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PLEASE READ before answering requests for help!

Jolyon & Katya Ralph March 21, 2011 08:42PM
I think it's time to make a few things clear about how requests for identification help should be answered. There have been, in my mind, some pretty poor comments and suggestions made in this forum, and I've heard some negative feedback at Tucson from people unhappy with the quality of feedback given here in identification requests. A suggestion was given to change this topic to "Ask the Experts" and ONLY to allow pre-vetted "experts" (however that is to be defined) to answer questions.

Now, I don't think all the criticism is fair, and I don't think at the moment that an experts-only system is right. But, unless things improve then it may have to go this way in the future.

The main criticism is ill-informed comments. And especially comments that are made with an air of certainty when the answer is either wrong or impossible to be sure about.


A request for assistance is NOT a game. You DO NOT have to make a guess about what you think the specimen is.

If you are going to answer then ideally you want to be able to explain your answers, eg.

"I think this is plumbogummite because of the relationship with mimetite and the similarity to material from both China and Rougton Gill."

or better still

"I've been collecting at this site several times, and similar specimens have been analysed as plumbogummite"

and NOT just "It's plumbogummite"

Don't forget it's very difficult to tell what a mineral is from just a photo. Please request the uploader provides more information, and I'm happy for you to make INFORMED guesses as to what a specimen is, as long as you make it clear that it's a guess and not a random stab in the dark.

But it's probably best to wait for other people to reply first before suggesting a mineral name unless you are at least 80% certain what the specimen is.
Roger Lang March 21, 2011 09:44PM
Hi Jol,
80 % ? ;) .. LOL .. to judge a specimen from a picture is - unless in some very clear cases - a shot in the almost dark if you are a serious geoscientist. Although i can understand the feedback you received we should at first place encourage the questioners to upload SHARP and representative pictures. Including whole picture - detail - matrix etc. I think there should be some requirements for those questions otherwise one may be inclined to write the "shot from the hip" in answering. Although i certainly won´t think the shoe fits i know myself that bad pics and comon minerals may provoke a quick answer.

I am totally with you that the typical answer to such a question maybe the ones you posted
.". looks like as i have seen,
similar to,
quite sure because i have lots of them and analyzed" etc.

Thats what every serious mineralogist etc would answer if judging visually from sometimes ;) not optimal pictures

The "ask an expert" thing may be not that bad .. but it contradicts the spirit of this database and community a bit. Although it might be better in cases, i agree. But to encourage people to stay here and contribute the "expert system" will be frustrating.

Another thing .. who chooses the experts .. although i am a mineralogist with quite some experience i have not much knowledge about most US localities .. may my reputation on other things being grandious and nobel prize worth ;) .. i wouldn´t comply to the standards needed to judge local stuff. So the experts circle would be great of course to cover ... not worth the effort to install this system until a serious need is visible.

So this is a double-edged problem and my opinion is to keep things as they are.

2 cents

"Who watches the watchers" ;)

Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 03/21/2011 09:48PM by Roger Lang.
Alfredo Petrov March 21, 2011 09:51PM
As Roger says, we don't have a complete list of all the dedicated collectors with in-depth local knowledge of specific localities, so I think the solution is to leave the system open as it is now, but for the management team to step in and use the "delete" button more often, eliminating the posts from beginners who give obviously wrong answers.
Roger Lang March 21, 2011 10:04PM
Alfredo Petrov Wrote:

> but for the management team to step in and use the
> "delete" button more often, eliminating the posts
> from beginners who give obviously wrong answers.

yepp, that would be a good effort but it will be a lot of work for the admins

Maggie Wilson March 21, 2011 10:18PM
If I may add to Alfredo's post - if you make use of the delete button, please send a note to the poster about why it's being deleted. Or perhaps, edit their post with your comments - not a public shaming or rebuke, but steer them in the right direction.

I agree with Roger - this is a community forum and I would imagine that you want to encourage we newbies to contribute where we can, and learn from our mistakes. It will take only one or two such deletions without explanation to turn a new contributor away.

As for who is expert... that is beyond my knowing - I do know that I am not an expert. I also know the material that I have collected locally, and would hope to be able to contribute where I can.

my 3 cents (inflation factor, you know)
Reiner Mielke March 21, 2011 10:19PM
If you are an expert do you really want to be bothered with a long explanation by someone with a river rock and a poor photo? I would be better to let the none experts field some of that stuff and if things get off the rail then the experts can step in. Isn't it better for someone to get a brief answer then no answer?
Roger Lang March 21, 2011 10:27PM
Maggie Wilson Wrote:
this is a community forum and
> I would imagine that you want to encourage we
> newbies to contribute where we can, and learn from
> our mistakes. It will take only one or two such
> deletions without explanation to turn a new
> contributor away.

yes, that is a good point and i agree

> my 3 cents (inflation factor, you know)

4 cents .... can you top this ;)

Jolyon & Katya Ralph March 21, 2011 11:09PM
> Isn't it better for someone to get a brief answer then no answer?

Roger Lang March 22, 2011 12:13AM
I agree with Jolyon .. a brief false answer is no way better than no answer .. no answer means no meaning on the subject as most of the more experienced folks would react if they may know remotely but are less than sure .. then better refrain from answering or join in with an educated guess exhibiting the uncertainty.. Maybe some not so experienced people may want to contribute and therefore may give short (but wrong) answers .. this is a part of learning here and should be tolerated but maybe metioned as Alfredo and maggie pointed out (combined).

This is a matter of education on this site but any restriction could discourage voluntary aid here.

Still double edged stuff

5 cents Maggie

Jolyon & Katya Ralph March 22, 2011 12:27AM
Think about the person who has the enquiry.

If it is "one of us", a more experienced collector who has a query about something unusual they have found, then a certain amount of speculation is OK, and may be expected.

But, if it's someone with a more general enquiry, especially someone who is new to the site, there are few things more off-putting than seeing ten different people replying with different suggestions and arguing about it.

And perhaps we should all make clear in our replies whether we know the minerals from the area in question well or not.

And if you're writing your answer and it sounds too much like "Well, i don't know anything about the minerals from X, but it's probably Y", then think about the value of what you're saying - does it actually help with the enquiry at all? Similarly, there is little value in posting messages saying "I also agree that it is Y" - it's not a vote! Unless you can add something useful like "I also think it is Y because of the striations remind me of photo-12345.html"

However... if no-one has replied, and you think that you can make a suggestion, even if it's not based on actual experience, then do so - but make it clear it's just a guess.
Don Saathoff March 22, 2011 12:33AM
I also agree with only takes a few more keystrokes to explain WHY what has been presented is obviously slag, or a quartz pebble, or whatever. Over the years I've had many pieces of slag, hematite concretions, lumps of solder puddlings, etc, etc. brought to the lab for either assay or just ID. To NOT use these occasions as teaching opportunities is doing a dis-service to the newbie.

Another nickles' worth.....

Don S.
John Lichtenberger March 22, 2011 12:35AM
If you want an elitist "We know what's best" mentality to pervade Mindat, by all means, only allow "experts" to make (what can only be at best tentative) id's from photographs and descriptions.

If, otoh, you wish to improve what is already an excellent open resource for all, use the forum to educate those making "substandard" posts for help in identification and such. Otherwise, you'll reduce this to a "professionals" forum, with all the grandstanding, pompous, testosterone poisoned nonsense evident on lesser forums. It's helped me more than once, but there are a few self appointed "experts" who can "put off" otherwise honest requests and subsequent responses. After all, one of the great things about online focused forums is you can always choose to "ignore" posts you don't agree with. Tuscon hardly qualifies as an impartial referree, IMHO...

John L.
Jolyon & Katya Ralph March 22, 2011 01:24AM
I think we all have the potential to be able to answer questions posted here well, I'm just asking for people to think a little more and put reasoned explanations into their suggestions rather than treating it as a guessing game, which some people have.
Wayne Corwin March 22, 2011 01:30AM

How about adding an Icon to the persons answer if they are one of the "Mindat apointed Experts"
Then the person who's trying to find an answer,, knows that that person's answer is "more likely correct"

Byron Thomas March 22, 2011 01:41AM
Ok I am going to put my 3 cents in on this one. Many people in here from the experts to the novice are looking for one thing and that is correct information. Now the answer to this comes from both directions, from the one asking to the person(s) answering. Any of us that have been here have seen the poor photos of rocks, minerals, and fossils we all know that to make a reasonable decision on what the person is asking is nearly impossible. Now what usually follows is the litany of people telling the person asking the question that their photographic skills suck. Now this in no way includes everybody and many are very civil and say to the questioning person in one form or another, " in order to have any chance to identify this question we need better photos" they say this very kindly. But there will always be the people who feel the need to to bash somebodies ability to photograph a mineral. This has the effect of shutting off people from coming here because of the perceived ill will to answering questions or the nastiness that can come out when the question is answered.

In regards to comments from ill informed people there will always be people in any gathering like this. Yes i do agree that there some who use the questions people ask as a game and just throw out answers. But as a whole there a limited number of people who when asked to identify actually answer.

Remember this is communication in two directions we often forget that there is an actual person who asked the question. How you go about dealing with this Jolyon is up to you, maybe you want to adopt a rating lvl for all the mindat members where as newbies have all their comments checked and once you hit a certain lvl that check is removed. Ahhh ya but that would add more work to some. Then there is the fact that some of the comments come from long timed members so how are you going to deal with them. I really have very little in the way of answers to how to deal with this Jolyon.

There you go my 3 cents

Craig Mercer March 22, 2011 01:43AM
I actually suggested the idea of PRO ID's a couple of years ago, also stating that copycat posts weren't needed, in the majority of cases these were simply made to help a friend out. At the time we were told "I agree's" were good as they helped to confirm.

Photographic mineral identifications are difficult, we all know that, but some people are alot better than others at the investigation work that goes into eliminating minerals and coming up with a group or specific minerals that fits to there own way of thinking, surely this is not a bad thing. I think long term we are always going to have guesses, those that research and also the very wise Mindaters we all know and love that just nail the hard ones everytime.

Hope I worded this properly, it's not meant to be offensive to anyone, just my 2cents worth.
Amani Entity March 22, 2011 01:46AM
Theoretically, in an expert only forum there would be no questions. I agree with Maggie, novice members may be excellent contributors via local experience. Also, a "remember" statement about how to properly answer a question at the the top of the forum might help to curb the problem.

p.s. hehe John L. : )

Thanks, Amani E.
Matt Neuzil March 22, 2011 02:05AM
could it be something like yahoo where a thumbs up or thumbs down is given to responses???? they have something like that in yahoo answers or whatever there thing is called.

A buena hambre no hay pan duro
Dave Owen March 22, 2011 02:27AM
You don't have to necessarily be an expert to identify a mineral correctly. In a recent Lapidary Journal there was a photo of wulfenite from the Fench Mine. The curator of minerals at the Smithsonian was consulted and didn't have a clue. I did and responded with what I'm 99% certain was the correct awnser. This is not to toot my own horn or discredit the curator in any way I'm sure his knowledege of minerals is vast compared to mine it's just to point out that sometimes even us non-experts have useful information.I'm just the average joe mineral collector. Dave Owen
Norman King March 22, 2011 02:57AM
I would like to say that I no longer try to help with ID’s because it seems to me that comments from various contributors are often argumentative or disputive with previous comments. In one situation where I contributed, someone found a rather large, dark-colored, concentrically laminated stone in a shoebox and the group seemed to end up with a consensus that it was a single very large crystal of schorlomite. If so, I believe it would have been larger by an order of magnitude than any previously found schorlomite crystal. I left the discussion out of frustration before seeing its conclusion. The next one I contributed to, an expert (on the mindat Management Board) contradicted my opinion by stating a characteristic of my “guess” that I was unaware of. So I then consulted the photo gallery on mindat to verify what I was told and found that without further qualification the mindat photos did not support the opinion that was offered in dispute of mine. I did not say anything lest the original asker would leave thinking we were not all that expert at all. The next opinion I posted (on a different object) was immediately contradicted by a different mindat board member who said his opinion was better for a seemingly logical reason, yet what he said was simply not possible for the object in question. My last (forever?) posting was an answer to a question about a fossil I have perhaps unique qualifications in this group to respond to since the fossil came from near Bloomington, Indiana where I earned a Ph.D. in paleontology and stratigraphy at Indiana University (and I said that in my second posting on this item), then taught paleontology to upper-level geology majors for 28 years, and published a college-level textbook in paleontology for underclassmen. I explained my answer just as Jolyon suggested, and got jumped on by two other contributors who disagreed with me. I repeated my ID and my rationale, and then made a few comments relating to how the original asker might handle this situation where the experts do not agree. I’ve never been back to the ID pages.

I had wanted to say something about my experiences with the responses we give to such requests, and had written a couple of paragraphs. But I feared that my comments would be regarded as presumptuous and even abrasive, so I deleted the whole thing.

Those are the sum total of my experiences with ID requests.
Michael Adamowicz March 22, 2011 03:42AM
I suppose that you have two kinds of experts that respond to identification questions. One, the expert that is familiar in geology, mineralogy, a person that was educated in it. Then there is the expert that is very familiar with a certain site or region, a collector. Both are valid & necessary.

Both workign together are really necessary to identify things properly.

Not an easy thing to change, but maybe leaving this the way they are on the forum is really the only thing that can be done.

Any solution will take a lot of work & planning.

I for one keep an eye on how long a member was registered when they make a comment. At least i did very early on when i joined this database. Perhaps beginning members to this site do also.

Ibrahim Jameel March 22, 2011 04:08AM
Part of what I like about Mindat is that the forms are (I suppose by defenition) a place for discussion. When someone posts a picture, all we can really do is discuss the possible identity.

Besides, if 2 or 3 people have already explained their reasoning, followup "short answers" can serve as votes.... there is no sense in everyone repeating explenations when a simple confirmation would suffice.

Also, when people post blurry, impossible to identify images, someone inevitably makes the "you need better images" suggeestion, but after that what else can be done but guess?
Ibrahim Jameel March 22, 2011 04:13AM
And just a thought... but if people are unhappy with their free identifications (which it seems that some contributors expend real effort on), perhaps they should consider paying for EDS or XRDas well.... it's not too expensive these days.
Craig Mercer March 22, 2011 04:38AM
Ibrahim Jameel Wrote:
> And just a thought... but if people are unhappy
> with their free identifications (which it seems
> that some contributors expend real effort on),
> perhaps they should consider paying for EDS or
> XRDas well.... it's not too expensive these days.

Hi Ibrahim,

I really don't think it's a case of people being unhappy with what they are offered as ID's, but more so that some of the so called "experts" have been found to be way off the mark with some of their ID's. In a good majority of the cases here on the ID section we never really come to a solid conclusion, or there is no feedback from expert testing, so we never really know what the end result was therefore making it extremely hard to offer strong ID's on similar materials in the future.
Craig Mercer March 22, 2011 04:47AM
Hey why don't we get together with the prominent expert testers here on Mindat an offer a reduced rate on testing for specimens that have had ID requests here on the ID section.
Jenna Mast March 22, 2011 04:57AM
Perhaps a notification can come up when people click to post questions in the identification forum, notifying them that all replies should be taken as suggestions.

I know mindat doesn't meet the standards of a scholarly database like Jstor or a peer reviewed scientific journal, due to the open nature of it, but it's the open nature of it that has made it so comprehensive. In my mind, there is more benefit to having it as open as it is, than not.

Personally, I feel that if one wants to know beyond a shadow of a doubt what they have, and can determine that is isn't something common, then they should send a sample out for testing.
Matt King March 22, 2011 06:38AM
Here's my few comments:

1. Many of the photos posted for identification are of abysmal quality making correct identification impossible. I would suggest that guidelines for minimum standards are published, otherwise the ID request should be declined.

2. Many of the requests come from relatively inexperienced people (not their fault) who ask questions about fairly common minerals (calcite, fluorite, hematite, etc). Maybe a short one-line answer will suffice for them.

3. Many of the requests come in the form "was walking along a road and found this in a ditch". This is not conducive to a full identification since relevant location and context information is often unknown.

4. Anything more complex is almost impossible to identify visually from a photo - unless detailed location is given, in which case many people should be able to identify the mineral themselves by consulting the relevant location sections of Mindat (or a decent location book or magazine for that matter)

5. Cheap XRD or ERD are available for about $40 - if you need the info about providers please let me know.

6. Mindat 'experts' are not infallible - hence the often interesting discussion and debate. 'Experts' at shows are often not much better either - and I've known mistakes made at shows as well.

7. If Mindat has an 'Expert' ID section who is to say whether someone is an expert or not - Many people here are very knowledgeable about many things but no one knows everything. Its likely that someone who is not a perceived 'expert' knows a given location or mineral

8. I for one, thinks the current system generally works, but a little polish here and there would serve this forum well. Also, a bit of empathy and politeness goes a long way :-)


Craig Mercer March 22, 2011 07:09AM
Maybe a system where you recieve a star beside your name for a positive ID, alternatively a skull and crossbones for a wrong or I agree ID, no joking ;), but maybe just a cross or something for a wrong ID. This would of course be determined by proper testing, Hopefully reduced price testing (tu) .
Andrew Tuma March 22, 2011 07:39AM
Hey Craig, for us Tasmanians it would be two skulls over cross bones:)......I will let other non-Tasmania Aussies explain..:D

Now for a serious comment; fortunately I will never be considered an expert, the opportunity to get it wrong is too high to carry on my mind. Yes some of us have a good idea on some deposits or species but in my few short years I know how odd things can occur at a single site. I have spent many years collecting from a couple of Tasmanian localities, and I am still amazed what turns up. Had I not been on the site when the specimen was unearthed I would have never believed it had been from that locality.

I strongly agree with J about guesses not being acceptable and arguing amongst ourselves even less so. I always remember, in the end only a test will confirm the compound structure, and these can sometimes change with time and exposure to certain environments.

Yes a "specialist" ID process has merit, but I would still like others to be included in the discussions.

Andrew T
Jenna Mast March 22, 2011 07:46AM
I prefer guesses to nothing. They usually give me a path to follow on my own to confirm or reject them, and I might learn a thing or two in the process.
Rolf Brandt March 22, 2011 08:40AM
Hi. Would it not be helpful/a prerequisite for any "What is this" request, to have a short list of questions to be filled in by the submitter.
Good picture, size of specimen, size of crystals, where found, hardness, acid test, etc. Regards Rolf
Alan Barnes (2) March 22, 2011 08:55AM
Having read the entire thread I think many people have made valid points. I think Rolf has it right when he says that there should be a standard form that has to be filled in before any help for ID is posted to a thread. That way, the "experts" should be able to have a much better idea of what the mineral is if they know the hardness, streak, reaction to acid, etc. etc. If filling out a form was a prerequisite then it wouldn't waste the "experts" time trying to guess what something is from a picture. Similarly, the photos should be vetted and deemed to be of suitable quality before the request is posted online. The only thing that bothers me is who will be defined as being an "expert" and who will not? There are many little known collectors who are extremely knowledgeable about a particular mineral or locality - more knowledgeable than those more well known and respected collectors or mineralogists. you need something like a "test" that you have to pass before you can be classed officially as an "expert". As one of my university lecturers used to say: "Never call yourself an expert - an "ex" is a "has been" and a "spurt" is a drip under pressure.

Evan Johnson (2) March 22, 2011 09:57AM
I think it's a great idea.

Debbie Woolf March 22, 2011 10:09AM
Alan Barnes (2) Wrote:

"Never call yourself an expert - an "ex" is a "has been" and a "spurt" is a drip under pressure.


Great quote Alan!

I too think a prerequisite form is the way to go but in the meantime Jolyon can't you ask for some volunteers to help moderate these a little more ? Or at least lay down some basic rules to help members judge what's acceptable & encourage members to hit the report link when things get out of hand.

Jolyon & Katya Ralph March 22, 2011 11:28AM
I think this thread is showing quite clearly one of the huge problems with online messageboards - that people don't read messages properly before they reply!

I said quite clearly at the beginning that I was AGAINST a system of "experts" replying to messages on the site. It had been suggested, but I have rejected it.

All I want is for people to pay a little more care and attention to what they write (and clearly in reading properly what has been said before!)
David Bernstein March 22, 2011 11:47AM
I do think this thread should have been locked following the initial post. A problem was identified by the site owner, advice given, and a potential solution was floated in the event the problem becomes worse then it is thought to be.

Now, if the goal is to cut down on annoying, threadbare requests for identification, by all means, create a form as others have suggested. I think you will soon see traffic plummet as many folks are not going to fill out forms. But, that solution has side effects. Many other people, myself included will not be filling out any forms. And then many folks will miss out on potentially interesting inquiries.

If you ask me, and you haven't but I'll pipe up with my(insert numismatic(sp) equivalent here) opinion anyway, I think a roving moderator or three(not managers) who can delete threads with fuzzy photos or the like would be a good idea. I recall another board where if you joined, your first few posts on certain forums were moderated/vetted before they were posted. Food for thought?

As for tone which Norman brought up. We all have our way of responding. Some enjoy brevity-I do. Some enjoy long winded responses. Some insist on making comical comments mixed with helpful information. Others respond with a ferocity more suited for political debate-guilty-sometimes. But you are not going to totally change the way people respond. Impossible. If that upsets you, well, there's always the Scrapbook Forum. That Forum always seems to be pleasantly civil.

Your witness..I like saying that-sorry.
Ralph Bottrill March 22, 2011 12:59PM
I got a bit tired of looking at blurry pictures with little info, but sometimes have a go if its an area I know. In that respect I suspect a lot of us are more expert than we may give ourselves credit for. Having a degree just means you know a lot about very little. And an expert should be someone who can admit he does not know something. I usually like to ask questions and get the collector thinking and learning a bit for themselves.

Danny Jones March 22, 2011 01:13PM
Good morning all.

I have read this thread with interest. Decided to make a couple of comments. I agree with most of what has been said. I like the idea of a form to complete for identification help. I am NOT the best at pictures so feel I can comment on the quality. It does not take much to make a good clear picture. I use a small Cannon point and shoot digital camera and it make good clear pictures. The folks who submit pictures need to take just a little more care with the photos so we have a reasonable chance to do a sight ID. I am not a geologist but have been learning minerals for 50 plus years. I learn something new every day.

It only takes a few more keystrokes to be nice and not hurt someone feelings. Some of the posts come across as hurtful. We do not need that kind of information. Remember that the newbies are who will follow us! Or the hobby will die out.

Please read the post carefully before you comment and if there is not enough information to make an informed observation please ask first (nicely!) It takes no more time to be nice that blunt and you will get better results. I do rock shows and people bring me all kinds of rocks and minerals for identification. Remember always that the material is “precious” to them. Let them down easy if it is “Leaverite” (for those of you who do not know that mineral it is Leave it rite where you found it).

For those of you asking ID help – sight ID is VERY difficult and not always accurate. Cut us some slack and give us good pictures to work from, location if available, a hardness range and any other information available. That will help narrow down the possibilities. Always remember that a hobby is supposed to be FUN!

Danny Jones
Anonymous User March 22, 2011 01:16PM
I'm not an expert. I'm a passionate mineral collector, but most of my specimens are purchased rather than self-collected. I rarely offer any opinion in the Identity Help forum, but try to make an informative contribution if I can. Before I post in any topic, I read the entire thread. I'm here mostly for my own education, after all. Rarely am I able to help when the question is about a self-collected specimen (so few deal with Florida localities) so I leave those topics to ones who know better. But this thread is so far avoiding the common newbie questions about COMMERCIAL specimens - of which there are many. "I bought this at a gift shop. What is it?" That kind of thing. A much larger pool of possible respondents are pretty well qualified to answer these - in many cases non-experts such as myself.

And what about Money Grubbers where the identity of the specimen appears to be different than claimed? Is it wrong to helpfully informatively suggest that the ID may be wrong? I recall the yellow sapphire/ zincite thread - do I get a gold star for that one? And in the fulgarites thread god knows I tried to help, but to no avail.

I for one like the unstructured and open nature of the forums - more people can contribute more information.
George Eric Stanley Curtis March 22, 2011 01:19PM
If I may add my two pennyworth.
I have sometimes asked for help, mostly when I haven't a clue what it is I have found.

It is a painful experience when finding a nice looking mineral, and not having a clue what it might be.

I turn to mindat for help.
I usually get a variety of suggestions by way of reply, some of them wide of the mark, but I always value them greatly.
I value them because they are all educational, and I do not look for, or expect, a definitive identification.

I value the suggestions that give me a guide as to where to start looking, so I know what page to turn to in my books and on mindat, for a more positive ID.

I can then, by a process of elimination, often find the correct ID, or at least an ID that I am happy with.

So my vote is to keep the ID help as it is, every suggestion is of value, even the wrong ones.

Thank you,
Eric B)

United Kingdom, Cornwall
Jolyon & Katya Ralph March 22, 2011 01:20PM
It's not always practical or possible to take a hardness test.

Crystals may be too small, or it may be impossible to test a specimen without unacceptable damage.

ditto for streak test and acid tests.
Anonymous User March 22, 2011 01:27PM
I agree wholeheartedly with George.

Jolyon, if I remember correctly, you rebuked me at least once for suggesting a hardness test. If it out of style, it should be removed from the sticky.
Norman King March 22, 2011 02:07PM
If Jolyon will suffer letting me have one more post on this topic (before shutting it down), I promise not to offer any more. My point was that one of the principal faces mindat presents to the public is the ID forum. People have heard of mindat and maybe have heard good things about it. You know, sort of like “Anything you want to know about minerals, just ask the people at mindat; they have forums where the public can write in with a question.”

So far, so good. But I don’t think the people who need ID help are expecting the rest of us to start arguing amongst ourselves over their submission, each of us seemingly able to explain why the previous possible answers are wrong. They are not looking for a discussion forum. And their postings should not be treated as if the ID forum is such a forum.

Of course the rest of us are into discussion–even me. I could easily have come back with my objections to those who had tried to contradict me, and if we were all professionals or even semi-professionals, and discussion was our game, that’s what would have happened (been there, done that, way back in the 1990's in other lists). But that would not have been appropriate in a thread that was supposed to be helping a member of the public who had turned to us for help. They just want a simple answer (yes, of course I know that may not be possible). But they read, “No you’re wrong because . . . . ,” followed by, “No, YOU are one who is wrong, because . . . . ” (etc. , etc.). I think their reaction could only be something like, “What a bunch of bozos!” I stopped posting comments where I did in the instances I cited for the benefit of good public relations for mindat, and obviously not for the benefit of my ego.

The title for this thread might also have been “Please read before answering requests for help, and try to send a response that will be helpful to the (non-mineralogist) asker in view of his/her probable state of knowledge.”

Finally(!), let me say that if you really want to read nasty discussions, just go to the scrapbook forum. Those people take no prisoners.
Jolyon & Katya Ralph March 22, 2011 02:09PM
It's a tricky one...

Firstly, unless you really know what you're doing hardness tests can be difficult to interpret, especially with smaller specimens.

Secondly, old-fashioned reference points such as "copper penny: hardness 3.5" and "steel file, hardness 6.5" are just so completely wrong it's laughable.

Note that most "copper pennies" produced for many years are steel electroplated with a copper alloy. So you really can't judge it as a reference point any more. And steel alloys can vary greatly in hardness.

Thankfully the fingernail remains a reliable way to tell Gypsum from Calcite.

Generally, it depends on who is asking the question. If they are experienced collectors then a hardness test should be no problem for them, but then they're likely to have done that already. For beginners we need to make sure we give clear instructions, not just "please test the hardness", but things such as "can you scratch it with your fingernail?"

Jolyon & Katya Ralph March 22, 2011 02:11PM

So far, so good. But I don’t think the people who need ID help are expecting the rest of us to start arguing amongst ourselves over their submission, each of us seemingly able to explain why the previous possible answers are wrong. They are not looking for a discussion forum. And their postings should not be treated as if the ID forum is such a forum.

Absolutely! And the way you were treated in that particular thread was one of the reasons that I became so frustrated with people here...
Jolyon & Katya Ralph March 22, 2011 02:19PM
I'm thankful for everyone in replying to this thread. I wanted this to be seen as a point for discussion rather than a set of rules to be given out from above, and I value all your contributions!
Anonymous User March 22, 2011 02:23PM
I believe that in the US since 1981 "copper" pennies have been copper-plated zinc. They were steel only during WWII. Are they steel in the UK?

In the example I'm citing, I thought my hardness testing suggestion was pretty good - to determine between a 5 and a 9 by testing with a 7 and inspecting with a lens. You replied that you wished people would stop suggesting scratch testing. Is hardness testing mentioned in any official capacity on the site? Are instructions given somewhere? (That last question is not rhetorical. Is it? Where? Should it be?) If so, please don't fault me for suggesting that it be done.

Personally, I like that people have differing opinions. I learn from them all. I just want everyone to remain civil.
Jolyon & Katya Ralph March 22, 2011 02:31PM
In the UK they have been copper plated steel since 1992
Anonymous User March 22, 2011 03:24PM
I don't know you, and I don't mean any offence. I remembered that thread on the Indiana fossil and I looked it up. It seems rather innocuous to me. I realize that the other posters did not defer to your expert opinion, but is that really that insulting? There seem to be no arguments or personal attacks. Were they removed or contained in private messages?

My point is that we should all try to refrain from getting too personally invested in discussions about minerals. I have revisited some of my previous posts to various topics, and I did find one response that really did make me mad at the time. But it didn't last - life is too short and there are too many rocks to look at to allow myself to be that affected.
David Von Bargen March 22, 2011 03:56PM
In the US it is a zinc alloy (after 1982)

Zinc has a Mohs hardness of about 2.5, so it and copper are in the same ballpark.

Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 03/22/2011 04:10PM by David Von Bargen.
Uwe Ludwig March 22, 2011 06:19PM
Generally I agree with that what Jolyon said because a high scientifically level should be the aim of such a leading forum as mindat.

However, there are two sides of the medal. It is nearly impossible to determine a mineral only according to more or less objective pictures even if you know the location of the find very well. Some of the requested IDs are non crystalline minerals or the crystals are very small so that physical features can not be detected. For example I know the dumps in my region very well but I (or we local collectors) are often astonished of unexpected minerals in the micro range. An analysis is expensive and therefore an idea of other collectors is mostly welcome. I think nobody of the experts will give a binding identification only according of a picture. Nobody can hope and claim to get a binding identification on this way.

Either everybody who opens the thread “Identity Help” finds automatically the sentence: “For identification a complete analysis made by a good laboratory is necessary” and no entry is possible or leave it as yet.

At last it is my philosophy that a specimen with a complete recorded location will not become worthless even if a wrong name of the mineral is written on the label. However, an analysed mineral without determined location is worthless.

Uwe Ludwig
Donald Slater March 22, 2011 07:40PM
I agree with a lot of the comments made by many of the above about leaving this forum the way it is. I don''t think you can have an "ask the expert panel" unless you have several hundred experts because no one is an expert on everything and as Maggie and others pointed out, many people may not be considered an expert but are very knowledgeable in their area or a particular field. I don't consider my self and expert but a couple of degrees and many years of collecting and selling have given me some expertise on somethings. I only offer opinions when I feel I know the answer. That doesn't mean I am always right but that does not make it is wrong to try. I have posted minerals I have questions on from time to time and sometimes get different answers. I then take their answers and do some research which usually entails going to Mindat. com. It helps to narrow the possibilities down from 4000+ to a few possibilities. Saying "I agree" in ID help is good because it gives you more confidence in the answer. I agree with Jolyon in that it also helps to reinforce the answer if you give an explanation why you think it is so. I have been a member for several years and have noticed that there has been a big improvement in both the quality of the photos and responses. I think you should leave it alone, it seems to be working. It has certainly helped me.

My 2.5 cents worth (I am a broke mineral dealer, I spend it all on minerals) ;-).
Roger Lang March 22, 2011 08:45PM
Interesting to read, folks!

I ´d like to come back to Rolf Brandts idea of an online form for ID questions which may include some critical things like streak, hardness etc. Even if it can´t be done (small xls, etc) the sheer view of such a list which should be mandatory to fill (an option in a dropdown field with "not possible" or "not tested" would be necessary of course) may bring people to think about first checking the properties of their rock before trusting that the experts will read from the crystall ball (blurry photo). I would support this. A lot of unexperienced people simply have no clue what properties of minerals are diagnostic .. so they ask "what is it" and post a picture. If we could manage it that some basics will be provided by the uploaders a lot of guessing and time consuming asking would be obsolete.

I think we have reached

my 6 cents


BTW the short "i agree" message is very useful IMHO!

Rob Woodside March 22, 2011 09:45PM
Roger, if we are enticing curious people into a serious interest in minerals, a form with stuff like hardness and streak would seem daunting and confusing, even if we had links to John Cleese like narrations with videos of the tests being performed.

Although the current system has warts, I'm not sure it is broken and needs fixing. I'm really impressed by the people who have stepped forward to share their knowledge on the identity board and have taught me a lot. I have even made some new friends.
Woody Thompson March 22, 2011 10:06PM
I agree with Donald's and Rob's assessments, and I think we're getting too steamed up over this topic.

In the ID threads that I've followed or helped with, there is usually patience and sincere effort when Mindat regulars try to help collectors with their questions. Sometimes everybody jumps in at once (when the ID or locality is obvious), but I've rarely witnessed bickering among the "experts". Some of the unknowns may be "road fill" or the photos fuzzy, but the amateurs are making an effort to reach out to us. A little advice and asking for better photos or more information will often encourage them to do better. The process seems to work pretty good most of the time.

As Donald noted, none of us is an expert on all minerals from all localities, but even if we are expert on just one locality - or fairly knowledgable about a number of places - we all have useful bits to contribute when the need arises. :)-D

Woody Thompson
Rock Currier March 22, 2011 10:17PM
A form to be filled out for an ID request is a good idea. Perhaps users could have the option and when they made the choice to not fill out the form, they could be informed that if they choose to go that rout that their posts are much more likely to be ignored than if they do fill it out.

Rock Currier
Crystals not pistols.
Roger Lang March 22, 2011 10:30PM
Rob Woodside Wrote:
> Roger, if we are enticing curious people into a
> serious interest in minerals, a form with stuff
> like hardness and streak would seem daunting and
> confusing,

not that i disagree but the simple presence of this form (which would just show up before entering a post in this forum) would MAYBE encouraging people to think a bit more BEFORE posting. Even if they can´t fill the form because they don´t know such shice (ok this is denglish B)- S**t is the 4 letter word in english) ) as streak or hardness ... but maybe they can fill in colour, weight (light, heavy etc), odour, lustre etc etc - it would be useful. And if they can´t fill ANY field in the form so let it be. But i agree with Rock that then a message may appear that the question MAY be ignored because of lack of info. So to offer the questioners an option to provide some standartized info it would help them and the responders.

My meanwhile 7 cents ;)

Dean Allum March 22, 2011 10:46PM

Here is a recent real world example of an identity request:,11,217459,217769#msg-217769

In this case the pictures are good, but the location was not given in the request.

How do you rate Mindat's response in this case. What could we have done better?

-Dean Allum
Rock Currier March 22, 2011 10:48PM
A form makes good sense, but lets make suggestions for the format that this form should take.

An area for photo information about what we want to see in an image. Perhaps this could be brief like well lighted in natural sunlight and in focus and close ups as necessary with a link for a more detailed information about what we would need in an image.

An area for where the specimens was from if they know and where they got it.

If the thing they are uploading is a rock, a link to a brief description about what a rock is and how they should not expect anything more than just a rough estimate of what rock type it is.

A section for physical tests they should run on the specimen if appropriate.

A place where they tell us what it is they want to know.

What else?

Rock Currier
Crystals not pistols.

Edited 2 time(s). Last edit at 03/23/2011 09:58AM by Rock Currier.
Rob Woodside March 22, 2011 10:58PM
Dean, I think there was a language problem there and replying in an understandable manner modulo translation engines is one of the warts on the identity board. Perhaps we could link to some translation engine on the submission form and in posted responses? I understand they have gotten better but I don't know anything about them
Alfredo Petrov March 22, 2011 11:37PM
Dean, I think Boris gave good answers to the identity questions that were asked. The problem was more of a language barrier (as Rob noted) and a lack of basic knowledge of rocks on the part of the questioner. Identity - names - are not much use to someone who is a complete beginner in petrology, neither is a messageboard the best venue to commence a petrology course. Ralph suggested consulting a petrology textbook in the library - perhaps the best advice under the circumstances. All in all, I think Mindat fulfilled its function satisfactorily here, unless some contributor wants to improve on it by writing descriptions and origins for all the rock types involved, which I guess would be outside the time constraints most of us suffer under. Eventually we need rock type definitions and descriptions on Mindat - then ID Messageboard answers could just be linked to the appropriate page.
Paul Brandes March 23, 2011 01:13AM
I have been following this thread all along and even though it kills me (:P), I have to agree with Jolyon in that there has been a lot of good and valuble discussion brought into this topic and not a lot bickering, which is always nice to see!!

Now for my one pence worth...

I suggest leaving the system the way it is; no "experts" panel, no lengthy forms to fill out, certainly nothing that would turn away potential new users (and/or donors) to Mindat. I do agree that the single word ID of a mineral may not be the best method, but for some replies this is really all that is required. For some of the lesser known minerals or minerals that may look similiar, a more lengthy discussion is necessary and indeed should be required. For me, unless it's something from the Great Lakes area which is an area I feel very comfortable with, or something very obvious, I will read the ID posts but will not respond because I don't want to give false information.

As far as poor photos: one thing to always keep in mind is that we are not PhotoDat. I am assuming we are not in the business to educate every person how to take a photo. Also, not everyone is Jeff Scovil when it comes to photography; certainly we can't expect every photo submission that comes to Mindat for ID to be great or even good. Mineral ID is tough from a photo no matter the quality, no one can disagree with that.

Ok, I'll throw in some extra change for a longer than expected message :)-D
Anonymous User March 23, 2011 02:16AM
Jolyon Ralph Wrote:
> I'm thankful for everyone in replying to this
> thread. I wanted this to be seen as a point for
> discussion rather than a set of rules to be given
> out from above, and I value all your
> contributions!

Exactly what mods and admin. should do on their forums. I wish I would see more of this in other forums I frequent. Well done!
Richard Felicioni March 23, 2011 03:18AM
In the Identity Help forum, the thread labeled (Mineral Identification (How to - PLEASE READ before posting questions) gives good direction on how to better your changes of getting specimens identified. Could you create a form for posting identity help threads where some of the questions must be answered to post the thread. Quite a few of the identity help questions I see posted are just a picture. I would think if more information was shared up front the input on identities would improve.

I should of read the entire thread before posting the paragraph above. That being said, I do believe even if none of the questions on the form were required to post for identity help (so as not to discourage anyone) the list of questions on the form would get people thinking about the characteristics that help in identifying minerals.

Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 03/23/2011 03:43AM by Richard Felicioni.
Stefan Koch March 23, 2011 08:38AM
I think a simple popup similar to the one appearing when you upload pictures to mindat should be enough:

"Important! All mineral photos must have a scale and/or specimen dimensions included in the description. If you have uploaded a mineral photo, are you sure you have entered this information here? If not, click CANCEL and you can edit this form and resubmit. Click OK if you know you have entered the correct information."

So the one for ID help could include the basic informations like:

"Does your photograph show a sharp image of the specimen?
Where did you find it?
Are there any more details you can see?"

And maybe include a link to a page that shows how to determine the basic informations like hardness, streak etc.

Matthew Barrand March 23, 2011 01:15PM
I understand that people want a serious ID when they start a thread but i think there are those who just want to know what 'mineral X' is and there are those who want to know what 'mineral X" isnt, and why, and what it could be, and why, and then eventually what it probably is. I don't like the idea of people just guessing and waiting for an 'expert' to reveal the answer. However I really like to read the threads where someone will say what they think 'mineral X' is and give a reason why and then have somebody say it cant be that because of 'property Y' but it might be this because of.... and so on. For me, a love to learn newbie, i think a mineral ID by process of elimination is far more interesting so long as the 'guesses' are in the ballpark and explained, as are the 'shutdowns', and the people contributing to the thread are reading all the other posts. I only hope i can get my confidence and knowledge up to a standard where i can contribute to mindat ID's.
Douglas Merson March 24, 2011 04:49AM

Translators work fairly well with some languages but not with others. On a volcano blog, during the last Merapi eruption, we took to calling it giggle translate. The same was true trying to translate Icelandic during the eruption last year. Even with the more accurate translations, enough meaning could get lost so as to give problems to someone not familiar with the terminology we use.
Alfredo Petrov March 24, 2011 12:09PM
Douglas, I hope you'll forgive me if I plagiarize your lovely expression "giggle" translator. Most appropriate! I find those free internet translation services to be amusingly semi-useful, with severe limitations, for european languages and utterly laughably hopeless for japanese. But, back to the topic of ID help messages on Mindat, I hope our native english-speaking users will be patient with those foreign users who are obviously using the current generation of pitifully inadequate machine translators (and for the most part we have been).
Ezekiel Hughes April 07, 2011 09:02AM
I only skimmed this I may be repeating an argument that has already been made. I'm no expert. I doubt I could pass any vetting required to comment under such a scheme. I try to only comment when I THINK I have something to that means only a few times a year :-) I regreat once suggesting an ID based on a picture alone...once a close up was posted I had to retract. But should folks feel afraid of suggesting something least they are wrong and banned from making suggestions? And who knows who is going to turn out to be the 'expert' for any given question? If someone posted under the 'ask the experts' section, and no one had an answer, that doesn't mean someone on Mindat didn't have the means they were not allowed to help. I'm an "expert" in very narrow subjects/locations...and I am still learning. but if I am the only one on Mindat willing or able to comment on those few things I know, I need to have the freedom to do so when they come up.

I also would like to see a Mindat Rock database :-)
Timothy Greenland April 07, 2011 09:21AM
Alfredo and Douglas,

I appreciate the translation problem because for many years I have done a lot of translation of scientific communications from French to English. It is not only machine translation that is the problem! Even before such techniques were common, I often went into alternating fits of laughter and rage looking through translations provided (at considerable expense) by commercial enterprises... The crux of the matter is that if you don't understand the subject, you can't provide a sensible translation. I could only translate papers in my fields of biological and chemical science, and I often had to spend days with the authors, sometimes assisting with lab experiments, before I could really translate their terms accurately.

So yes, questions are often poorly formulated due to language barriers. It might be an idea for those who have problems with English to append the same text in their own language. Mindat has participants from all over the world, and some might be able to help to 'clean up' the translated text...

I have had very useful comments from various people to my queries, and I thank everyone for their help and patience - and also Jolyon for providing the support and moderation.


Trevor Dart May 08, 2011 11:12PM
I believe that we should not discredit the local knowledge. I am probably one of the most knowledgeable members of our local mineral club on the identification of minerals however, there are many times when I am stumped on what it is and I have to go and ask someone else. This just shows that we have our limits with ID's. I have taught geology for over twenty years and been the field officer for our club for the last ten, and the number of times someone has bought a sample up to me for identification in that time I have lost count. I've always tried to help "newbies" as they are the ones who will be looking after our collections when we are gone. I am not an expert - however I would say that my knowledge on Australian minerals, especially those from Broken Hill, is pretty good and I can usually recognise this location. The reason for this is the association of minerals and I agree with Jolyon that an added sentence to help support your ID is a good thing. If anything it helps the newbie learn something for future reference and to point out why you consider a mineral is what you think is a good teaching method.

To just state what you think it is, doesn't help anyone and to bag out someone without an explanation as to why they are wrong, is just rude!

I've stood among a circle of geologists all arguing over the identification and origin of a sample, each with their own "expert " opinion when the sample in question was cracked and it opened up to reveal that it was artificial and had been planted at the spot for exactly that reason.

Let the people have their say. Listen to their advice and if you disagree with an identification, give a reason.
Greg Samways May 11, 2011 12:01PM

I have read most of the thread with interest, and here is my Euros worth!

I have been aprofessional geologist for more than 20 years, mainly in the petroleum industry, but only recently have I started seriously collecting fossils and minerals. So I am a Newbie and an Expert (or Ex - Spurt?).

In recent years I have focussed on teaching professional courses on oil exploration and production geology, petrophysics, geophysics and so on. When giving these courses the students always assume that I am the "Expert", but I do not know everything. Who does? What I do have vast experience of is researching things, looking things up, finding the answers etc. So what I tell the students is that I will not always be able to tell them the answers, but I can always help them ask better questions!

I think that is what the "experienced" people should do: offer guidance in the ID process, according to how they would approach the ID process.

It also occurs to me that has a huge, systematically compiled database of mineral properties and localities. Would it be possible to build an advanced search engine to guide ID enquiries, i.e an "Expert" system. If the enquirer puts in, for example: the colour, the streak, the locality, associated minerals etc, then the expert system could pull up a short list on the fly . . . . . That would be more fun than form filling, and could lead to more systematic documentation of minerals in the database as well. It could even flag up some possibilities that the "experts" had not consdired. Real humans could then be asked to comment on the findings, and suggest further refinements to the serach or recommend analyses.

I am thinking along the lines of botanical keys: What colour is it? how many petals? pinnate or lobate leaves? etc.

Doctors are now having to do this sort of thing with diagnoses, because the medical profession has finally acknowledged that these "experts" don't know it all either.

It should be much easier with minerals . . . . . .



Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 05/11/2011 12:03PM by Greg Samways.
Kelly Nash May 11, 2011 02:52PM
Greg - There is a "search minerals by properties" tool at the top of the left hand menu on the homepage that does pretty much what you're suggesting. Visual clues like "pinnate or lobate" can only get you so far with minerals. Some properties take somewhat specialized equipment or experience to accurately determine (e.g. specific gravity). Finally, as has been noted here many times, a lot of people are not inclined to make any effort on their own when they can put a fuzzy cellphone picture on the bulletin board and people are happy to throw out guesses,which are sometimes good enough when it's something like a piece of slag or a quartz crystal. .

Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 05/11/2011 02:53PM by Kelly Nash.
Greg Samways May 11, 2011 03:57PM
@ Kelly Nash,

Thanks for the pointer to the mineral search engine - its very good!

However, even if I put in a wide range of characteristics, including such things as lustre and cleavage (which the uninitiated probably don't understand), I still get a results list of of several pages of minerals!

Perhaps a category of "Known Associates" might also help?

So I thought I would test the system by looking up the properties of what I think it is, then seeing if the search engine finds it. But of course the mineral I am looking at is "allegedly" fuchsite, which doesn't have a separate listing, because it is just a weird form of muscovite. However, the one picture of fuchsite on Mindat does look very much like the stuff I have picked up, and it apparently came from the same place, so I am guessing . . . .

Thanks for you help . . .

Greg Samways May 11, 2011 04:25PM

Of course I have now dug a bit deeper and found the mineral identification key, which was also just the sort of thing I was talking about. It might be worth linking to this from the Mindat search engine (on the intro page - there is plenty of space), as it explains what each of the properties is and how to measure them.

Sajjad Shakir June 02, 2011 04:04PM
hi sir this minerals is hard like quartz and its mine location is Shungas Skardu Pakistan.Sir you look so Expert can you help me in recognizing this mineral.

Best Regards
Sajjad Shakir
Rob Woodside June 02, 2011 04:19PM
Sajjad. This is the third or fourth time you have posted these photos. In the intial posting Hambergite and pollucite were suggested. I mentioned that it didn't look very isometric, so probably not pollucite. It might be adularia. I think at this point you should consider analysing it as clearly no one here has any further ideas.

One of the appearances of these photos was in another thread asking for an identification of totally unrelated material. That is rude and is called "hijacking a thread". Please try not to do this. It is confusing.

As others have tried to tell you, these message boards are supposed to be free of advertising. Please buy an ad from Jolyon (he needs the money) as all the other dealers must do.
Tricia Frame February 14, 2012 02:18AM
Can someone help me identify this rock? It is very hard I couldn't scratch it with a nail. I cleaned it with muratic acid so it came out a little dull. Could this be rhodonite?:)-D
open | download - laughlin22.jpg (128.9 KB)
open | download - rhodonite1.jpg (74.1 KB)
Tricia Frame February 14, 2012 02:32AM
Can someone help me identifying these two rocks? They were both cleaned with muratic acid so I got them wet to show some of the detail. They are both very hard when I try to scratch them with a nail they don't scratch off anything but faint marks are on the rocks. these were both found in Nevada
open | download - laughlin13.jpg (127.4 KB)
open | download - laughlin 15.jpg (118.9 KB)
D Mike Reinke February 14, 2012 04:26AM
Taking a stab at it, I'd say it isn't rhodonite, that second pic. It looks very much like a stone that a book on wisconsin geology called 'driveway stone,' a reddish feldspar w/ blueish quartz sprinkled i it, very common up here. The others look like a lot of what washes up on lake michigan beaches near here, chert or chalcedony (thus harder than a nail, hardness of 7, like most quartz types) with a mix of other silicate bits...Just a guess.

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