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

I just add “Unknowns” to all my Identify filters, and do ID them when I see them come up. But if my intention is to go through only Unknowns, I wouldn’t want to start from the newest because it’d be somewhat of a wasted effort and lots of minor nuisance notifications.

If the observer is new to iNat, that’s a different story and an opportunity to engage them in the community norms to (try to) add a coarse ID from the start.


my recent experience testing that coarse ID app another user created definitely hammers it home - it was fun to do, but i got tons and tons of notifications and saw that often the original poster just hadn’t put the ID in yet. The tons of notifications speak more to the issues with notifications (which are being upgraded soon anyway) than anything else, but even still it felt counterproductive to jump in and add IDs when they were about to be added anyway. I agree it may be a bit different with new users but even still waiting a day or so seems more helpful. Many of them don’t even use the website, just the app.

And again, as cassi said, you aren’t doing anything wrong with adding coarse IDs. it’s true that without a way to add draft observations they can be a mild annoyance for high volume users, especially when a placeholder gets lost. But… that’s just how the site is. There’s no way of excluding individuals from that sort of ID other than just manually. You can filter to ignore someone but, no one can be expected to do that as a matter of course.


Not knocking your workflow here at all, Susan, which I think is fine, but is there a reason you do this rather than simply take photos in the field and import them later? This is my personal preferred method, although there are two downsides (as @charlie has pointed out before):

  • it can take a few moments for one’s camera app to get a decently accurate location, so the app is better for getting a precise location.

  • if you like taking notes, using the app in the field is a better option.

As for what to do with “unknown” observations - as others have said, it’s fine to add a coarse ID to them although I personally don’t do that for observations which have placeholders and from established users who I’ve noticed upload a lot of them as part of their workflow, like @loarie or @susanhewitt, as I know they’ll get around to it. :-)

Also, don’t forget there is a “Sort by: random” option in Identify, which can be fun!


other reasons:
-takes time to import and process them from home, i don’t find that it works as well as using the app at all
-Dysfunctional computer, no access to computer for a while for whatever reason
-desire to use the algorithm right on the spot
-really, the decreased GPS accuracy is the dealbreaker for me though.


While I appreciate, that there are many users on the site with many needs, and many skills and many approaches, the title of this thread is
“Why do some serious “power users” add so many unknown observations?”
I told you why I do! And my opinons, which are entirely mine.
Thinking about it more I would not mind if I could switch of all notifications of identifications above order level.

I appreciate that beginners might find a rapid response useful, but if I posted something as a beginner and someone posted “plant” as the ID, I would seriously worry about the nature of the site.

I am also probably a “power identifier” (well in the top 25 anyway, although not in the league of the top 10 identifiers - on the other hand, considering that “identifications” do not include IDs to one’s own observations, so I might well be in the top 10). I would probably enjoy looking at the breakdown of ranks of the identifications provided (I bet I would be in the top ranks of those identifying at family and below), and I honestly do not find the ID above class useful in any way at all. That is my opinion and my impression, and I am sure that others might disagree.
On the other hand I find IDs at family and lower levels incredibly useful (even when they are occasionally wrong).

Sorry to harp on about iSpot, but on iSpot one had to specify when one loaded if it was a Bird | Mammal | Herp | Fish | Invertebrate | Plant | Fungus | Unknown - it was an obligatory field not related to the taxonomy-dictionary and made that first cut binning the data into categories, without requiring any input from anyone other than the observer. Less than 1% of the observations were “unknown” although there were some weird classifications (the usual dolphins as fish, but also totally bizarre and incomprehensible selections).
Perhaps this is where an extra category “Pending - leave alone” might come in handy?

While busy with higher ranking identifications, one that I would really appreciate is that of “Not Life”, for observations of rocks and minerals (some look like lichens or fossils), clouds, rain, fire (although perhaps that is living) and so forth.

And I would dearly love Bacteria not to show up in the no-identification category - look at all the “Phytoplasma” and “Rhigobium” identifications in:


Tony, perhaps you’d like to make a feature request for these ideas.

Thanks for sharing your experience and opinions.


These requested options all seem reasonable to me.


The problem with draft mode is that it prevents people helping out with identifications. I have no issues with users willing to help out with fine-level identifications to genus and species - I welcome and encourage it. It is the dozens of useless (to me) “plant” or “dicot” identifications that irk me.

And I am strongly adverse to adding “descriptions” on my all my observations asking identifiers to wait for a month before making IDs. It contributes nothing to the observations and clutters them with useless text.

I might find draft mode useful, but only for cases where I am unable to finish uploading for some reason. Not for identifications.

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I wonder if there is a way to get statistics for activity on observations with no identification vs those with coarse identifications (e.g. plants, fungi). I feel pretty confidently that Unknown observations are a lot less likely to receive helpful (genus/species) IDs than those that are marked with something that will put them into the feed of someone like Charlie who filters exclusively for plants.

But perhaps that’s just because I’ve spent a bunch of time identifying years-old Unknown identifications from new users who didn’t receive any activity on their observations and I haven’t posted many Unknown observations myself to get the opposite experience.

What are the standard settings you use?


Once you want an ID you publish from draft mode to normal mode. It wouldn’t default on either. It’s only for before you need an id


I have a small whiteboard, and I will often scribble quick notes on that and then photograph it before wiping clean ready for the next notes. That way the notes are “right beside the obs photos” when I upload them! In fact, my small whiteboard is actually a printed scale sheet that is laminated and it doubles as a contrast backing when photographing small bugs.

If working in a forested area, and I am worried GPS might be a bit iffy, I often print booklets of maps from Google Maps, and can then “point to” the subject tree in a photo immediately after taking the obs photos. A good double check to make sure GPS pins in the right place.


I think this is another topic and/or feature request… removing alerts on higher level taxa, say from Order upwards. I would vote for it! Even if it was an errant ID at order, refinements are going to override it anyway, so there isn’t even a need as such to alert the errant IDer, which we are probably going to do with a tag anyway…


Hi Tony. I am using the app on an iPhone. The reason I don’t save all my photos and upload them later is that it takes a surprising amount of time to upload them all, so when I am in NYC, my workflow usually goes like this:

  1. While in the field, create observations, as many as possible in the time I have.

  2. While traveling home on the bus, upload those observations.

  3. When I reach home, identify my observations, or finish uploading them and then identify them.

Starting a week from today, for 4 weeks I will be on a small island in the West Indies, staying in a hotel that has almost no reliable WiFi. I will be making lots of observations, but I will have to upload them whenever I get good access to WiFi which might be once a week or twice a week. I don’t know how rapidly I can ID them, but I will try to do that in batches if I can, before I upload them.


Another situtation.

For the BioGaps project,
https://www.inaturalist.org/projects/biogaps-transects ,
we recorded data in the field - usually in trips of 4-6 days worth of observations for 3 observers.
We uploaded these in the evenings when we had access to Wifi - without any identifications.

Identifications to Family were then done by interns at Kirstenbosch, over the next few weeks.
Genus and species level IDs were then done months later by taxonomic experts at Compton, Pretoria and Garden Route Herbaria, using the Identify tool to curate the process.
There are still half a dozen plant families that we have been unable to find taxonomists to curate, and are still unidentified, apart from the more widespread and well-known species.
We used an observation field (https://www.inaturalist.org/observation_fields/7982) to record the time and distance to observation for modelling species distributions against habitat variables to produce maps of occurrence across the Karoo.


Way to jump late in the convo, but I have my 2 cents about this, speaking from the Hong Kong observation perspective.

This is probably common for new users globally. When they first start they will upload a bunch of observations that have yet to be ID’ed, so as I scroll through the observations for Hong Kong I just see pages of unknowns. A lot of these observations are also very unclear or casual ones and the typical trend I notice is that the users who upload them typically will be “one-time users”, eg. students who upload their observations for some field trip. Then again I always keep in mind that early users are still getting used to the site and so it will take time for them to get used to it.

Overall I think its basically down to how the user prefer to ID their observations. Some like to upload them all and then ID them, some like to upload in batches etc. And like others have mentioned, the technology they have is limited and uploading can be a real pain, or it is simply because they dont have time for ID’s. Personally, my observation upload procedure is quite meticulous. I like to look for an ID for each of my observations first to as close to species ID as possible, then upload them all at once.


Penang was a particularly spectacular but fairly rare situation. I think many learnings have come out of it, and in a way it is good to have made those learnings before the City Nature Challenge 2019 kicks off.


Having read though all the comments on this topic, I do not see what the problem is with using a coarse ID. If I were to view Tony Rebelos photographs, I would only be able to ID them to ‘Plants’. It may seem like a silly thing to do, but it would at least open the field to people who know plants (and South African plants) to try and narrow it down. I agree that if Tony does not want much input at the unknown stage, there should probably be some way to do that.
As a moth guy, I often filter my identifications by ‘Noctuidae’. If a new person posts a photo of a moth, but labels it as unknown, it may fly under the radar for those who can id moths in a specific area. If someone adds Nocuidae, or even Butterflies and Moths to an id, it helps focus it down to people who are adept in that area. If I see Geometridae, I likely won’t pursue it further. I don’t know the ‘rules’ for variation in that group, so unless it is a uniform species, I would be reluctant to try it. I also avoid identifying moths outside NA - I just don’t have the resources to competently ID them



It is not the coarse ID per se that is causing the problem for most people that have an issue with it. The alerts they generate are my main concern. When I upload 100+ observations, I will typically generate an extra 10-20 alerts that I probably wouldn’t get if I had a time delay from upload to releasing them to the community. If I have 50+ alerts then there is a great chance of mis-clicking one as I go through them, and then I lose any that are outside the first 10. I have had a major problem created just by not receiving an alert where my account name was mis-typed, let alone the dozens I have lost from mis-clicking in the alerts. When the alerts system is “fixed” then for me the problem of extraneous coarse IDs will be reduced.

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I’m hardly a power user; approaching 100 observations…slowly. But I know some groups better than others and will ID things I know for sure. But I upload for three general reasons:

  1. To add observations from my state; 2. To document species in a natural area I manage; 3. To get an ID on something unfamiliar.
    So, although I’m a professional biologist, I certainly add observations without ID. I try to put a general ID (like the flies I uploaded today; Diptera for sure; but I put Chironomidae in the comments only at this point).

Ahh, I see. I rarely have more than a couple of alerts, so have not encountered that problem. Typically, I would only upload a couple of observations per day.

Thanks, Ian