Why is INaturalist underused in China?

There are only 300k observations in mainland China while there are about 750k in Hong Kong alone. I wonder why this number is so low considering the rich biodiversity and population of the country. Maybe it’s something about the platform being hard to access with the great firewall?

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Google is blocked with its maps, as one reason to it, likely some local platforms exist that are more popular.


This question was addressed a few years ago in this thread.

It’s also talked about a bit in the context of East and SE Asia in general in this thread

In general iNat is not very well known of popular in the region, even in countries where there aren’t access problems. There are a bunch of reasons for this, some cultural ones associated with people’s views of their relationship with the natural world, others economic (smartphones are certainly widely present, but they aren’t nearly as universally used in this part of the world as people Western countries tend to think they are), some of it has to do with work-life balances in these regions, there are often language barriers to use, and many other reasons. None of the reasons apply to all countries here, or even to all parts of large countries like China, but there are a lot of reasons behind iNat not being in common use.


It’s a shame, for potential observers but also as some local expertise is missing for many taxa (of course there are some great IDers already). As @Marina_Gorbunova suggested, there are some local alternatives that cover parts of what iNat offers (e.g. there’s a pretty decent bird ID program, a bit like the computer vision model of iNat) though I’ve not come across anything that combines most of what iNat offers.

In terms of the app, it isn’t on any mainland Chinese app store I’ve seen. It probably wouldn’t get on any store (even if it didn’t use Google Maps) because the maps would have to conform to very precise specifications and there would be questions raised about naming and descriptions of places.

I think there’d be hope for the website version if OSM or similar were a back-up map. See thread here for more discussion on this point: https://forum.inaturalist.org/t/use-openstreetmap-maps/2588.


I was about to say something similar. Culture, access, willingness etc. Northern Canada is also poorly represented, reflecting population, internet access, and daily priorities.


Some of them are currently under covid lockdown. There is a language barrier.


Yeah, I thought about reasons like culture and economy but Hong Kong and China are really similar in terms of those. The main reason seems to be accessibility. With Google being banned and the app not being easily available you really need to make an effort just to make an observation


I’d also love to have OpenStreetMap as a backup. It would be very beneficial not just for China but in general. But with iNat being non-profit it would be hard to finance it


Not really, no, they’re very different from each other. I used to live and work in Mainland China (later in Taiwan, and now in Vietnam), and spent a decent amount of time in Hong Kong too.

The cultures of China and Hong Kong are very different from each other. This is part of why there were such extensive protests in 2019-2020. China was imposing its laws, regulations, and present-day culture onto Hong Kong and the magnitude of those differences is a large part of what led to the protests (which are still going on, but in a much muted manner and with much more strict consequences as China squeezes Hong Kong tighter).


As in culture I mostly meant things like their beliefs, customs, values, celebrations, language, etc. I am aware of what China is doing over Hong Kong and the protests. I wish them freedom and peace.

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As I mentioned, most of those are quite different in Hong Kong than they are in mainland China, in particular the values, customs, and beliefs. There is certainly significant overlap, but on those three there are some really big and important differences, especially vis-a-vis the values portion.

And it’s worth noting that the customs, language, and beliefs portion varies a lot within China too.


Is OSM actually acceptable in China? I would be surprised if it were, since mapping services in China are legally required to obfuscate coordinates. In other words, they are required by the government to be inaccurate. (And they also have to pay a licensing fee to use the mandatory obfuscation algorithm.) It’s also illegal in mainland China to publish geographic data without authorization, so it might even be technically illegal to use iNaturalist in China, but I’m not a lawyer and definitely not a Chinese lawyer.


There’s a bit of discussion about this in the other thread. My take (for what it’s worth): OSM works and probably will continue to do so while its use is low but if it were to get widespread use then it would probably draw attention and could then face difficulties.

There’s a Chinese bird recording site which records basic geographic data and that hasn’t been stopped. But I don’t think that’s a reliable indication of legality.


There was a thread from a Chinese student. He was bitterly disappointed that spending time on iNat would not earn him a certificate to present to his university. That we are volunteers and do this because we choose to, was very hard to communicate.


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