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Fall Fund Drive

I've created a monster - We need to be careful - I need your help

As the weeks of development on this web site mounted I realized I had two main fears.

1) I had gone to a great deal of trouble to develop a contributory site that only I would end up using.
2) That I would get more of a response than I could manage.

I think I've wound up in the second situation, and I didn't realize just how much work it would be.

As the "publisher" of the site, I feel responsible for the content. I try to look over all submissions and do "fact checking". Because of various things going on in my life this is turning out to be quite a burden.

Maybe I'm misleading myself, but I feel like this site has an air of authority. I don't want to spread misinformation. This stuff is hard. I constantly find myself revising my own determinations. I'm nonconfrontational by nature. Even though I might feel confident that someone has made a mistake, I find it hard to express that. I like words of encouragement. I don't want to discourage anybody but at the same time I don't want visitors to be misled by what they find here.

I am having conflicts with myself about the site and I'm looking for some feedback. Certainly I recognize that many of you are spending significant time and effort contributing and I certainly do appreciate it.

We must be careful. We should have a high level of confidence before stating a determination. I recognize that most of us, including myself, are not trained as taxonomists. It is easy and tempting to find an image of something very similar to our own and to convince ourself that must be it. That's usually not good enough. Strictly speaking, we should be working from keys published in the appropriate literature. Of course that's generally not feasible with just an image to go on. Let me describe some of my own techniques.

I'm generally not satisfied until I have confirmation from several sources, and I've accumulated dozens of technical references. While something like the Audubon guide may be useful for getting you in the ballpark, I wouldn't rely on that. For butterflies and dragonflies, there are good easily available sources (the "Through Binoculars" series, for example). Things are tougher for difficult orders like the beetles and flies. In those cases you'll want to study wing venation, antennae shape, and other small details. Those characters might get you to a family and in most cases that generally makes me happy. Sometimes a common species will be mentioned. If that seems like a good match, I'll try to verify the range and season. If that checks out I'll see how many other species might occur in the genus and then use a process of elimination to narrow it down. Often, I'm still unsure but I might feel confident enough to at least suggest that it might be what I've found, particularly if I can find good images online. You'll also want to pay attention to behavior you noticed. What was the foodplant? Habitat? Make sure those are all consistent with your research.

I want to keep the site open. I know that many people are in a position to make great and potentially significant contributions. If we're careful, this site could become a valuable virtual collection. We could also ruin any chance of that by making obvious mistakes that ruin its credibility.

On a personal note, I've become overly obsessed with this whole project. I need to restore some balance in my life and so I need to find some way to minimize my daily involvement. My wife would not ask me to give up my hobby, but she's definitely (and reasonably) asking me to change my priorities with respect to the whole enterprise. I've also found myself so busy checking others people's bugs that I can't find time for my own and I'm missing that.

Am I going off the deep end here? Am I taking things too seriously? Does anyone have any suggestions for me?

Feel free to post here or email me privately. Don't be upset If I don't reply right away though. It'll be because of that whole balance thing mentioned above.

An apology
I feel bad because I noticed one user who had made some great contributions deleted everything and left soon after my posting. If my comments were the reason behind that then I regret having posted them. That certainly was not my intent.

I appreciate everyone's contributions here. I only ask that we all keep an open mind as we hone our skills.

Again, I apologize if I sounded harsh.

 
Deletions
What happens when an image is deleted? Do all the associated comments go with it? I would think that when there's only one available image of a species, people will tend to discuss that species in the page containing the image, not the "info" page. If the photographer then removes the image, useful content might be deleted as well.

To avoid that situation (if it exists), I would almost suggest not allowing the deletion of content. You could modify your content/image posting forms to note that the user is giving BugGuide.Net the right to use the content/image on the website.

Not that I want to add more work on the editors though! Maybe have images/content/comments become uneditable after X days.

Do you keep a site backup? Just in case someone were to compromise a user account and blow away a lot of data.

 
Deletions and Backups
Yes, a page deletion effectively takes all the comments with it.

The terms and conditions do include wording like you suggested, but I prefer to leave that sort of control up to the contributor. I may change my mind later if that sort of things happens a lot. It also breaks search engine links once they've picked up the pages (don't you hate that).

And yes, the site is backed up entirely to my home machine every night. I just realized that I would need to catch corruptions quickly before the backup overwrites the previous one. I'll have to consider some sort of staged backups perhaps.

Good ideas... keep them coming
To Patrick's point about restricting coverage, I've been seeing the need for that for awhile now. As I've attempted to check submissions, I've realized I would be at a serious disadvantage for things outside North America. It will help keep the site focused, reduce the traffic, and keep things limited to what I and most others here can easily research. I will definitely make that change at some point. My only regret will be not being able to post bug pictures that I take while traveling abroad.

The submission queue idea is another good one, but my preference would be to NOT have to take action on every submission.

I will add some text to the image submission form (except ID request) asking for sources to back up the identification. As noted, this will convey the appropriate sense of quality control and make it easier for me and/or others to verify things.

I would love to have some entomologists fact checking things, but I realize they lead busy lives just like the rest of us. I'm hesitant to contact and request that sort of help since I can't offer compensation, but I figure over time some will find the site and involve themselves voluntarily. I'm often contacted by researchers requesting permission to use my images. I generally grant their request free of charge and in return ask that they look over my images of things they are familiar to help provide ids or point out mistakes.

My real hope is that we can all help each other out. We should feel free to question each other and offer alternative identifications. I know I'm learning lots from everyone else here.

I don't want to make things onerous and I certainly don't want to make the site exclusive. I do realize mistakes will be made. I just want people to exercise appropriate caution.

I'm encourage by everyone's comments and I'm sure things will all work out.

good job, suggestions on coverage, inevitable errors!
Again, I can only add how much I appreciate Troy's work. Do what you need to do to keep yourself and family sane. Perhaps submissions can be queued into a waiting area pending identification, say into the correct family or even order. Perhaps you will have other volunteer administrators in the future who can shoulder the burden. Maybe editors could be assigned for specific groups.

Two suggestions for "filtering" submissions:
1-Consider limiting geographic coverage of the guide. With millions of insects species, perhaps giving priority to North American submissions would make sense. 2-Give priority to submissions from photographers who want to allow "Creative Commons" usage. This might help stem the flood. I want people to use my photos for education--that is the philosophy underlying this site, I feel. There are plenty of sites for people to show off, and sell, their photos.

**Identification issues***

I am not an entomologist, but an experienced amateur. I think I am in a similar situation to Troy in terms of fact-checking. I like to check all available sources I can find--printed and on the Internet. I try to document this in my postings. (Troy has let me be a "contributing editor", so that I can author some guides--I am honored.) I am usually certain as to family of a bug, often to genus. Sometimes, if a species is well-marked and illustrated, I am sure enough of the species to declare it. Often this is a "90% plausible" feeling, and I will base this on listing of species in the genus for my area. I'm lucky to be near North Carolina State University, and much of their collection is listed on the Internet. However, I have found common genera inexplicably missing when the rest of the family is complete. Also, if a well-marked species is listed in a reference as "common" and "widespread in Eastern US", chances are, I've got that.

What people are attempting here is inherently difficult. Errors are inevitable, even some serious ones. No single entomologist is going to be able to review the entire site--they all specialize in just one group or related groups. They also work with keys based on specimens--not photos. Many details are not visible in a photo of a living insect. (That's why I often capture, chill, and photograph from all angles--this helps me key.)

As one gets to the species (or even genus) level in diverse groups such as beetles and flies, I find I start running into taxonomic revisions and disagreements, rendering older keys somewhat less useful. Usually genera have been split, but perhaps not everyone even accepts the split. There is even some of this going on in well-understood groups, such as butterflies and dragonflies. Cryptic species are popping up all over the place. Familiar genera are being splintered by splits. No amateur can possibly keep up with it all.

A lot of this stuff in the diverse groups can probably only be identified as to species, with 100% certainty, by collecting a whole series of specimens, pinning them, and comparing directly with museum series of related species. I've run into this with botany--even the comprehensive floras have errors in keys, and they are all taxonomically out-of-date by the time they are published. That's why field biologists deposit voucher specimens in museums when they need to document for publication.

That said, I feel that making plausible identifications as to species is useful for us as a group. The neat thing about this publication format is that it is revisable, and users can comment on individual photos. I say proceed with identifications with reasonable care, but don't obsess--errors are inevitable. Perhaps a disclaimer can be placed at the bottom of every page: "Caution: insects identified by dedicated amateurs. Your mileage may vary; void where taxed, prohibited, etc."

quick ramblings
Hi Troy,
My quick remarks–

I'm in agreement with Mike and Tony about the possibility of a professional spot checker having a look at images to pick out any obvious errors that are detectable by just the photo; that could eliminate blatant mistakes.

And maybe along with methods of determinination some sort of color coding for each listing that would indicate the pic posters degree of reliability in their assessment, something like:
• A Red square (or whatever color) beside the name means "well I'm pretty sure that this specimen is in this Family, but that's about all I can be for certain..."
• A green Square means "Yes, this bug must be this Genus obviously because....."

OK I'm just firing off on the keyboard here, but as they say about brainstorming...anything and everything......

Take care.
–Todd

Moderators
You ought to have a submission queue of sorts (like the ID request, perhaps). Or let the users pick the actual location, but hide those submissions until they've been reviewed.

All the images submitted could go through the queue and be placed in the proper area by the moderator, presumably a person who knows more about bugs than the majority of the users. It's more work for the moderators, but it would be worth it to maintain the quality level you want. I'm a complete amateur, and I'm trying to learn from the site, so I want to see that quality level stay high.

I like the idea of getting some Uni. entomologists to occasionally spot-check. Heck, I'd like to see them posting images.

Thanks for the effort. I run a less-technical web community and I know it's a lot of work.

Hey Troy...
Hey Troy,

I am good friends with a fella who runs one of the top Star Wars sites, and you HAVE to be obssesive to maintain a top notch site - and that is what you are doing here. But balance with your life (and your wife) are very important, so take some time off, the site will still be here when you get back:)

I am a total insect appreciator, perhaps a notch below an amateur. I love nature photography, and I love the micro-universe of insects. I would never have posted my images ("Bugpegs" I call them, that should give you an idea of my mindset) anywhere until you invited me. And I like being a part of this little group.

And, right now, it is a little group. There seems to be a handful of us who regularly contribute our pics. None of us are entomologists (I'm assuming) but everybody seems really eager to share, and I think that is a GOOD thing.

The point is, I was more a casual identifier: No scientific names, just a general vocabulary for my insects. But I saw how devoted other people were in finding exactly what species they had spotted, and how they listed the research and I thought that was great, so I too, started doing it. So you see what the community is already doing.

I am all for serious debate and conversation about identifying species and listing sources of how one arrived at the conclusion that they did. Isn't that what scientists do? Isn't that learning and understanding part of the fun?

So, here are my 2 cents:
1. Do any universities (like University of Florida, which is noted in many guides) know about this site? Perhaps we can invite a regular entomologist to join in from time to time and check some of the data.

2. Perhaps part of the "add an image" option should be to list your research. Which could help you twofold:
a. It shows we are attempting to be as accurate as possible.
b. It will take longer for contributors to upload images as they do research, which may help your unmanageable input situation. Because, I can't see your site getting any smaller in the future...

Hey, if I didn't mention it before, this is a GREAT site!

-Tony

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