I'm getting a little burnt out on making IDs

So I thought I'd discuss making identifications here in a journal post and see if any of you want to comment.

A year or so ago, I committed to making lots of IDs for other people on their iNat observations. Currently, I've made over 80,000 IDs, almost all on Needs ID observations (rather than on observations that are already at Research Grade). Yay, me!

But the combination of winter coming on here in New England, no fun trips on the horizon, and the daunting prospect of enormous piles of observations needing IDs has got me down. So, this is a plea for help. Not help in the sense of my mental health, but in the sense of asking you to help with making IDs.

I'm curious: if you've never made IDs for others, why not? Do you think you need to be a expert to help? Nope, you don't; I'm certainly not an expert in anything. (Which reminds me - thank you to everyone who corrects my mis-identifications!) Are you just too busy with work/school/family/the day to day detritus of life? OK, you're excused; go play outside whenever you do get a chance. Are you just ... anxious about making IDs? I hear you - I'm just beginning to learn to ID an easy fly and I'm all worried I'll screw it up. But, really, a few mistakes do not matter.

If you'd like to try making IDs and want some hand-holding, I am more than willing to help. Just send me a private message or comment on this post and I'll do what I can.

Another thing you can do to make the lives of identifiers easier is to improve the quality of your observations. I'm not just talking photo quality here, although photos in focus are always appreciated. I'm talking about remembering to add an initial ID when you upload an observation. Even a very general ID like Birds or Mosses will get your observation in front of bird and moss IDers more quickly, and it means generalists like me don't need to spend time adding a general ID to observations that are labeled Unknown.

It also helps if you can do a little research, on or off iNat, about what characters are needed to ID certain species and then try to remember to photograph those characters when you encounter the species. For example, I learned that one of the identifying characters of Black Oak is the hairiness of the vein angles on the undersides of the leaves. Now, I try to remember to photograph not just the overall shape of the leaves, but also a close-up of the vein angles on the undersides. Again, if you're new to all this, feel free to ask me (or, indeed, most IDers on iNat) what resources to use to ID an organism to species level. (Hint: for plants in New England, use Go Botany.)

Keeping up with the ever-increasing flood of new observations needing IDs is something a lot of hard-core identifiers discuss often in the iNat forum. Right now, there are close to 1.8 MILLION observations just in New England that are at Needs ID. Sure, many of them can never reach Research Grade, but I bet at least half of them could be IDed to species. Indeed, around 750,000 are already at species level, just needing an agreeing ID to reach Research Grade (or a disagreeing ID, if the species ID is wrong).

So, think about helping. I'd love it if you have any comments on this, either publicly on this post or privately via message. Thanks!

Julkaistu lokakuu 26, 2022 01:13 IP. käyttäjältä lynnharper lynnharper


It all depends on what characteristics are needed for ID. Your example of black oak is perfect. ID of asters and goldenrods is often impossible without photos of petals, bracts, stems, leaves, underside of leaves, leaf petioles - all for basal and stem leaves. Also, change in leaf size from bottom to top. It would be great if a tentative ID offered suggestions of other photos to add.

I've tried to get better about taking multiple photos to get different parts and sometimes adding a comment about a feature that I can see but can't photograph well enough.

Another ID-athon would be fun - maybe an in-person event. Bring your laptop and work through some IDs with others around to help.

Lähettänyt stephanieradner yli 1 vuosi sitten

I hear you, and I will try to make more IDs. I post mostly moths, and I work hard using several references to identify what I post. With moths there are often similar-looking species to confound things, so I feel a need to be really careful, especially for observations out of my immediate area. Sometimes when I have worked hard on a particular species I will confirm other IDs while the specific traits are fresh in my mind. There are so many species of moths!

My husband reminded me about journal post headings being refreshed all the time. I wish iNat made these more prominent than just an option in the Community pull-down menu to remind users what other iNatters are up to all the time!

Lähettänyt susan_kielb yli 1 vuosi sitten

@stephanieradner, I plan to run another New England plant ID-a-thon come February - maybe we can cook up some in-person version of that? I know we could use the Millers River Environmental Center here in Athol, MA, but I don't know how many people that would be convenient for. And I often add a comment for features that don't photograph well, like the spicy smell to the twigs of spicebush.

@susan_kielb, yeah, we all wish iNat had more and better communication features, but I completely understand how they are frantically trying to just keep up with their success! I've thought about IDing moths, especially because I've really gotten into them in the past couple years, but you are so right about there being lots of similar-looking moths. I should try harder to learn some of the less easy ones, though. Even something fairly distinctive like Northern Pine Looper has a couple dozen observation awaiting IDs.

Thanks to both of you for responding and for doing what you can with IDs!

Lähettänyt lynnharper yli 1 vuosi sitten

Identifying thousands of photos for others is a slog. Here are some strategies I've tried to make it easier.

Sometimes I limit the geographic extent to just one county -- that way, I'm seeing observations from only a handful of parks and maybe only one or a few ecosystem types. The same key species will repeat, and my mind recognizes those shapes and patterns more easily. I've also tried limiting the observations to one species. One time a while ago, I decided it might be useful to people if I could confirm their guesses for Poison Ivy (a plant that might worry some users), so I set the Identify parameters to only that species and ran through maybe a thousand in a row. Again, I think the narrow scope and the repetition helps my mind do it faster. Maybe some other hot button topics would be good for that -- Spongy Moth, Spotted Lanternfly...

I also keep my computer's Notepad app open in a separate window. There I store certain phrases that I find myself reusing often. ("This could be A or B." or "Please mark plants from your garden as 'cultivated.'" etc.) While I'm clicking through other people's observations, I can copy those phrases from the Notepad and paste them into iNaturalist. That way, I only have to type out the explanation once, and then I paste it repeatedly for lots of users.

Lynn is correct that many users are photographing too few features or the wrong features. Not much can be done about that after it's been uploaded. I will sometimes write a note to the observer ("you would need to see ABC to distinguish between X and Y") and then I mark the data quality "as good as can be." At genus level, the "as good as can be" tag will move it to "Research Grade."

I do wish iNaturalist had a process for purging old/bad data. I get the impression that some teachers will use this in their curriculum for just a short time. A class of 20 students will take 20 nearly identical photos of a tree, maybe make a guess, but then never log into their account again. If one of us asks a question or makes a correction, will they even see it? Ideally, this website would warn users of inactive accounts and then eventually turn the observation records over to a curator or admin. That would allow for adjustments or deletions, gradually cleaning up the backlog.

Lähettänyt tarpinian yli 1 vuosi sitten

Hi, @tarpinian! I've tried all sorts of ways to make IDing less of a slog - focus on one "easy" species at a time; just working on Mexican Unknowns; targeting New England plants that are already at the genus level; even starting to learn something about flies (a very little something, so far). But it all gets a little boring after a while. And the task is never-ending in the overall sense, even if I do feel satisfaction at, say, cleaning up all the Pickerelweed I can in New England.

That's a good idea to have boilerplate responses at your fingertips. I have a few sentences about multiple species in one observations in a Word document, but I bet storing it in Notepad would be even faster. I should do that for photos of whole trees at a distance (and then mark it As Good As Can Be in the Data Quality section) or for cultivated plants (I definitely mark those as Not Wild).

I think there will always be a big backlog - which is hard on those of us who like completing tasks! Given that, I find it hard to figure out where my ID time can be spent most usefully. Working with new observers, coaching them to make even coarse IDs? Moving as many observations to Research Grade as fast as possible? Learning obscure or complicated taxa (asters, anyone), so I can be an actual expert and clean those up? Organizing more ID-a-thons? All of the above?

I don't know. It helped a lot to get outside yesterday in the sunshine and make some observations for the first time in almost a week - maybe that's all I really need?

Lähettänyt lynnharper yli 1 vuosi sitten

Sometimes I pick an easy species (just went through a bunch of Hypericum gentianoides) and knock off a bunch of IDs. Feels satisfying.

Lähettänyt stephanieradner yli 1 vuosi sitten

I was doing bird IDs, thinking that was one class of organism I knew something about. Then I got caught up in some tricky Larus IDs -- genus Larus is notoriously difficult to ID, what with hybrids, taxonomists splitting & lumping, etc. -- so I backed off on Larus. So I focused on other clades, sitting down with a couple of field guides...but I was so much slower than other IDers that I kinda gave up.

Then I tried to learn some basic botany so I can maybe some day work on some flowering plants. But my stumbling block here is learning the terminology. (I remember going through this with birds, learning about malar and scapular and so on.) The learning curve is steep, and I'd do better in a class. But trying to find a class is difficult -- the only classes I've found thus far are academic classes with prerequisites.

What I'm focusing on now is learning one small region where I can competently do IDs in a few select clades. I hope this will narrow the focus sufficiently that I can contribute in a meaningful way.

I would love to sit down to an in-person IDathon so I could look over the shoulders of competent IDers and see what you do....

Lähettänyt danlharp yli 1 vuosi sitten

Cousin @danlharper! Good to see you on my side of the continent, and yes, we should get together one of these days! As for learning plants, one of the best resources is classes offered by the Native Plant Trust (which used to be called the New England Wild Flower Society). Here's a link to what they are currently offering: https://www.nativeplanttrust.org/education/classes/ I've learned a lot from their classes and field trips over the years. Plus, I learned many of the New England plants by going out in the field with Newcomb's Wildflower Guide; it's an older book and the taxonomy is out of date, but you can't beat its simple system of pointing you in the right direction (how many petals does the flower have? are the leaves alternate or opposite? that sort of thing).

As for IDing when you feel like you know nothing (which is nonsense, as I hope you know), try IDing Unknowns anywhere in the world. Here's a link for that: https://www.inaturalist.org/observations?iconic_taxa=unknown&identified=false&place_id=any&quality_grade=needs_id

You don't have to get the Unknowns down to species or even genus; just calling something Spiders or Lizards is often enough that the spider and lizard people will run with it from there. Plants that are labeled Unknown are harder, because just calling them Plants (or even Vascular Plants or Flowering Plants) doesn't feel like it really gets anywhere, but I persist anyway where I can. I'll call a daisy-like plant an Asteraceae and I can usually recognize a Legume. Certainly in New England, though, I can sometimes get a plant down further, which feels good.

Lähettänyt lynnharper yli 1 vuosi sitten

@lynnharper -- all you say is true. I'll try to work on some Unknowns, that's certainly within my skill set. And it still helps to watch others at work. Last year I had occasion to go on some field trips with Chloe of Chloe and Trevor, a couple who have been among the top 3 on iNat in terms of species seen per year. I learned a lot by watching Chloe set up a photo of an organism -- what to show, when to place a ruler of some kind, and so on. My assumption is that sitting down in front of a computer with more experienced IDers would also be a great way to learn. So if you do some kind of in-person ID-athon, I'll do my darnedest to show up!

Lähettänyt danlharp yli 1 vuosi sitten

I just wanted to say thank you, Lynn, for all the many thousands of IDs you've made. You are certainly a great resource and supporter if iNaturalist, and I know I am not by any means the only one who recognizes and deeply appreciates this. I hope your perfectly reasonable 'call for help' reaches and lights a fire under many others out there. It has me. I do, now and then, go to the 'Needs ID' pages for Massachusetts or New England and ID as many as I comfortably can. But more often I just click on the page of someone who has IDed something on my page and try to return the favor by IDing a handful or two on theirs- yes, focusing on the observations that have not achieved Research Grade. I will be doing much more of this at your urging, especially since the occurrence of the things I most like to photograph takes a steep dip this time of year. I'm trying to get over the guilt and fear of misidentifying other's observations, but I suppose there's no better way to learn than by diving right in!

I mainly wanted you to know how valuable and appreciated your many contributions have been. I'm going to do what I can to help out!

Lähettänyt thesquig yli 1 vuosi sitten

@thesquig, awww, that is about the nicest thing anyone has said to me in a long time - thank you so much!

Lähettänyt lynnharper yli 1 vuosi sitten

Lisää kommentti

Kirjaudu sisään tai Rekisteröidy lisätäksesi kommentteja