iSpot research paper published

Martin Harvey's picture

We're pleased to announce that a new paper in the journal ZooKeys has been published, describing the thinking behind iSpot's approach to species identifications, outlining how iSpot makes use of its 'reputation system' to help highlight reliable identifications, and providing an overview of some of the activity on the site to date.

Thanks to everyone who has ever added an observation, identification or comment to iSpot - you have all contributed to the results described in the paper!

The summary is copied below, and click here for the full paper:

Silvertown J, Harvey M, Greenwood R, Dodd M, Rosewell J, Rebelo T, Ansine J, McConway K (2015) Crowdsourcing the identification of organisms: A case-study of iSpot. ZooKeys 480: 125-146. doi: 10.3897/zookeys.480.8803


Accurate species identification is fundamental to biodiversity science, but the natural history skills required for this are neglected in formal education at all levels. In this paper we describe how the web application and its sister site (collectively, “iSpot”) are helping to solve this problem by combining learning technology with crowdsourcing to connect beginners with experts. Over 94% of observations submitted to iSpot receive a determination. External checking of a sample of 3,287 iSpot records verified > 92% of them. To mid 2014, iSpot crowdsourced the identification of 30,000 taxa (>80% at species level) in > 390,000 observations with a global community numbering > 42,000 registered participants. More than half the observations on were named within an hour of submission. iSpot uses a unique, 9-dimensional reputation system to motivate and reward participants and to verify determinations. Taxon-specific reputation points are earned when a participant proposes an identification that achieves agreement from other participants, weighted by the agreers’ own reputation scores for the taxon. This system is able to discriminate effectively between competing determinations when two or more are proposed for the same observation. In 57% of such cases the reputation system improved the accuracy of the determination, while in the remainder it either improved precision (e.g. by adding a species name to a genus) or revealed false precision, for example where a determination to species level was not supported by the available evidence. We propose that the success of iSpot arises from the structure of its social network that efficiently connects beginners and experts, overcoming the social as well as geographic barriers that normally separate the two.

The network linking 5,000 participants who posted observations to without an identification and those providing a likely identification for those observations (see full paper for details).



dejayM's picture


The full paper is an absolute delight; well done collaborative authors.
ðerek Orkney UK

Jonathan's picture

Thanks, but its all of you

Thanks, but its all of you who deserve the credit.

University of Edinburgh and Biodiversity Observatory (OU)

DavidHowdon's picture


A really interesting paper. Good to be reminded just how useful iSpot is.

David Howdon

The Bate's's picture


Very enlightening. One can clearly see that Ispot is not just a site for pretty pictures, but rather a site where interest in nature is cultivated.
Riana & Mike

Jonathan's picture

Thanks. Glad you find the

Thanks. Glad you find the paper interesting. I have just returned from presenting it at the first meeting of the Citizen Science Association in the US and it went down well there. The main thanks should of course go to all of you for contributing to iSpot.

University of Edinburgh and Biodiversity Observatory (OU)

Thistle's picture


My browser still identifies this paper - presumably incorrectly - as containing malware. Are there any alternative sites where I can get a copy or could someone e-mail it to me, please? (flatearth at zetnet dot co dot uk)


dejayM's picture


Ian, I get no such warning (IEx10 - I dumped 11 because of issues like this). But I scan my computer regularly with MalwareBytes Free it will find the tiniest leak in your system. Run it before and after the accessing any download link. I believe the link on this page is free of malware-links.
Here's the direct link
It'll be the over-enthusiastic Virus protection you use or too high a security setting on the Browser. BUT don't take my word for it!

Thistle's picture

Better safe ...

Hi Derek, many thanks for your reply. I, too, suspect that it is a slightly over-enthusiastic virus checker but I'd rather that than one which wasn't keen enough.
Sadly the direct link you give suffers the same fate.

Martin Harvey's picture

PDF download

Ian, here is a link to the PDF version of the paper, which I've just downloaded from the main ZooKeys site. If there is any malware in the ZooKeys site (which I don't think there is) then I guess it could just as easily be in this PDF as well! But if you're happy to try another option here it is:

Entomologist and biological recorder

Thistle's picture

Many thanks

That downloads very quickly with no adverse warnings.

Many thanks.