Temporary freeze on large places, life list updates, and taxon changes during April 22 - May 4

In preparation for increased iNaturalist activity during the upcoming City Nature Challenge, iNaturalist will implement a few temporary changes. Starting on April 22, we will temporarily pause any changes to a few lesser-used types of content on iNaturalist that are more intensive. Most users will not notice these changes because they do not directly impact observations, identifications, comments, or projects. However, for anyone planning to use the features below, we want to give advance notice so you can plan and prepare accordingly.

Large places cannot be created or edited
Creating or editing large places that contain many observations can slow down the site. Normally, if you have more than 50 verifiable observations, you can create a new place as long as it’s smaller than the size of Texas and the kml file used to create it is under 1 MB (curators can add places up to 5 MB). Starting on April 22, places must be smaller than roughly the size of West Virginia (~24,000 square miles or 62,361 square km). New places must also contain fewer than 50,000 observations (the threshold has been 500,000 observations). If you try to do this, it will give you a warning message like it currently does with the larger thresholds.

Life Lists will not be updated
Every iNaturalist account has a Life List that is updated asynchronously as your observations change (with variable speed). We're also aware the Life List updating isn't perfect and doesn't do a good job of cleaning up older data as observations are removed or taxa change. This approach has not been scalable as iNaturalist grows, so we’ve been working on a new Life List feature. Stay tuned for more on that. In the meantime, we’ll be temporarily suspending the updates to Life Lists as they currently exist.

Taxon changes paused (applicable for curators only)
No taxon changes or edits to taxon ancestry (including grafting taxa) can be implemented starting April 22. If you try to do this, you’ll get a message that such changes are temporarily unavailable. You can still draft taxon changes and save them to be committed after the restriction.

These temporary limitations will be in place through May 4, which includes the observation period of the City Nature Challenge as well as the upload/identification period. During the 2019 City Nature Challenge (which generated nearly a million observations made over just four days in the participating cities alone), notifications (e.g. about identifications and comments) were delayed up to several days due to high activity. The site, mobile apps, and API remained functional, but some aspects of iNaturalist (especially notifications) were slow. Limiting the features above will reduce the delays.

With much of the world under a variety of stay at home, shelter in place, social distancing, or quarantine orders, we are not sure what this year’s City Nature Challenge will look like. However, based on last year’s event, we want to be prepared. This is a set of tools that we could also implement in the event of a similar spike in activity, even if without advance warning.

Other things we don’t recommend during this anticipated “peak time”:
-csv uploads: If you are uploading a csv of observations, expect considerable delays.
-csv data downloads: If you are trying to download a csv of observations, expect considerable delays.

We’re grateful for everyone who is able to make iNaturalist a part of their life during these unusual times. Please stay safe!

Posted by carrieseltzer carrieseltzer, April 16, 2020 18:40

Comments

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Making those temporary changes makes sense to me! I've been wondering how observers, especially participants in the City Nature Challenge, can make life easier for iNat staff over the Challenge period, and these limitations seem pretty minor on my end. And speaking as someone who is using iNaturalist to stay sane these days, I'm grateful to everyone on the iNat staff for running this awesome site - thanks!

Posted by lynnharper about 2 months ago (Flag)
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"With much of the world under a variety of stay at home, shelter in place, social distancing, or quarantine orders . . ."

Maybe scientific results on the most-feared-virus-ever will trickle through quickly enough to resume kinda' normal life? Scientific evidence, like I presumed, was ready short before Easter to lift the ban. Unfortunately, governments still prefer to cling to their chosen strategies, not trusting the still rather scarce, but consistent research results that anyone below 65 years, and healthy, is on the safe side - and even more so on fresh air! Lockdowns, we may learn soon, did not have a positive effect, but a tendency to aggravate matters. In Europe, only Denmark insofar had the courage to switch quickly when facts indicate you could - and reopened most schools yesterday. I hope on quicker dynamics elsewhere, too :-)

Posted by borisb about 2 months ago (Flag)
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Who on earth has time to create places, review life lists and curate taxa during the City Nature Challenge? If the servers are busy, it is no more busy than all the participants in the City Nature Challenge!
Between uploading, identifying and keeping track of other cities, there isnt any time to even sleep let alone worry about housekeeping!
And if there is anyone bored or looking for something to do, why not help with identifications, and start planning for getting your City to take part in next year's City challenge!
And for those who made last year's challenge - and I presume that this year's one will be as well - such a smooth and pleasurable experience, a million thanks and praises.
This year's challenge will be quite different - uncharted waters, but at least we know iNaturalist itself is up to the challenge, and uploading and identification will be plain sailing.

Posted by tonyrebelo about 2 months ago (Flag)
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Please keep this thread focused on iNaturalist and the City Nature Challenge. Discussion of COVID-19 related policies at a governmental level is a bit beyond the scope of this journal post.

Posted by tiwane about 2 months ago (Flag)
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Great idea to be prepared. Better safe than sorry.

Posted by ajott about 2 months ago (Flag)
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I agree with @tonyrebelo. With all the things to do during City Nature Challenge, "uploading, identifying and keeping track of other cities, there isn't any time to even sleep let alone worry about housekeeping!" Love it! Sadly this year I will not be able to participate as I did last year due to family obligations. However last year I literally ate, slept and drank it.

Posted by connlindajo about 2 months ago (Flag)
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@carrieseltzer - can you please clarify the list freezing element. Is it only the automated updates of life lists, or are all updates to lists being disabled ?

I'm spending the extra time I have to allocate to the site right now to focus on updating species range information via the manual updating of various national checklists with more complete species lists. Is this going to be disabled as well?

Posted by cmcheatle about 2 months ago (Flag)
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@cmcheatle only automatic updates of life lists are impacted by the temporary freeze, so you should be able to work on other lists.

@lynnharper thank you! Helping others, especially those who are new to iNat and may have misunderstandings, is a great help for us during these busy times. For any CNC organizers, if you can be a first point of contact for questions before they contact staff, that can also help. Here are some common responses that you can copy/paste/modify.

Posted by carrieseltzer about 2 months ago (Flag)
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How does this apply to the identifiers list I see it is gone and When I click on I agree with an identification it does not mark off the ones I agreed with. Is this a change. I have been having trouble with this the last few days

Posted by johnplischke about 2 months ago (Flag)
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I can't believe people are still doing this, wow.

Posted by cesarcastillo about 2 months ago (Flag)
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@cesarcastillo why are people still doing the CNC? The focus is now in backyards and biodiversity around the home, which removes any interaction with other people. Connecting with nature has a lot of physical/mental/spiritual health benefits

Posted by thebeachcomber about 2 months ago (Flag)
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Staying in the yard is cool for those lucky enough to have one. Thats pretty much it though, anything else is risky. It takes bravery to go out to a city park these days, to be kind. So I am in awe of those that do.

Posted by cesarcastillo about 2 months ago (Flag)
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The CNC is an opportunity for iNaturalist to get EVERYONE to engage with their backyards or city blocks - within walking distance of an average get-out-of-my-house walk during this pandemic. Think of the opportunity for repeat measurements (aka repeatable observations, reinforcement for identifying algorithms) that can happen. This challenge should really be broadcast, with the appropriate stay-at-home context for everyone. When so many people are at home, the motivation of a fun challenge within certain healthy guidelines might be what people need. There are even many bugs-in-my-house studies that could totally benefit from this. Sell this treasure hunt like Pokemon Go but for your house, backyard and block!

Posted by danie143 about 1 month ago (Flag)
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I think we should see the CNC as a challenge to connect people via their homes and gardens with nature. The idea that we are independent of nature, that our planted garden plants are not part of nature, that we have transcended nature and the natural ecosystem needs to be totally nailed. We are all part of the natural ecosystem, the global ecosystem! And where better to appreciate this than in our homes, our balconies, our gardens! With lockdown (many of us are not allowed outside our homes even to exercise) a focus of nature living with us in our homes is not only an exciting discovery but a avenue for reducing cabin fever and boredom. And the opportunities for creative involvement - building feeders and ponds and "hotels" to attract wildlife allow for an educational component as well. As well as learning more about nature and discovering the unexplored wildness of your back yard.
Far from "why are people still doing the CNC?" the question is why is it not even more of a focus across the board?

Posted by tonyrebelo about 1 month ago (Flag)
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@tonyrebelo I agree with you 100%

Posted by cesarcastillo about 1 month ago (Flag)
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@danie143 Yeah! Encouraging, really - see the sun, meet the herbs and bugs, and have decent fun :-) Promise to be on place as an identifier, Thumb!

Posted by borisb about 1 month ago (Flag)
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@danie143 Well not all of us have a yard to go out and play in.

Posted by cesarcastillo about 1 month ago (Flag)
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@tonyrebelo So very true!
@danie143 Well said!
Thank you both for putting this in a wider (and smaller too!) view.

Posted by beth_tracks about 1 month ago (Flag)
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I know the feeling of not having a yard. If you have a balcony, perhaps try attracting nighttime insects to a white sheet using a light?

Posted by arboretum_amy about 1 month ago (Flag)
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Quoting a comment above"but consistent research results that anyone below 65 years, and healthy, is on the safe side ". With respect, I think the issue is that the younger people can infect vulnerable populations which is one reason everyone needs to observe some restrictions on their behavior.

Posted by lakekoshare about 1 month ago (Flag)
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@borisb around 30-y old guy died lst weeek from pneumonia from covid, so it's not that safe you know.

@tonyrebelo not everyone is in a city that participates in CNC, so there's a plenty of regular things to do.

Posted by melodi_96 about 1 month ago (Flag)
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@melodi_96 - like I said: Why not?
* Start planning to get your city involved. You have four days. to plan your stragety for 2021.
* After than you can help with all the identifications that need to be made: lots of work there!

Posted by tonyrebelo about 1 month ago (Flag)
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@tonyrebelo I don't believe small towns near bigger cities would be added, plus you need participants, if there's 5 active users on iNat there's no real possibility to make that happen, plus you steal ppl from the city who could help it getting higher.
I just said that there're people who won't do that anyway, we miss a lot of places, thousands of towns don't have borders set, not talking about nature reserves, etc. And I'm not against the rules we got, that's cool, but there's other stuff on the website that need human-hours.

Posted by melodi_96 about 1 month ago (Flag)
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@lakekoshare @melodi_96 :
@tiwane suggested above to keep discussion on the virus out here.

Posted by borisb about 1 month ago (Flag)
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Yes folks, please keep comments iNat-related, and if someone does bring up COVID-19 and regulations, please don't respond to them.

Posted by tiwane about 1 month ago (Flag)
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Okay, the inability to graft taxa imported from external databases is starting to get really annoying. Surely this is not so taxing on the system? @tiwane

Posted by myelaphus about 1 month ago (Flag)
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@myelaphus what taxa are you trying to graft?

Posted by carrieseltzer about 1 month ago (Flag)
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Presumably the list here at the bottom. It has grown by 200 or so today alone. They can be fixed when the freeze is over, there's just going to be a big backlog of work, not just these for curators to go through.

https://www.inaturalist.org/taxa/curation

Posted by cmcheatle about 1 month ago (Flag)
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For me personally it's these taxa:
https://www.inaturalist.org/taxa/1074767-Notiolaphria-microtheres
https://www.inaturalist.org/taxa/1074689-Microstylum-magnum

They get imported from EOL, but are not automatically grafted to a genus. IMO this is an unnecessary impediment to curation and negatively impacts usability of iNaturalist. For example: https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/42984649. Because my suggested taxon is ungrafted, it does not affect the ID for the observation.

Posted by myelaphus about 1 month ago (Flag)
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As Chris mentioned, these ungrafted taxa are going to continue to pile up over the next 2 weeks. To me this seems like throwing the baby out with the bath water.

The above blog says that "Most users will not notice these changes because they do not directly impact observations, identifications, comments, or projects" but that is demonstrably false (see my above comment).

Taxon curation is an essential component of iNaturalist, and to see it disregarded in this manner ("lesser-used types of content ") is more than frustrating.

Posted by myelaphus about 1 month ago (Flag)
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Thanks @myelaphus and @cmcheatle. We'll explore some possibilities tomorrow if CNC day 1 goes smoothly.

Posted by carrieseltzer about 1 month ago (Flag)
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Just to be clear I'm not meaning to suggest it is an issue, that list grew to almost 2000 about a month ago when presumably someone used some kind of automation to bulk add huge numbers of stuff. And curators dealt with it, like here it just took effort. The net amount of work for curators is the same whether done incrementally now or in bulk in 2 weeks.

Any ID's done with these will be fine, they will update fine once the grafting is done, there is nothing wrong or broken with the ID, the taxa associated with it is just floating disconnected for a short period.

Posted by cmcheatle about 1 month ago (Flag)
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i agree. It can wait. Had a few taxon swaps out the blue, and ... suddenly the restrictions did apply to me ... well they can wait.

Would be nice if curators could help with CNC IDs and problems experienced (like lots of species on one observation, or one observation spread over many): not that most CNC users are checking for feedback yet. But hopefully most will over the ID period. Happy challenging!

If there are no REAL issues, then let the tech team take a break and go outside and do some observing!

Posted by tonyrebelo about 1 month ago (Flag)
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@cmcheatle I'm assuming many of the new species would have been grafted properly automatically and avoided later intervention by curators that now seems necessary (unless Admins can run a script to automatically try to graft ungrafted taxa when ready). I've had a few of my things identified recently with new species for iNat but the genera already exist.

Posted by reiner about 1 month ago (Flag)
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I don't think there is a reason why the automatic grafting of species imported via CoL or EoL will have been impacted by the freeze related to the CNC. It does not work properly at any time, and cleaning them up is a regular required task.

Posted by cmcheatle about 1 month ago (Flag)
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This has rarely been an issue for me or my taxa, but now every single species imported is ungrafted (and the genera already exist!). It's almost certainly related to the 'freeze'.

Posted by myelaphus about 1 month ago (Flag)
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I am not paying attention, so I dont know if all grafts are failing or not. But just to note: it is not a case of the genera already existing: the issue is often that the genera exist twice and the grafting does not know if it must go onto one (say the animal) or the other (the plant, or bacterium), and so leaves them ungrafted. Hemihomonyms will explain some of the names being ungrafted anyway ...

Posted by tonyrebelo about 1 month ago (Flag)
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None of my ungrafted species have hemihomonyms at the genus level, so I don't think that's the issue.

Posted by myelaphus about 1 month ago (Flag)
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OK: Hang in there - just for another week ...

Posted by tonyrebelo about 1 month ago (Flag)
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@carrieseltzer one thing to consider here is that the list for curators to deal with only shows 100 items. Anything that falls into one of the locked taxa can only be grafted by the designated taxa curators. If they are not cooperative or quick to reply the list could quickly become filled with items the curators who normally deal with these cant resolve.

Either all taxa curators will need to be asked to be very proactive in looking for ungrafted stuff or messages or Scott will have to do them. Plans on how to deal with that?

Posted by cmcheatle about 1 month ago (Flag)
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I can link to a spreadsheet of ungrafted taxa generated during the content freeze here if that would help

Posted by loarie about 1 month ago (Flag)
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OK... I have no idea what the problem or problems with the iNat grafted stuff is that you all are talking about. The language and concept is out of my cerebral capacity.
I have a simple question.
I have be doing IDs for the Austin Complex CNC in Texas and sometimes the computer gets "bogged down", very slow, then I get a message on screen telling me upload failed and to reload. My question: Has the iNat website been under heavy load at times?

Posted by connlindajo about 1 month ago (Flag)
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https://www.inaturalist.org/stats

Simply looking at the 2nd graph that shows the number of observations being submitted will show it. During the City Nature Challenge week the server is getting hammered at levels far above normal which causes performance issues

Posted by cmcheatle about 1 month ago (Flag)
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Thanks for the link. As I look at it... that is really great information.
I am amazed at the number of observers and observations in this year's event near my location in Texas. We really have some top notch iNaturalists and Texas Master Naturalists!

Posted by connlindajo about 1 month ago (Flag)
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The content freeze has been lifted so curators can resume the activities that were temporarily restricted.

Posted by carrieseltzer about 1 month ago (Flag)
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Huzzah! Thank you!

Posted by myelaphus about 1 month ago (Flag)

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