Feedback from trial of iNaturalist record imports

In 2018 we carried out a small-scale trial to import records from iNaturalist into iRecord specifically for the UK's participation in the global City Nature Challenge bioblitz events, and in 2019 we extended the trial to bring in all iNaturalist records from the UK. As planned, the trial imports were suspended in autumn 2019, while we reviewed the feedback we had received.

That feedback was very mixed, with some individuals and recording scheme verifiers being keen to see the iNaturalist records being made available via iRecord, and some raising substantial concerns over this. Difficulties encountered included:

  • The link from iNaturalist to iRecord was a one-way import, and consequently there was no way to communicate feedback or verification decisions and redeterminations back to iNaturalist users from within iRecord
  • Some iNaturalist users have been very deliberately choosing to use iNaturalist for some purposes and iRecord for others, with the same records being added to both systems in some cases, and were unhappy to see the iNaturalist version of their records appearing in iRecord; this has also led to extensive duplication for some sets of records, which displeases recorders and is not a good use of verifier time
  • A small proportion of iNaturalist records were shown to contain erroneous date and location information; in at least one case this appeared to result from the date/location information having been automatically harvested by iNaturalist from the photo metadata, rather than applying to the record itself. As far as we know this affects a very small proportion of the iNaturalist records, but it is not easy to tell from the records themselves whether such difficulties apply, making it difficult for verifiers to have trust in the records as a whole
  • iNaturalist handles the blurring of location information in a different way to iRecord, and this has caused difficulties for some verifiers
  • The use of pseudonyms as recorder names by many iNaturalist users is not accepted by some recording schemes
  • The data flow from iNaturalist to iRecord and on to NBN Atlas is complicated and difficult to explain; in brief, records from iNaturalist only get to iRecord if they have reached iNaturalist's "research grade", and if they have species names that match the UK Species Inventory (UKSI), and if they have an appropriate Creative Commons record licence; and once on iRecord, they only get to NBN Atlas if they are verified, and if they fall within the remit of a national recording scheme that shares its data with NBN Atlas. This makes it very hard for an iNaturalist user to know with any confidence what will happen to their record.
  • Inevitably there are identification errors in the iNaturalist observations, especially for some of the less well-known species groups, and not all iRecord verifiers wished to spend time on finding and correcting these.

We also received favourable responses to the iNaturalist trial import, with some recording schemes and recorders welcoming the ability to include iNaturalist records within the records they handle via iRecord, and to have the records linked via iRecord to the UKSI and to UK grid references etc. However, the balance of feedback received was unfavourable to continuing the trial, and the iNaturalist import remained suspended during 2020.

At the end of 2019 we said that we would continue to review the situation and look for opportunites to make closer links with iNaturalist if we can. This led to the current (2021) developments with iNaturalist UK as described here.