Mobile App Developers Gamify Biology, Discover New Species

September 5, 2016 - 2 minutes read

There are over 8 million animal species in the world — finding, identifying, and cataloguing them all is one of biology’s biggest challenges. What if professional scientists could access the experience of casual ecologists and curious kids all over the world? That’s the vision of iNaturalist, a brilliant project from San Francisco iPhone app developer Scott Loarie.

The app functions as a virtual field notebook crossed with a social networking app — or maybe like a more meaningful version of Pokemon Go, with real animals. Users photograph creatures they discover and each “observation” is shared with the collective, which is made up of professional scientists and amateur naturalists alike. For scientists, it’s a treasure trove of data.

Ground-breaking discoveries facilitated by the app include identifying a new frog species and recovering a long-lost snail only recorded in 18th-century manuscripts. With over 250,000 users, the app developers behind iNaturalist have proven there’s a use case for mobile tech in science. They’ve also proven that the point of startups doesn’t have to be making a billion dollars. Sometimes, iPhone app developers can give back to the community with a digital product that simply facilitates delight and wonder for everyone involved.

For the armchair naturalist, iNaturalist is also fun simply for the photos. Scrolling through “California sea slugs,” for example, is a wild trip that pushes your concept of what living things can look like.

App developers interested in trying out iNaturalist can get it at Google Play and the Apple App Store. A web version is also available.

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