Naturalist.org is one of the world's most popular nature apps for recording and sharing species observations. It's a joint initiative between the California Academy of Life Sciences and National Geographic and has grown steadily since 2008. It now has more than one million users globally.
The ALA has become a member of the international iNaturalist Network, along with a many other countries including Canada, Mexico and New Zealand. Each network member creates a locally branded gateway into iNaturalist that focuses searches within their national boundaries and supports local conservation and sensitive species management. For us, our local gateway is iNaturalist Australia.
The key to iNaturalist's success is the unique combination of a passionate community and state-of-the-art machine learning technology to help people with species identification. Novice naturalists needing help with species identification benefit from both iNaturalist’s image recognition software and the expertise of the iNaturalist community – within hours of uploading an image, a novice can receive confirmation on species identification. People with expertise in a particular taxa can help identify observations, share their expertise and contribute to a global conversation. This drives two really great outcomes: connecting people with nature, and producing scientifically valid data.
Why have we chosen to team up with iNaturalist? There are many citizen science applications and programs in Australia that collect and verify data and send it across to ALA. We have chosen to team up with iNaturalist for a number of reasons.
Firstly, iNaturalist has already had strong uptake in Australia. Even without a local gateway, iNaturalist had already attracted 10,000 users contributing or identifying over 600,000 records in Australia.
Second, iNaturalist has compatible vision and core values to the ALA. An open data policy based on Creative Commons licensing encourages data sharing which reaps benefits for all kinds of scientific research - think taxonomy, ecology and artificial intelligence. Open source software development encourages innovation and infrastructure sustainability.
Finally, the internationalisation of their platform offers collaboration, networking and and risk mitigation opportunities similar to our own experience with our Living Atlases platforms.
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