Devise ways to nurture and retain newcomers

I think it’s a great idea to send a welcome message as soon as someone signs up. If it can I would include some supportive encouragement to post a first observation, perhaps acknowledging that it can be daunting, but also reassuring that you don’t have to be an expert. I then think what is possibly even more important, is having a way of flagging their first obs so that someone definitely interacts with it asap. Not sure who that someone could be, I will post a comment on someone’s first obs if I notice one, as I know others do, but it feels like it needs some coordination if that’s possible.

Agreed. This can probably be done via Coding @Chris_Valentine ? with a space on the Home Page which is STILL cluttered with dated material. Might embracing ‘starters’ be more relevant than Tweeting?.

I agree about early messages being brief. I would be happy to be a “gentle mentor” (love this phrase!) where I can. However, my knowledge, certainly in some areas is way less than that of other ispotters. Also as, a relative newcomer, and someone who is still learning about how to get the best out of iSpot I’m not sure if I’m best placed. There is also the ever present issue of time and commitment - however, happy to help where I can.

Guilty as charged! The robot said that I must create a poll, so that was my attempt at one. I don’t find him/her/them all that easy to follow. And if you ask a question, it says, ‘I’m not programmed to answer that.’
All of which makes me feel that a review of the help content might be relevant both to moderately old hands like me and newcomers.
But having said that it’s interesting to see that most people (three out of three so far) feel that retaining new members should be a top priority.
I agree with DejayM that a welcome email should be short, warm, encouraging and to the point. Perhaps it could point people to the Forums as a place where no question is too basic to be asked?
I am not sure that there was ever a convincing authoritative reply to the question on another thread about what is the prime purpose of iSpot. As I said before, I think that that has to come from the funders. But clarity on that would also have considerable relevance to a welcome message, IMO.

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Really like the idea of a steer to the forum and “no such thing as a stupid question” thing. However, again there would need to be a way of ensuring a response, ideally asap.

To be a Gentle Mentor does NOT require expertise in Organisms. WE need to show enthusiasm, be helpful and not demanding. I have often overstepped my welcome by asking for a tag to be added!.
One of the most useful bits of advice I give, is to search iSpot before adding any ID. I still do that and I think it should be in an automated welcome message.

If someone posts a draft welcome message, is there any facility for others to edit it within the forum?

This is a slight revision of something I drafted some time ago, It needs work!

[Some suitable wording about why the site is free to users, and how that limits the available curation and management. Also a comment about wanting people to enjoy the community that has developed.]


Even the most mundane observation is of value – it adds to the body of data available for the species in question. The “Holy Grail” of any post is an identification to species level, but - even with the best photos and details - this isn’t always possible. But wherever they can, iSpot’s users will try to be as precise as is feasible.

Where photos and details are concerned, more is definitely better – though the subject may not be very cooperative! There are numerous posts with a comment along the lines of “we need to see…” Identifying features are very varied – the colours and shapes of body parts, the layout of hairs on a plant stem, the way the gills of a fungus join the stipe. So, shots from different angles can reveal the clues.

The habitat can be important, too. An insect might be found in grass, but have only been there because it fell out of a tree. Aquatic species may have a distinct preference for water quality, speed, or turbidity. Plants often have favoured soil types, dampness, and amount of shade. These details help confirm or call into doubt a proposed identification.

Fungi are a classic example. Many are associated with certain trees, and identification depends on the nature of the gills or pores, whether they produce latex or change colour when damaged, any odour they emit, and the colour of the spores. If you don’t recognise the tree, you can add it as a separate post to hopefully get it identified.

When adding an identification, it is important that others understand why you chose as you did. You should mention the distinguishing features, and other relevant facts, such as habitat. You might decide that an ID can only be made to (say) genus level: in the notes you could say that “the [distinctive feature] isn’t clear, so it could be one of several species”.

It’s also important that you are as precise as possible when locating your observation on the map, as the record may turn out to be of considerable importance. Make sure the name is descriptive, and clear to others – you can hide the precise location of sensitive species.


There are a few ways in which an identification can go awry. A “valid” one will have links to external sites and taxonomy:

[screenshot of a “valid” ID – one with notes

Whereas a “failed” ID will look different, and lack those links:

[screenshot of a failed ID]

Without a “good” ID, the post is effectively, lost from sight. This wasn’t immediately obvious in the early days of iSpot: it’s better known now, but it still happens. The only “fix” is to add a revised identification. What causes it?

You need to pick the name from one of the drop-down lists (scientific or common names) that start to appear as you type something in: free-typed entries will not usually work. This is the commonest cause, though sometimes the system seems to fail even when a name is properly “picked”. So, it is always worth checking!

In some cases, the name (or even the species) isn’t in the iSpot dictionary, or the scientific name in the iSpot database may be out-of-date. Others may be absent, perhaps recent arrivals in the UK. That needs a work-around, such as choosing a name at (say) family level, then adding the species name in the notes. Also, it has some quirks around common names - especially if numeric or hyphenated.

iSpot “etiquette” is not to agree to incomplete panels. A subsequent revision to correct the error would then need more agreements to shift the “likely” banner: effectively, the post remains “lost”.

A final note about ID panels. Users may want to add a hyperlink to another post or an external site, where there are more details about the subject. This saves typing in a lot of supporting information. But hyperlinks will not “go live” in ID notes: you have to copy-and-paste them into another browser window. The trick is to type “see link in comments below”. Then, when the ID is finished (and checked), you can add a comment with the hyperlink in it. That way, it will be “live”, and one click will take the user straight to it. Be aware, though, that long hyperlinks don’t always work properly.


This is a very handy way of checking up on your posts (and others where you have contributed, or added as a “favourite”). So, you can find out if someone has added an ID, asked a question that might help with one, or provided other input.

As new users come along, or new knowledge is acquired, it is common for quite old posts to be revisited. When a species is identified in a posts, iSpot will list other observations in the database. The dedicated iSpotters may then revisit these, to see if the ID can be “improved” or corrected: perhaps they will add comments or agreements. These will also appear in your Changes Tracker, and keep you aware of what’s going on.

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This is great Amadan - but is it a bit too much for someone who has just joined and may not be all that ‘hooked’?
I would go for something more along the lines of…
We are so glad that you have decided to join the iSpot community. We are a friendly bunch of people who are passionate about natural history and, in particular, try to identify as many of the species that we come across as possible.
iSpot includes a great range of people. Some are beginners and others are experts in one or more species-groups. We are fortunate to have some who have a professional knowledge of arthropods, fungi, birds and other families. So there is a pretty good chance of getting your observations identified if you can provide relevant photos.
Please do have a look at the forums - (click on ‘Explore Community’ and then, at the bottom of the list, ‘forum’). Here you can follow discussions or start new ones. Remember, there is no such thing as a stupid question.
We are attaching some more detailed notes [Amadan’s above] to help you get started.
We look forward to your input.

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I’m very much in agreement with Surreybirder. The “onion” approach is good: a little information at a time with encouragement to dig a little deeper in various directions as the need arises.

Yes - we (iSpot) needs to engage quickly, and my attempt is too long-winded.

This has been an interesting discussion to read, so thanks for all the posts.
I agree that we have to encourage people to give enough detail so that others can confirm an ID or suggest another possibility. As Martin H says, beginners would not be expected to know what details are needed, and I have found it really encouraging when iSpotters do respond. I have seen some beginners really developing their ID skills through help from experts. It is, of course, not so encouraging that some people post and then seem to lose interest - or if they do revisit their postings, ignore the suggestions offered. Still, that’s life.
I have started to go through the seaweed genera and see if I can offer help; even if the authors don’t look, it will be a pleasure to do so.
I posted this 10 years ago. Plus ça change - it remains a pleasure.

yes Jo, ‘same old’. and you did help me with Marine Postings.
iSpot has actually moved on (except Chile and Hong Kong) and has improved over that ten years,
I have been here nine of them and came from a very similar site that died through lack of development. There is NOTHING wrong with iSpot except we are apparently not retaining new registrants. The reasons may well be clear.
Action is needed NOW to ensure that the next ten years will progress from strength to strength.

Joseph Morgan | User | iSpot Nature registered yesterday (27th)
Preceded by Elma Du Preez | User | iSpot Nature on the 15th
So, with 20 other registration between - have any of them made an Observation, agreed or commented?
Two have but have no idea that we have responded - one is USA the other Southern Africa
Something is putting off new registrants from Posting Observations.
The Complexity of adding something?
Photography perhaps?
The off-putting ‘excellence’ of existing observations?
Forgotten password?
We need to know and Admin are the only ones who can find out

Would it be possible to send a simple questionnaire to people who have registered, say after a month?

Hello, coming late to this party. I do often offer a welcome message though I like to add, too, something else specific re that first observation a person has made. And recently I made a comment on a lovely post from a contributor who’d not added an observation for quite a while. Yes, it’s really important. Messages need to be short initially, the onion analogy is good.

I think iSpot appeals to people who want to know why and to engage more with the ID as well as just wanting an answer, though that’s just a guess. This is linked in a way to the AI thread in that several people I know have joined iNat this last two years because of the app (I think it’s Seek that’s integrated to iNat? responses seem the same) and the ease of use on a small screen and when on the move. These are busy folk, phone screens full of app icons.

So that’s what I think is different about iSpot. There is more engagement, and rationale for ID counts/should count.

I have often thought about asking questions of those who’ve joined recently and have found a home in iSpot and those who joined and have not contributed for a while (maybe a year?). What are the factors involved for these individuals? And how to cast the questionnaire(s) so that responses are easy to make and relatively easy to analyse.

My other thought goes back to the first experience that people have of making an observation. Encourage saying something, description so often gives context and I think encouragement to add something in the ID notes is needed. If an ID panel is invalid, then the typeface should be in red since black and blue are too similar. If we can have a flag to say name changed because of dictionary update, is it possible to have a flag beside the (preferably!) red typeface on an invalid ID taking you to a simple page of images on how to make the ID valid? Images not words wherever possible. QR codes or similar for ease of access, linking to relevant pages of help text/imagery?

Can’t remember about changes in scripts in the interface we see when making an obs. As it is, the link to the species dictionary seems positive when you are on the ID step in making an obs - could it encourage more interaction with possible IDs by being plainer about the bonus of checking through the other observations of that taxon just where you type it in? Probably a different, broader issue than the important matter of user retention.

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Thank you all for raising this and for the useful feedback and suggestions. We are looking into this and will engage further asap.

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That’s good Janice thanks
Please consider making welcome ‘instructions’ VERY brief - it is pretty intuitive already.
The route to the first Observation is very easy as long (as you don’t impose an AI hurdle)
I believe the key to this whole issue MIGHT be to better engage with those who make their first Observation.
We find them by luck and few return to see how well we respond.
There needs to be a system that tells US of First Observations (we mustn’t go over the top) and it is then that a welcome letter is sent saying ‘how nice and please…’ etc

Among others Jake Storton | User | iSpot Nature joined us 3 days ago and has yet to make his first Observation - he could be a future Curator here. How will we know when he makes the crucial first Ob.?

A weeks-worth of Registrants**
There may not be much mileage clicking on them but someone should
Can ways to list first time ‘posters’ on the HOME PAGE be found?
Can WE take turns to list them Saturday to Saturday?
WHO would volunteer?
Can those who DO add an observation get a special email welcome from one of the Admin staff?