!”. I reckon Needs ID should have a 5 minute delay before showing an obs, to give uploader a chance to finish the job!

As part of my “don’t want to miss learning ops” approach, I already have a needs ID query with ascending date order and starting from the date I joined iNat. I sometimes go back past then and do a few, but mostly I am just scanning obs for learning ops and chances to apply what I have learnt.


I really wish there was a draft mode where you got to review stuff before posting it. I think Flickr did this? I would add it as a feature request but since this board may get deleted and recreated soon i should wait


At the risk of being tangential…I just want to clarify that my original question is sincerely based on trying to interpret what can feel like mixed messages about what the ideal way(s) to interact/use the site are. I remember reading somewhere that encouraging new users to add coarse IDs (or any ID they can) was desirable and so have been voluntarily welcoming people and offering that advice (mainly because I also realize having no one pay attention to observations when you’re just beginning could potentially deter folks from continuing to participate). I’ve seen a lot of wonderfully rich debate on the google group. and now here, on all sorts of nuanced subjects and have more recently been participating myself but it wouldn’t be a bad idea for me to point out that will all the beauty of the complexity and potential of iNaturalist, as a relatively new user trying to be more dedicated and active in the community, that the complexity can be overwhelming. I like a challenge, personally, and perhaps clarity is elusive. In this case, I don’t have a suggestion.

I was just confused as it seemed I had either misread, misunderstood, or misinterpreted (or all 3) the expectations around the “unknowns,” but it is quite possible that I conflated a few discreet issues in my quest to be of service. I still enjoy the pleasant exchanges with new folks so I’ll keep doing what I’m doing (until I’m told not to) and utilize the generosity of knowledge shared here to try to mitigate my frustration. I realize too that I have assumed that adding IDs to unknowns of pro users might get me yelled at or something but if it’s permissible to view them as I would anyone else’s obs then there is no issue and I’ll get back to work! Thanks again, everyone. :slight_smile:


@mira_l_b keep doing what you do, listen to advice and take on board if you agree with what is said, but otherwise take advice with a grain of salt! Always be polite, and don’t take it seriously when others don’t. This is all good advice I wish I could give myself!


I think you’re exactly right about this. I don’t think you have misunderstood anything. I’m glad you raised this discussion because I learned some things here.

well said!


I’m not sure how you edit your photos but if your photo program allows you add keywords, you can put the organism’s scientific name as a keyword. When you upload the photo, iNaturalist will read the keyword and add the ID if it matches a name in our system, so that should speed things up a bit. See 1:05 in this video.


Thanks Tony, that will definitely help!

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Conversely, do any power users here know how to pull up unknowns that specifically do have placeholders? To me it would be fun to go through a set of those knowing that you’re specifically paying attention to that part.


There are ways for that by using the iNaturalist API, but you would need to develop a bit. As far as I know there is no filter for that on the webpage.

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I am a bit late with this reply, but I wanted to say that uploading a lot of observations without an ID on them is something I do often, so my apologies to people who find it a nuisance.

For me it happens because, while I am out in the field, I want to use my time to concentrate on finding interesting organisms, and getting one or more acceptable photos of them. Typing in possible IDs takes up a lot of time, and it can be quite difficult to type in cold weather, rainy weather, windy weather, extremely hot weather, and so on. After an hour or two in extremely cold weather or extremely hot weather, my phone gives up and shuts down until I can warm it up or cool it down, so I have to make the most of what time I have. I also often can’t see the screen very well while I am outdoors (I am 70).

I usually make a lot of observations, then upload them as rapidly as possible on the way home and at home, and then I add IDs on my computer once I am home. Sometimes, if it is dinnertime and I need to cook, that does not happen for an hour or more.


I wonder if the ability to easily “unfollow” a batch of unknowns one has just given coarse IDs would ease this issue? Then one would never see any notifications that a comment has been left, polite or otherwise. Unless of course they get so amped up that they just have to send you a personal message about it…

If I give something a coarse ID it’s because I have no idea what it is at lower levels, and so I really won’t miss knowing when someone else has given it a finer ID.


I had thought so, too, and created a Feature Request for it: https://forum.inaturalist.org/t/create-option-to-choose-automatic-follow/94


Perfect, thanks for pointing me to that. Spent a vote!


When uploading observations, doing identifications is by far the most time consuming task. Half to two thirds of time on the Upload page is spent putting in identifications, and that is with all the photographs georeferenced.
When one uploads in batches of 30-100 observations at a time, this can take several hours. During which time the connection or electricity or computer can fail. So minimizing this time is critical.
Consequently I usually upload and identify as separate processes. For a busy trip, I may spend two or three evenings uploading, and then two or three weeks identifying them.

There is nothing more annoying than having this removed from “unknown” to some arbitrary ID (like “plants” or “birds”) and interfering with the workflow. Not only does it clog the dashboard and notifications, effectively hiding detailed identifications that are invaluable, but it removes it from the Identification tool standard settings. When one is talking of hundreds of observations it can be infuriating, especially if one does not catch the identifier in time to ask them to leave those observations alone.
By contrast, identifications to family or genus are incredibly useful, speeding up the workflow (if correct).
My personal request (for my data) is for identifiers who cannot get below family to leave it alone for a month after uploaded, after which it is fair game.
I realize that different strategies may be appropriate for poorer regions of the world. But for us with 9000 higher plant species in an area quarter the size of of California, identification is far more complicated than in areas like Canada (4500 spp).
So perhaps in these areas it makes sense to categorize observations into the plant|bird|fish bins, but not mine please!
But does an ID to these course bins really help anyone much? if there is a huge backlog, might it not make most sense for those helping out to start with the oldest observations and work forward, leaving youngest-to-oldest IDs for those who can ID to family-genus levels? Of course, there would be exceptions such as local bioblitzes or City Nature Challenge where special conditions apply.


Why don’t you just put a comment into your records (after all you can batch add it at time of upload) asking it not be touched, rather than telling people universally they should not add an ID until 1 month or whatever.

Yours is very likely the minority use of this process, far more often it is new users etc, and going a month or longer to either see an ID, or get a comment to try and add something is likely to be demotivating to remain on the platform.


coarse IDs help very much. For instance i always filter for ‘plants’ or ‘vascular plants’ and i don’t even see the unknowns during most work flows.

Tony, i agree that it’s a little annoying to get those coarse IDs after a big upload, though to me it’s a minor annoyance compared to others. I’ve proposed on the Google Group that a ‘draft observations’ mode be available, where after upload you can have them wait as drafts until you choose to publish them. Flickr has/had something like this for photos. So basically i’d upload them from the app or batch upload, they would go into a ‘draft’ folder, and i could review them fully before others can see them. But i see I haven’t added that feature request on this board yet… i can’t write it up now but will do so when i get a chance, or someone else can.


I appreciate we’re coming from two very different perspectives. I certainly hope to add value to the community by making “annoying” IDs not detract from the experiences of others. Part of the appeal of using iNat for me is the wonderful area between “Scientists only” and “completely amateur.” Much of what I have done as I increase usage on the site, largely making more IDs and interacting with others more, is to follow the guidance of the help page, getting started guide, google groups comments etc. While you find coarse IDs unhelpful, I think other appreciate their utility. I agree with Chris that commenting on your own observations and letting the community know what you want would be the best interim solution. If I came across this comment here before the encouragement of the site’s guidance and other users with different views, I’d feel awful and probably completely stop trying to help. At this point after being totally confused about what’s really wanted by the community I have basically stopped spending much time IDing and especially pulling unknowns into coarser IDs. It’s clear there isn’t concrete agreement as to what each person find the most useful but, if the goal of the site is to both provide data and engage people in nature then we all have to remember that we’re part of a larger community and hopefully, not discourage people from engaging at all. I wonder how many people drop off after trying to do the “right thing” getting frustrated but not being overtly vocal about it (like myself) and giving up on becoming more active or just go inactive totally.


Tony is definitely in the minority here, and phrases like “nothing more annoying” and “infuriating” are more a reflection of his personality and niche workflow than anyone else’s particular choice to add coarse IDs, which to be clear, is 100% okay to do. The community can’t be expected to know what every observer wants done with their observations, and if they don’t want community input iNat isn’t really the right platform for their data.

I do agree it’s more helpful to help with a backlog of Unknowns by starting with older observations, not the most recent ones.


regarding ‘I do agree it’s more helpful to help with a backlog of Unknowns by starting with older observations, not the most recent ones.’, I have to disagree on this.

If a new observation arrives with an Unknown label, the quicker you can get some or any classification onto it, the greater the chance of folks specifically doing reviews in that area will see in it their passes through the data.

In my experience, adding a coarse ID to a new record has a much greater chance of getting review than doing it to older ones. It’s not that older ones don’t gt any results, just lower rates.


coarse IDs on recently uploaded unknown observations also have the secondary benefit of catching new users in the beginning, demonstrating that the community is there and engaging them positively (presumably cultivating future more intensive users or curbing bad habits or misunderstandings before they take root). Many of the unknowns I encounter that aren’t whom I reference in this post are from general new users (not all duress/ students).

Also, as Charlie alluded to, if folks like myself didn’t ID “vascular plants” his search for vascular plants and the like would be more difficult. I see this as a bucket brigade analogy. I do my part and it goes on to the next.