Dec 9, 2022

New York Times Profiles App ‘iNaturalist,’ Created by MIMS Alumni

From New York Times (Paywall)

The Nicest Place Online? It Might Just Involve Identifying Sea Slugs.

By Amy Harmon

When Merav Vonshak wanted to identify the gelatinous blob she had photographed floating in a shallow pool of water on a family vacation, she bypassed a wildlife-related website too often beset by bickering. She gave no consideration to brand-name social media platforms known for snark or misinformation.

Instead she uploaded the picture to a site called iNaturalist, where strangers have come together to pursue a very specific type of truth: the correct scientific classification for the living things they photograph in the wild or the backyard. They have so far processed about 90 million, with at least a quarter completed in 2022 alone.

A not-for-profit initiative of the California Academy of Sciences and the National Geographic Society, iNaturalist says it aims to connect people to nature through technology. And the site’s species-level identifications have been cited in thousands of scientific papers.

Ken-ichi Ueda, who co-created iNaturalist in 2008 and continues to run it with his co-director, Scott Loarie, said the site’s evidence-based ethos is also bolstered by the fact that users can’t just mark identifications as incorrect.

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Ken-ichi Ueda graduated from the MIMS program in 2008. iNaturalist began as a MIMS FInal Project with fellow alums Nate Agrin and Jessica Kline.

ken-ichi Ueda holding snake monochrome
Ken-ichi Ueda (Photo by Taji Allen for California Naturalist Conference)

Last updated:

February 2, 2023