In their own words, at its core:
iNaturalist is an online social network of people sharing biodiversity information to help each other learn about nature
This certainly holds true for my involvement with iNaturalist. I have tried to help others by uploading already identified observations and by providing identifications (where I can) for the observations of others. I have also received great help in terms of identifications and comments provided by other iNaturalist members on my observations.
I confess that when I first looked at iNaturalist some years ago, I was not impressed because there seemed to be a high proportion of incorrectly identified observations labelled as "Research Grade". The status of "Research Grade" can be applied to an observation if only two people agree with the ID, as long as no-one else disagrees. This can lead to problems, particular as research grade observations are picked up automatically by other sites, such as GBIF. However, when I returned to iNaturalist a few years later, I found it much improved. There are still some incorrectly identified observations but they seem to be in much lower proportions than before. I now regret that I did not persevere earlier because I might have far more of my observations recorded by now.
One of the great things about iNaturalist is that, along with their website and mobile app, they also kindly provide an API that, among other things (it is quite rich) allows me to automatically retrieve my observation data, including all the taxonomic data required for my site. All the observation and taxon data on this site are sourced via the iNaturalist API.
As a result, the taxonomy used on my site follows that used on iNaturalist. This is not always ideal because it does not always follow the taxonomy that I am used to from other sites. However, there are a large number of curators on the iNaturalist site, and they are usually fairly prompt in making taxonomic changes in line with published research. One downside in the using the iNaturalist taxonomy is that in some areas there are far more levels than I would include but it is a trade-off I am happy to make for having my taxonomy automatically maintained 😊.
How the data is presented
In summary, the site includes:
- A filterable/sortable list of observations
- A number of checklists of taxa
- A filterable list of recently-added taxa
- A simple search for taxa based on scientific and common names.
- A taxon navigator.
The observations list displays a 'tile' for each observation, with its title (scientific name, along with common name, if it has one), and some summary information about the observation. Each tile provides a link to a more detailed page about the observation, including additional photos (where applicable) and any identifications and comments that have been added to the observation. The list is filterable by observation date and taxon, and sortable by one of the three dates (when observed, added to iNaturalist or updated in iNaturalist).
Checklists provide an easy to use grouping of related taxa, which can be helpful as an identification aid. Similar looking species are normally closely related and shown near to each other in the checklist. Of course, there are exceptions, particularly with mimetic species. As well as listing taxa that have been identified to species or subspecies level, he checklists also include observations of higher taxa that cannot or have not yet achieved specific identified.
The recently-added taxa list is basically there for people who want to browse or want a quick way to see what taxa have been added to the site. There is a [Load More] button, so you can just keep adding and scrolling! As with the observation list, each taxon is displayed as a tile. The list is filterable by taxon.
In the site navigation bar, there is a button to show the taxon navigator (an expandable tree-view of the entire taxonomy of the site), and a simple text search, which searches the scientific and common names of all taxa for a match containing the search term.
I have added some articles to the site. These are grouped by category with high-level categories of 'Nature' (obviously) and 'TALL Stack'. The latter contains articles about how the site functionality is actually built, which might be of help to other site developers. I will probably add another high-level category for 'iNaturalist' to add articles about it and its API. Under the nature category, there are or will be subcategories. At the moment, there is only one: '(Partial) Life Histories'. 'Partial' because I have not yet managed to record the full life history of anything. Some of the articles will be very short! I intend adding other subcategories (e.g. 'Identification Notes', though that is a potential minefield).
I still have a mountain of work I want to complete on this site, including adding:
- far more observations to iNaturalist, which will automatically add content here
- more checklists - there are quite a few taxa for which I now have enough data to warrant a checklist
- more articles