Other platforms like iNaturalist

Two years ago when I started working on the [now defunct] Great Nature Project at National Geographic and integrating it with iNaturalist, I quickly starting growing a list of other platforms with a similar mission to help people record and share their observations of biodiversity and connect with other nature lovers. I thought I'd found a use for Pinterest, but apparently you can only see my "board" if you're logged in, and I don't blame anyone for not wanting to join Pinterest. In the process of starting to write this journal post, it occurred to me that the information may be most useful in spreadsheet form (I should have been doing that all along!).

Link to spreadsheet of platforms!

Generally, these other platforms fall into these four categories:
-Global and all-taxa (like iNaturalist)
-National/regional and all-taxa
-Taxonomically specific and global
-Restricted geographically and taxonomically

Among the platform, there are also ranges of:
-Social interaction (i.e. can you interact with other people's observations or just your own?)
-Crowdsourcing
-Data sharing (how much can you actually see/download?)
-Expert review
-Identification tools/resources
-Mapping tools
-Educational resources

Let me emphasize the following:
-The list is incomplete. I generally didn't list platforms that were restricted geographically AND taxonomically (e.g. gobotany). Feel free to suggest others that should be on here.
-I'm happy to give edit access to anyone interested in helping expand the spreadsheet.
-Some of the summary information I entered in the spreadsheet may be wrong. Please correct me! I usually didn't spend more than a few minutes on each site (specifically for the purposes of populating the spreadsheet) and may have missed things.
-I didn't include EOL in the list because it filled a related but separate niche of biodiversity information (rather than more strictly about observations/records).

I've been wanting to write this up for months, so what better way to spend this Friday night, right? I've dabbled here and there over the last couple of years and talked with some of the people involved in these sites, but others have been difficult to explore due to language barriers, complicated interfaces, and geographic/taxonomic limitations (i.e. I can't contribute to a platform in a country I've never visited). I also included iNaturalist's four country portals (Mexico, Colombia, New Zealand, and Canada) on their own lines but their numbers are included in the iNaturalist total. I included "unverifiable" observations in the counts because many other sites rely heavily on similarly reported records so I thought it would be a better comparison.

I may be wrong about this, but my impression also is that there were two "waves" of these platforms. Several started in 2009-2010 and most of those look like they haven't had much investment for the last few years. Then there's a second wave of newer platforms that started around 2012.

I find the little sites restricted to a small geographic area most fascinating. I have immense appreciation for the amount of time and skill that it takes to develop and maintain a platform like these, and I'm amazed that some of these tiny user markets have been able to fund themselves. I suspect that the vast majority of people/organizations that set out to create a platform vastly underestimate the resources needed to do it well (I've been that person and seen it first hand!). I think it's useful and important to have independent evolution of some platforms, but there's also a big argument for working together and pooling resources to build upon existing infrastructure (i.e. New Zealand's NatureWatch integrating directly with iNaturalist). The most extreme version of this I ever saw (and haven't included here) was a site developed solely for reporting a handful of snake species in a very small geographic area. In the success column, I convinced a project manager on iNaturalist not to try to make a custom iNat app branded for his project because he had an impossibly small budget.

Also interesting: it's really hard to find user numbers on most of these platforms! Please fill in any of the missing numbers if you can. It was hard to find numbers of observations/records too, but I could often estimate from a page count.

What do you think? What am I missing? Send me your email address if you want to be able to edit the spreadsheet.

Posted by carrieseltzer carrieseltzer, July 09, 2016 04:07 AM

Comments

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Tagging a few of you who I think will be interested in this: @sambiology @charlie @jakob @treegrow @jon_sullivan @reallifeecology @cullen @invertzoo @loarie @kueda

Posted by carrieseltzer over 2 years ago (Flag)
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And @maryeford because I've talked about this more with her than just about anyone else!

Posted by carrieseltzer over 2 years ago (Flag)
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You got a lot I didn't know about. Some more:

http://www.artportalen.se
http://mushroomobserver.org
http://mycomap.com (might still be working on it)
http://www.angleraction.org
http://www.igfacatchlog.org
http://wildobs.com (possibly defunct)
http://www.naherp.com

There *have* to be like a million of these in Japan, right?

Posted by kueda over 2 years ago (Flag)
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Thanks Ken-ichi! I forgot to include Mushroom Observer but I think the rest of these are new to me. WildObs is totally spammed :-( I added all of these to the spreadsheet.

@harumkoh, what sites are there like this in Japan?

Posted by carrieseltzer over 2 years ago (Flag)
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These websites are nice but all Japanese. :(
You can't read them so I pick up spreadsheet information. ;)

Name: Web sakana zukan
URL: http://zukan.com/fish/
Geographic distribution: Global
Language(s): Japanese
Taxonomic Focus: fish
Shares with GBIF?: no (maybe)
Website? yes
Mobile app? yes (auto id!? http://zukan.com/fish/mikke)
#Users: 1652
#Records: 45845 (3268 species)

Name: Umiushi zukan
URL: http://www.umiushi-zukan.com/main/top.php
Geographic distribution: Global
Language(s): Japanese
Taxonomic Focus: sea slug
Shares with GBIF?: no (maybe)
Website? yes
Mobile app? no
#Users: 234
#Records: 26537 (1059 species)

Name: Minna de tsukuru Kobe ikimono map
URL: http://commons.mypl.net/kankyou/biodiversity
Geographic distribution: Kobe
Language(s): Japanese
Taxonomic Focus: all
Shares with GBIF?: no (maybe)
Website? yes
Mobile app? no
#Users: unknown
#Records: 6423
Comments: running by local government

Posted by harumkoh over 2 years ago (Flag)
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Thanks! That's awesome! I'll update the spreadsheet later today.

Posted by carrieseltzer over 2 years ago (Flag)
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ooh!
Very neat. but also mildly frustrating, in that you can't easily see the data from all of them in one place. Of course *i* think they should just all use inaturalist. except maybe ebird because it's so different :) Though it seems many do share with gbif.

I had no idea project Noah had so few observations. (not bashing it, just kinda surprised. I think for awhile it was similar to iNat in use). I think like you say it attracts people who want to post a few pretty pictures, not the obsessive data collectors like myself and others here.

Posted by charlie over 2 years ago (Flag)
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PN was bigger than inat for a while, but it's been slowing down while inat is speeding up. It has some super users and several iNat crossover users (people who were or are active both here and there).

Posted by carrieseltzer over 2 years ago (Flag)
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i started out on PN many years ago but didn't like it and came here instead. At that time anyway their app was pretty much a toy. Didn't work if you werent connected to the internet and kept prompting for a login constantly. Their species database wasn't great either. I'd mostly given up on the idea in general but then found iNaturalist. I don't even remember how I found it.

Posted by charlie over 2 years ago (Flag)
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I just added Pl@ntNet which is kind of like LeapSnap because it uses image recognition, but it also lets you log your records. I haven't created an account yet but I will. It's for Western Europe, South America, and some other places but works pretty damn well on weeds since so many of those came from Europe.

Posted by carrieseltzer over 2 years ago (Flag)
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can we add pokemon go to the list

Posted by charlie over 2 years ago (Flag)
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More edits: I've sorted the sheet by geographic distribution and then by taxa. This lets you more easily see the platforms that are both global AND all-taxa. In my crude and perhaps entirely wrong estimate of their contributor base they are:

iNaturalist (had the only easy-to-find count of contributors: 75,642)
iSpot
Project Noah
Map of Life
Anymals + Plants
Discover Life

All but Project Noah share with GBIF one way or another.

I also added iRecord, which I'd forgotten about but is one of the choice platforms for BioBlitzes in the UK (mentioned in this nice BioBlitz guide from 2013).

Posted by carrieseltzer over 2 years ago (Flag)
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Especially if you like insects and/or macro photography, I recommend checking out the occasional newsletter from Australia's Bower Bird site: http://researchdata.museum.vic.gov.au/BowerBird_Bugle/BowerBird_Bugle.html
Always interesting anecdotes and beautiful photos, and sometimes really useful insights about the challenges and strengths of platforms like this.

Posted by carrieseltzer over 2 years ago (Flag)
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Might it be worth adding a "data quality" and/or "evidence type" columns? Hard to put into categories, e.g. iNat's data quality model is purely peer review, but eBird's is kind of based on trust and also on reputation (experience proven on eBird) and expert review, BugGuide is based on trust with occasional expert review. iSpot's is based on reputation, but reputation isn't always earned within the system.

Posted by kueda over 2 years ago (Flag)
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Wow, iGoTerra is interesting! It has a subscription model. Found out about it thanks to a tweet that @kueda tagged me on. http://igoterra.com/landing.asp

Posted by carrieseltzer over 2 years ago (Flag)
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Tagging @anikarenina just so you know I've complied this list in case it's ever useful for your research.

Posted by carrieseltzer over 2 years ago (Flag)
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This is awesome, @carrieseltzer! Mentally cataloging this under "source material for papers that really need to be written." A nice robust descriptive analysis to identify gaps in infrastructure would be useful and clearly there's adequate demand for this type of platform to merit the attention. Someday...

Posted by anikarenina over 2 years ago (Flag)
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Excellent initiative, Carrie, thanks a bunch! I have to take some time going through your list and add / update sites that I know a bit. I'm always amazed by observation.org - a rather small community (~ 7000, mostly Dutch), but super active (~ 18 million observations) with global extent: http://observation.org/statistiek.php

Posted by jakob over 2 years ago (Flag)
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Thanks Jakob! I've got them in the spreadsheet and I appreciate their stats page that makes it easy to see. They seem to have a bit of the birder effect happening—I think it's 75% bird observations?

Posted by carrieseltzer over 2 years ago (Flag)
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Yeah, absolutely: about 13 million bird observations, which leaves an astonishing 5 million non-bird observations!

Posted by jakob over 2 years ago (Flag)
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@gwark do you work with the NatureMapping part of CyberTracker (http://naturemappingfoundation.org/natmap/)? I'm curious how you'd populate the fields in the spreadsheet linked above. I can invite you to edit the doc if you have a google account. Can other people see the data you contribute with CyberTracker? If so, where?

Posted by carrieseltzer over 2 years ago (Flag)
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There's a Norwegian multi-taxa site with 11+ million observations as of Nov 2015: http://www.artsdatabanken.no

I don't speak Norwegian but, helpfully, there in a english summary of the activities here: http://www.biodiversity.no/Pages/166304. Like Observation.org, it skews towards birds, but there are another 1.4 million non-avian records. Which, for a country the size of Norway, is outstanding.

I believe that this is their GBIF dataset: http://www.gbif.org/dataset/b124e1e0-4755-430f-9eab-894f25a9b59c

Probably less helpful, there is a haphazard list of citizen science project on wikipedia, but I think that most of the major ones have been identified here.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_citizen_science_projects

David

Posted by dkaposi over 2 years ago (Flag)
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Thanks, @dkaposi! That is really impressive! I've added it to the spreadsheet.

Posted by carrieseltzer over 2 years ago (Flag)
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I'm just seeing your list/spreadsheet...thanks @carrieseltzer!

Posted by calloftheloon almost 2 years ago (Flag)
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Great, @calloftheloon! I welcome any suggestions. Happy to add you as an editor on the document if you'd like access.

Posted by carrieseltzer almost 2 years ago (Flag)
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hi Carrie. I'd like to add one more platform: JungleDragon (https://www.jungledragon.com/).

First, the disclaimer: I'm the founder of it. I believe it deserves a place in the list. Second, I'm not here for any reason of competition. Anybody that brings people in touch with nature is a friend, not a competitor. I believe in the coexistence of all these platforms.

Some characteristics of JungleDragon:
- English-speaking, yet the scope in terms of species and users is global, not regional
- Species identification and taxonomy are a fundamental part of the site and its community
- In terms of experience it aims to sit between being easy/beautiful to use and being scientifically correct
- 100% non commercial, it's simply a pet project that grew into a platform. No funding other than my own wallet.
- Ran entirely by volunteers, community is everything
- It's very small in users and observations, which explains why you could not even find it.
- Also, I suck in marketing it.
- Despite being small, being fueled by hope, so not dead. Many features planned and being developed.

I could list a bunch of really cool and unique features, but I won't, it's not my purpose to sell it, and I respect this great community over here. I was simply triggered by not seeing it in the list, hope you don't mind :)

Posted by ferdy almost 2 years ago (Flag)
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Awesome, Ferdy! And if you share data with GBIF or something similar, it all goes the same place anyway.

Posted by charlie almost 2 years ago (Flag)
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Over 2,600 users, not bad! And I think you've succeeded on the 'beautiful' aspect as there are some amazing photos on your site. Thanks for sharing.

Posted by calloftheloon almost 2 years ago (Flag)
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Thanks for sharing, @ferdy! Always glad to learn about more great biodiversity-sharing sites. Do you share data beyond JungleDragon, like with GBIF? (sorry I don't have more time to explore it tonight—you can help fill in what I missed on the spreadsheet by requesting edit access).

Posted by carrieseltzer almost 2 years ago (Flag)
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@Charlie: Thank you. Currently, JungleDragon does not share data actively with other parties. Not necessarily because I am against it, it just doesn't. It does *take* some data automatically from Wikipedia. For example, when you use the species identification dialog on the site, and the species is not yet known to JungleDragon, it will automatically look up the species page on Wikipedia page, if there is any. There, it will parse useful parts of the page, including names, taxonomy, distribution, etc. The other species records we create manually, often using eol.org as basic source.

Personally, I'm finding eol.org an incredible source, it is so incredibly complete. I wish they had a good API to look up information reliably, and perhaps a way to also send it back.

@calloftheloon. Thank you. That 2,600 number is a bit inflated, if not a lot. Usually there's a few dozen active users responsible for the bulk of the activity. There's a lot of passive users and also users who once signed up to just give it a try. Thank you for finding it beautiful. The photos I do not control, but the site itself I'm going to be bumping several levels in the coming years in terms of user experience.

@Carrie: Glad to share :) See my first paragraph, currently JungleDragon does not actively share with other systems. It's also pretty small to do such a thing.

Posted by ferdy almost 2 years ago (Flag)
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Forgot to mention one thing: at JungleDragon we maintain a guide of sites that help in the identification of species. Moderators manage this site list:

https://www.jungledragon.com/species/guide

I'm too lazy to cross-check it with your list, so help yourself if you like :)

Posted by ferdy almost 2 years ago (Flag)
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I think the real question here is how do we foster connection and data exchange and maybe ID help even across these various communities without threatening their integrity as separate entities. i don't want any of these to go away or all forced into one platform when it doesn't work for everyone, but I do think it's possible to have all these islands where people collect data but it never goes beyond that. In Vermontw e check iNat and Ebird for rarities... if someone posts a rare species on JungleDragon, will policymakers in Vermont know? (That's just an example, i don't know if you have any users here)

Posted by charlie almost 2 years ago (Flag)
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The crucial point is to have data exported from these 'islands' to global and unified repositories such as GBIF, which then serve as one-stop-shops for data.

Posted by jakob almost 2 years ago (Flag)
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I agree with both of you. Even though sharing observations into a global pool would not be a primary goal for JungleDragon, it could be a secondary one, and I would gladly enable it.

But before that, those global repositories must make a good API as per 21st century standards. I just checked the GBIF contribution guide. Half the links and demos are broken. Contributing data takes lots of reading, approvals, steps to take, to ultimately publish data in formats from 2 decades ago.

If contributing data is this inaccessible, small site owners will not do it. It should be as easy as sending a tweet or integrating a Google Map.

Sorry for the rant, but it's frustrating. It's like saying to somebody with money in their hands: let me send you around 20 blocks before you can give it to me.

Posted by ferdy almost 2 years ago (Flag)
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Carrie's list of similar projects plus the recent comments re integration of separate platforms into GBIF might interest @dhobern @treegrow @wouterkoch @alvarosaurus @marcoschmidtffm @qgroom @dagendresen

Posted by jakob almost 2 years ago (Flag)
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Thanks, very interesting!
The observation.org statistics in the sheet are numbers excluding The Netherlands (currently 45.185.462 observations, see https://waarneming.nl/statistiek.php) and Belgium (currently 23.513.675 observations, see https://waarnemingen.be/statistiek.php). Such a shame they do not share with GBIF :(

For a paper we recently published a European list was made. It's far from complete but it may help you supplement yours. It's available under "Supplementary material 2" with the paper, see https://doi.org/10.3897/rio.2.e11563

Posted by wouterkoch almost 2 years ago (Flag)
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Oh, and let me tag @veljorunnel as well, this is something for him too.

Posted by wouterkoch almost 2 years ago (Flag)
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Thanks! This is a very useful list. Here is some extra information on Naturgucker (naturgucker.de / enjoynature.net):

-Taxonomic focus: all (naturgucker.de), and fungi (http://www.pilzgucker.de)
-Shares with GBIF: Yes (http://www.gbif.org/dataset/6ac3f774-d9fb-4796-b3e9-92bf6c81c084)
-Mobile app: Yes (http://www.naturgucker.info/naturgucker-tipps/hilfe-zu-naturapps/verfuegbare-apps/#c661) and also apps with a particular focus (http://www.naturgucker.info/naturgucker-tipps/hilfe-zu-naturapps/verfuegbare-apps/)
-Users (registered): 26000
-Identification tools: Some of the apps which use the Naturgucker API have an integrated key function. These keys are community-maintained in a wiki here: http://offene-naturfuehrer.de

Posted by alvarosaurus almost 2 years ago (Flag)
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Linking back to a longer thread that was discussing collaboration among (South African) platforms: www.inaturalist.org/observations/2739296

Posted by jakob almost 2 years ago (Flag)
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For those of us interested or puzzled by GBIF policy (@ferdy I fully sympathize with you), here is a link to the GBIF Community site, which offers some first-hand community support and a possibility to discuss issues: http://community.gbif.org/

Posted by alvarosaurus almost 2 years ago (Flag)
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@carrieseltzer Somehow it's been the better part of a year, and I'm finally responding to your question about CyberTracker. I have not used the Nature Mapping application, but I have created my own.

CyberTracker is a platform for building your own data collection applications. It's a tool for people to use to support their own data collection needs, rather than a central citizen science based data collection project.

There's a lot of flexibility, so you can create what you need. For my purposes, I took species lists of plants, birds, mammals, and bryophytes (and a few other things), included the ability to record information like count or some basic behaviors (for animals) and blooming/fruiting (for plants). I made it possible to quickly get to the species I wanted to record by using 4-letter codes for most groups (banders codes for birds, GeSp for other organisms); mammal diversity was low enough that I just went with taxonomic group selection for them.

Unless you're making very minimal changes from an example app, there is a heavy upfront investment required to get something set up, but the payoff is you can have an efficient means of collecting whatever data you want. For me this means recording things as I walk with maybe 5 seconds or less per data point (assuming I remember the name of the organism).

There is no grand central repository for data, but folks can set it up so multiple people feed data into the same server. It would be up to them how it's shared. Personally, I have not yet shared much of my data, though eventually I expect to do a big upload into eBird. I have imported some observations into iNaturalist, but very few of them are photo supported (I set things up to be geared toward collecting observational data quickly for species I was already familiar with - both for phenological and distribution/occurrence purposes, rather than photo documented like iNaturalist is geared towards).

Currently I still use my CyberTracker app to track birds and plant flowering, plus some plant occurrence. It's much more efficient for me than iNaturalist (both in terms of time in the field, as well as dealing with the photos later - I try to keep all of my photos well organized and cataloged), and I am not sure there is enough value to be provided in my taking and posting pictures of everything I see blooming or fruiting each day to justify the hassle of creating that many iNaturalist observations.

If I could cut my iNaturalist observation creation time down to 5-10 seconds from the current 20-30, I would consider using iNaturalist to document everything I document (though birds would generally be without photos). In principle, this could happen if there was a mechanism for me to pre-load species lists with aliases (abbreviations) that allowed me to quickly pull up the species name I am after (typing in the species name and getting it spelled correctly, especially with the cell phone typing, is the main bottleneck).

Posted by gwark over 1 year ago (Flag)
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Thanks, @gwark! Better late than never. Can you explain how the app works? I didn't really see mention of it. Is it like a website you save to your home screen? I didn't see a clear explanation on the site or anything in the app store. (Please correct me if I'm wrong). Also, please take a look at how I filled in the spreadsheet and make corrections if necessary. Thanks!

Posted by carrieseltzer over 1 year ago (Flag)
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I think my data collection on iNat iphone app is pretty close to 10 seconds @gwark . i am limited by the speed at which the app works and that is about it. if you go too fast it gets a bit weird especially a first observation where you have to make sure the gps is tuned in. As always turn off auto upload, if you are interested in speed turn off the suggestion algorithm too (you can always go back later and use it on specific things).

Posted by charlie over 1 year ago (Flag)
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@carrieseltzer - You download CyberTracker to your computer and use that to build your app (you can build one from scratch, or use/modify one of the examples that comes with CyberTracker). You plug in your mobile device to your computer and CyberTracker will put the data collection app file on your device. It's been a while, but I think the first time (and maybe each time you upgrade) you have to open the file on your mobile device and manually run it to get the app installed. Once installed, you can have multiple independent data collection sequences within the CyberTracker app.

You can have built in lists/filters (which is what I did, as it greatly speeds up the time for data entry of the sort that I do), or you can have a more open entry approach. It really depends on what sort of data you want to record. It was originally developed to be an icon-based system that highly-skilled (but illiterate) trackers could use to collect georeferenced data and help monitor large mammals in Africa. However, it is very flexible and can be used for all sorts of data collection (with or without georeferencing).

The flexibility allows you to create an app that is very suited to the particular needs of a project, but the cost is the time it takes to create the app. I once created an app for a plant ecologist recording vegetation plot data according to a USFS protocol. I included known species lists to make it more efficient (with the ability to add new species, if necessary). It's been a while, but I think it took me around 50 hours to build and make sure it was working correctly.

The CyberTracker platform is just about as general as you can get without coding up your own database+interface, but allows you to create as narrow a data gathering application as you like.

If there were a way to seamlessly integrate the CyberTracker records into iNaturalist observations, I would almost certainly just stick with CyberTracker for most of my data collection - it's just so much more efficient since I created the app I have specifically to meet my needs.
CyberTracker does have some ability to upload to a central server (so multiple people can gather data into the same database), and perhaps a clever programmer that understood how to move data around through APIs and such would be able to put something together. I'm probably not that person, however.

@charlie I responded more fully in the email thread about speed of observations, but just to respond briefly here, I can probably get observations down to close to 10 seconds if I were to focus on that, but I think my error rate would be >50% at that speed (that is, more than 50% of my observations would need to be fixed for typos/spelling errors). So what I gained in speed out in the field, I would give back at least partially in time needed to review/fix observations before (or after) uploading. For me that's fine for my typical day of 5-10 observations with my current approach, but it would be less easy to keep up with when the numbers were closer to 50+ observations a day (if I moved what I currently do in CyberTracker over to iNaturalist). The beauty of my set up in CyberTracker is I can quickly filter a species list down to at most a handful of species (and usually just one), select the one I want, and there is much less chance of data entry error.

Posted by gwark over 1 year ago (Flag)
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That makes sense! For me it works and the error rate is pretty low though i usually review them later anyhow because i like to. And on a day i'm able to focus on using iNat without also doing other stuff i often get 50-100 observations. If CyberTracker integrated with iNat I'd probably use it too, evetually. I don't have much up front time to invest in stuff right now regardess of the payoff...

Posted by charlie over 1 year ago (Flag)
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Belated thanks for giving so much detail about Cybertracker, @gwark! I added more detail to the spreadsheet based on your explanations.

Posted by carrieseltzer over 1 year ago (Flag)
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@carrieseltzer - Here are a few I didn't see on the spreadsheet. The original post said platforms that are restricted geographically and taxonomically were generally not listed, but I figured I'd post these just in case.

Name: Butterflies and Moths of North America (BAMONA)
URL: https://www.butterfliesandmoths.org/
Geographic distribution: North America
Language(s): English
Taxonomic Focus: Butterflies & Moths
Website? Y/N: Y
# Users: 49,562
# Records: 766,494

Name: Bumble Bee Watch
URL: https://www.bumblebeewatch.org/
Geographic distribution: North America
Language(s): English
Taxonomic Focus: Bumble bees
Website? Y/N: Y
Mobile app? Y/N: Y
# Records: 32,603

Posted by loligo 4 months ago (Flag)
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Thanks, @loligo! I just added those. I know BAMONA and Bumble Bee Watch have been around for a while and I think I originally didn't include them since they were both geographically and taxonomically limited, but it definitely makes more sense to include them.

I have done a terrible job keeping this up to date with the proliferation of platforms. Anyone with the link should be able to edit, so please continue to add/update (and be sure to add/update the date field since the numbers—and sometimes platforms— change quickly).

Posted by carrieseltzer 3 months ago (Flag)

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