iNat Turns 10

iNaturalist made its internet debut 10 years ago in March 2008 as part of a Masters project by Ken-ichi Ueda, Jessica Kline, and Nate Agrin at the UC Berkeley School of information. Since then, it went from a website used mostly in California, to a platform with international portals, multiple languages, mobile apps for iOS and Android, and observations from every country in the world.

One of the original team members, Ken-ichi Ueda, is still deeply involved as a co-director and lead developer. We asked him to reflect on the beginning of iNaturalist.

How did you end up working on iNaturalist for your Masters project?

iNaturalist was actually one of the main reasons I enrolled at the UC Berkeley School of Information. I’d been thinking about making something like iNat ever since I moved to the Bay Area from New England. I’d always been interested in nature, but from the moment my plane broke through the July clouds and revealed the drab, brown hills and neon pink salt ponds surrounding San Francisco Bay, I knew I was in a different ecological world. Luckily, I had a digital camera and the Internet, and I soon discovered that sharing photos of my findings was a great way to both learn about this new ecosystem and connect with others who shared my interests. This was in 2003, pretty much the dawn of modern social media and online mapping, so combining natural history with these things seemed like it had a lot of potential. However, it also seemed like a lot of work, and, being lazy, I did nothing about it. Attending the iSchool was a way to force myself to work on this idea.

What do you wish you’d known 10 years ago when you started?

Nothing, really. If I'd known then what I know now about what it would take to make iNat successful, I probably would have given up.

What has surprised you most about iNaturalist?

When I started I suffered from the Field of Dreams fallacy: turns out building something doesn't mean people will use it. You also have to convince people to use it, especially when it is this kind of weird edifice for conducting an activity not that many people are into (i.e. naturalizing). This “if you build it, they will come” myth has been pretty thoroughly crushed in the modern age of social networks (Would you invest in a Facebook competitor? How about a new search engine?), but it was never more than a myth. iNat didn't take off until Scott Loarie came along and started spreading the word about it.

- Travel back to 2015 when we made an interactive animated map showing all iNat observations over time.

- Hear Ken-ichi and Scott talk about iNat waaay back in 2013 at the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco.

- And go even further back to 2011: San Francisco’s KQED wrote an article about iNat and posted a video of Scott and Ken-ichi demonstrating the iOS app in sweet sweet 240p resolution. 

Read more about iNaturalist.

Posted by tiwane tiwane, March 24, 2018 10:45 PM



Fantastic. I still can't believe the obscure circumstances that I found iNat. I was searching for a bird list for a specific local site. It led me to a "list" that a user created on iNat. I first signed up just to add to that list, before it didn't let me leave. Some say I'm still trying to escape several years later.

Posted by silversea_starsong 9 months ago (Flag)

I am not exaggerating, but my experience in knowing and using iNaturalist has helped me change and move my life forward in such a positive way. I open my eyes more, stop and document what I see and go out of my way to learn a bit more about the more unusual things I find. I enjoy sharing my discoveries with others. There is more reason to go outside now. A drive that has been there all along has been found and increased. Thank you so much for helping me enjoy being outside and exploring more than ever.

Posted by sarka 9 months ago (Flag)

@silversea_starsong Suddenly the santa monicas came alive on here with a billion obscure plants!

yeah... i am always looking, any chance i get. Even when i'm inside. helping with IDs has allowed me to expand my Vermont plant knowledge and retail my CA plant knowledge in ways i otherwise never could.

Posted by charlie 9 months ago (Flag)

HaPpY BiRtHdaY, iNaturalist

Thank you iNat team for your service to nature lovers and nature all over the world. I'm a self-proclaimed old-school botanist and was skeptical of technology. I'm still skeptical, but somehow you all have managed to avoid the common pitfalls that have plagued so many other efforts. I thought a nature app would mean I spent less time outdoors, less time interacting with people and more time focused on the plants I knew well. Exactly the opposite is has occurred. I spend more time outside. I've had more meaningful and informative interactions with naturalists in my area and beyond (virtually and in person) than I ever did before. And I've learned more about insects, birds, fungi, lichens and other creatures than I have in many years of professional botanizing.

The New York City EcoFlora project has a large citizen science component and iNaturalist is helping us make the best use of people's desire to experience nature and their desire to have a positive impact.

Thank you for making all that possible.

Posted by danielatha 9 months ago (Flag)

Thank you for the kinds words, everyone - we really need to be thanking everyone who contributes to iNat, you (and many others) are the ones who make it a great community. Glad you're enjoying iNat!

Thanks for sharing the NYC EcoFlora project, @danielatha - cool stuff.

Posted by tiwane 9 months ago (Flag)

INaturalist has made SO MANY people very happy... including me. Living in Manhattan, I used to know almost no naturalists at all, and now I know so many naturalists, both here and everywhere else I can think of!

I have learned an incredible amount from iNat, and done so with very little effort, and a great deal of enjoyment.

During the worst parts of the northeastern US winter, it is so wonderful being able to "look over the shoulder" of naturalists worldwide as they walk along a beach, or through a meadow filled with wildflowers.

Thank you, and Happy Birthday.

Posted by susanhewitt 9 months ago (Flag)

I arrived after iNat was well on its way -a year ago. Somehow, iNat has pushed me to notice more of my local flora/fauna. Knowing I'm contributing; easing the cataloging and comparison of species; finding other people and their unique ways of approaching nature. I've shown a few biologists the list of taxa on the web map as an effective hook. Thanks to everyone who created, developed and contributed.

Posted by robirwin 8 months ago (Flag)


Posted by jasmineotto 8 months ago (Flag)

Not sure where to put this.....but the turret spider is fairly common in the Mt Shasta area, esp McCloud Flats area, SE of the mountain. I notice its not on your map. If anyone's interested, this is Francis mangels, 530-926-0311, a retired USFS biologist.

Posted by fmangels 7 months ago (Flag)

@fmangels the best way to get it on the map is to go observe one! you can add older data if you have that, especially if it has a photo... The map you see on the taxon page is a map of where people have observed it on inaturalist. you can also turn on Gbif records in the layers and it may show up there

Posted by charlie 7 months ago (Flag)

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