A first analysis

@alvarosaurus, @carrieseltzer, @charlie, @finatic, @greglasley, @jakob, @kueda, @sambiology,

This is the continuation of a previous post: http://www.inaturalist.org/journal/alvarosaurus/6370-projects-and-research-grade-observations

First of all let me thank again all the people who participated in this discussion, and I hope you will find the time to continue exploring this topic. In this post, I will try to relate your discussion entries to one another, and to categorize what I feel are the salient concepts in this thread.

THE SHORT VERSION

The importance of fostering a community was brought forward by several of you. One way to do this is through projects. The number of participants in a project is an important factor, but not the only one: individual expertise and regularity are important too. Community and participation are intertwined, as caring for the community is felt to increase the quantity and quality of observations.

Many of you emphasize the role of the project curators. Curators are expected to actively review and ID observations. Curators are also expected to guide participants and to encourage interaction between participants and experts.

The effect of project scope upon the quality of observations was noted by several of you. Project scopes seem to come in two flavors, the first one being taxa: as some taxa are more difficult than others, this could influence the quality of observations. However, concentrating on difficult taxa seems to foster collaboration between contributors and to increase interaction between participants and experts. The other type of scope is an interest in a particular region. Here, the motivation seems to be more about personal preference and opening up an area.

It seems essential that the purpose of a project should be clear to participants. If the purpose of a project is not clear, then two types of problems where noted. Firstly, it was unclear to participants whether joining a particular project would be worth the additional effort. Additionally, contributing to some projects seems unreasonably tedious if the reason for the observation details required is not clear.

There seem to be some technical barriers too, as access to gear (camera) and language seem to influence the quality of observations.

Some interesting technical developments were noted too: I'm not familiar with the project aggregator, but if I understand @kueda right, iNat seems to be moving towards what has been called “algorithmic governance” (Müller-Birn, 2013), i.e. a partially automated form of data curation, which has been applied to Wikipedia among others.

OPEN QUESTIONS

  • Curators are seen as providing various services to the community. Is mediation part of a curators responsibility too, e. g. if a disagreement occurs over the correct name of a certain species?
  • Some of you mention an interest for a particular area as drive for participating in iNat. In my case I'm specially interested in a local ruderal area. This area is not protected, it's just a special place for me. As none of you explicitly mention environment protection as your motivation, I was wondering if this “personal special place” feeling is a more important incentive. (Perhaps the same can be asked for interesting taxa).
  • As you probably know, research grade observations are pushed to on-line services such as the Global Biodiversity Information Facility (http://gbif.org). Is this important for you? Do you use GBIF or another on-line service for your own research?

THE LONG VERSION

In order to describe the situation in a structured way, I will put forward that iNaturalist is a socio-technical system, i. e. it has a social component and a technical component - and its purpose is to provide knowledge building services (Kiniti & Standing, 2013). This allows to draw from studies from other types of on-line communities for creating knowledge, particularly Wikis (Müller-Birn et al., 2011).

I'll try to describe the different components and try to map their relations.

1. Social Component

The social component of a socio-technical system is made of norms and principles which are partly mediated by the technology and partly shared as a code of conduct within the community (Kiniti & Standing, 2013). Another aspect of social organization is that although this is a community of peers, people tend to take different functional roles (Arazy et al., 2015), such as curators.

1.1 Community and Participation

I will use the term “community” for the the group of peers and their interrelations, and the term “participation” for the amount and quality of the data contributed to the system by its users.

The importance of fostering a community was brought forward by several of you. One way to do this is through projects: (@charlie) “It's the community that brings great observations, IDs, etc. One can cultivate a local iNat community many ways. One of them is projects, so it (m)akes sense there'd be a correlation between projects and good quantity and quality of observations.”

However, projects are not the only way: (@kueda) “I suspect the probability of achieving Research Grade has much more to do with (...), the kind of social network you have (are people following you, how much expertise do they have) (…).”

The number of participants is a factor in increasing participation, but not the only one: individual expertise and regularity are important too: (@jakob, originally in German) “Until now there are few people (presently ~ 10), that contribute plant observations more or less regularly (…) and accordingly fewer, that have botanical expertise (…) to get things going in this country, I think we need many more users”.
Yet community and participation are intertwined, as caring for the community will result in increased participation (both quantitatively and qualitatively): (@sambiology) “I'd try my best to add ID's to observations or at least find folks that could give extra guidance to the ID's. I think it made several of the observations 'research grade,' but just as important, there was quite a bit of participation in the project”.

1.2 Curation

Many of you emphasize the role of the project curators. Curators are expected to actively review and ID observations: (@carrieseltzer) “The activeness of the project creator/curators is a HUGE factor in project observations achieving research grade status.” (@finatic) “From what I have seen of herp projects, they tend to get a higher degree of Research Grade observations (...) that is probably due to the curator of the project looking at almost each and everyone of the observations, and he has the knowledge to identify all of them.”

Curators are also expected to guide participants and to foster interaction between participants and experts: (@sambiology) “As a curator of just a few projects, I recognized the value of the project and the amount of curation. I can't even count the amount of projects that are created without proper curation (defining "curation" as observations being added to a project, ID's added or guidance to the ID's through comments, and curator or expert interaction with participants) (…) I really love projects on iNat, but I think it's important to emphasize a correlation between "success" and "curation." (…) Technically, it SHOULD be up to the curator(s) of a project to add any of your observations to the project. Again, projects are a lot of work/time investment -- I strongly believe they are worth it, and I love doing them, but it takes proper curation for them to be effective.”

2. Knowledge Building

A knowledge-building system enables a group of people to create and share knowledge within a given framework embodied by the system. This framework consists of reference data, like the taxonomy enforced by iNat, and of each projects' constraints. Additionally, as contributions are reviewed by peers, a learning effect results (Cress & Kimmerle, 2008).

2.1 Scope (Region / Taxa)

The effect of project scope upon the quality of observations was noted by several of you. Project scopes seem to come in two flavors, the first one being taxa: as some taxa are more difficult than others, this could influence the quality of observations: (@kueda) “I suspect the probability of achieving Research Grade has much more to do with the taxon you observed (birds are easier than plants).”

However, concentrating on difficult taxa seems to foster collaboration between contributors: (@finatic) “These are taxa for which I am interested but are difficult to get an ID. Robberflies fall into this as go many gastropods. Even the top experts have a difficult time coming to a consensus with some of the species in these groups. The purpose of these projects is to hopefully learn to better identify them by getting people with this interest together into the project and sharing their knowledge.”

While in other cases, a smaller scope seems to increase interaction between participants and experts: (@sambiology) “All of the observations don't get the proper curation simply because of the amount of species and lack of experts (…) There are far fewer species of herps in TX (a few hundred) than the plants, but there is a lot more interaction between the experts/curators and participants. So, maybe a conclusion can be drawn: successful projects are smaller in scope.”

The other type of constraint is an interest in a particular region. Here, the motivation seems to be more about personal preference and opening up an area: (@finatic) “I just am interested in the overall taxa for a region so I don't yet expect a high percentage of Research Grade observations simply because of a lack of expertise for many of the taxa. These are favorite regions of mine that visit as often as possible and I want to highlight all the taxa in these regions for others. Plus it helps me easily find what I haven't yet found in those regions.”

2.2 Project Criteria

It seems essential that the purpose of a project be clear to participants: (@finatic) “I think the purpose of a project needs to be considered before even starting to decide if a project has reached the point of being a success or not.”

If the purpose of a project is not clear, then two types of problems where noted. Firstly, it was unclear to participants whether joining a particular project would be worth the additional effort: (@greglasley) “I often don't know what projects should be entered by what observations. I find it quite tedious to go through a day's observations and add each one to the various projects.”

Additionally, contributing to some projects seem unreasonably tedious (@charlie) “There are some fields I do fill out because I am interested (...). But yeah there are some absurd and redundant ones, people just don't bother to learn how the site works.” and some projects are too demanding for some participants: (@charlie) “Projects can get tedious. To me they aren't my primary motivating factor. And if a project has required fields you can just about forget it as far as I'm concerned.” (@greglasley) “I just don't enter data in fields at all. I spend hours a day on iNat, but contrary to the opinions of some, I DO have a life beyond iNat and I'm just unwilling to go down a list of required fields to enter to a project.”

3. Technical Component

The technical component represents the infrastructure necessary to support on-line communication, the production of artifacts (such as photos) and associated workflows (Müller-Birn et al., 2011).
The quality of the media uploaded seems to be a limiting factor: (@kueda) “I suspect the probability of achieving Research Grade has much more to do with (...) the kind of photo(s) you took (sharp and identifiable vs. blurry and hopeless) (…)”

Another limiting factor seems to be localization: (@jakob, originally in German) “That iNat (still) doesn't have a German version is for sure an important barrier.”

I'm not familiar with the project aggregator, but if I understand @kueda right, iNat seems to be moving towards what has been called “algorithmic governance” (Müller-Birn, 2013), i.e. a partially automated form of data curation, which has been applied to Wikipedia among others: (@kueda) “We stopped requiring that users explicitly add their observations to projects over a year ago through the introduction of the project aggregator, and we've been gradually opening up the aggregator to more and more people ever since, so number of project observations is not a good metric for how well projects motivate people to add more observations or identifications. It just tells you how many observations meet that project's criteria.”

References

Arazy, O., Ortega, F., Nov, O., Yeo, L. and Balila, A., 2015, February. Functional roles and career paths in Wikipedia. In Proceedings of the 18th ACM Conference on Computer Supported Cooperative Work & Social Computing (pp. 1092-1105). ACM.

Cress, U. and Kimmerle, J., 2008. A systemic and cognitive view on collaborative knowledge building with wikis. International Journal of Computer-Supported Collaborative Learning, 3(2), pp.105-122.
Kiniti, S. and Standing, C., 2013. Wikis as knowledge management systems: issues and challenges. Journal of Systems and Information Technology, 15(2), pp.189-201.

Müller-Birn, C., Meuthrath, B., Erber, A., Burkhart, S., Baumgrass, A., Lehmann, J. and Schmidl, R., 2011. Seeing similarity in the face of difference: enabling comparison of online production systems. Social Network Analysis and Mining, 1(2), pp.127-142.

Müller-Birn, C., Dobusch, L. and Herbsleb, J.D., 2013, June. Work-to-rule: the emergence of algorithmic governance in Wikipedia. In Proceedings of the 6th International Conference on Communities and Technologies (pp. 80-89). ACM.

Lähettänyt alvarosaurus alvarosaurus, 23. kesäkuuta 2016 23:20

Kommentit

ooh thanks for putting this together!

Lähettänyt charlie yli 5 vuotta sitten (Lippu)

Seriously -- spectacular analysis and write-up! Do you mind if we share this with others outside of iNat, @alvarosaurus ?

Lähettänyt sambiology yli 5 vuotta sitten (Lippu)

Wow. Fantastic work.

Lähettänyt finatic yli 5 vuotta sitten (Lippu)

Thanks a lot. I'm very much in favour of sharing everything outside of iNat (it's your work too). However I don't think it's finished yet. I'll continue posting on this thread.

Lähettänyt alvarosaurus yli 5 vuotta sitten (Lippu)

Nice synthesis and expansion of your original post and the comments on it! Tagging @yrhe again.

Lähettänyt carrieseltzer yli 5 vuotta sitten (Lippu)

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