If you are a GLAM looking to make your photographic collection more widely available online, for the last couple of years your first choice would have been to head over to “Flickr Commons”. And you would be in good company too.
However, at least for the current year, Flickr Commons is officially full:
Following a flurry of tweets – led by Mia Ridge who put out a blogpost on this topic much faster than me 🙂 – May I take this opportunity then to extend an offer to all of those in “the current backlog” that Wikimedia Commons is open for business – and with a couple of new tricks up our sleeve too.
1) Disk space on the image servers has been dramatically increased very recently. It was getting pretty close to the limit for a while and some MAJOR content donations had to be put on hold whilst that was sorted out. They’ll be announced shortly and I’m really looking forward to it (hint: it’s those Dutch again!) I can’t think of a pretty picture to illustrate this point so I’ll point you to the page that wins my personal “the thing that is quite clearly important but I’m not really sure what it means, award” – http://ganglia.wikimedia.org/
2) The Multimedia Usability project is coming along nicely. Whilst I must admit the Wikimedia upload interface is not as shiny and friendly as the Flickr one, we’re doing our level best to make it easier and cleaner. One of the bigger headaches in improving Wikimedia Commons uploading is that Wikimedia only allows “free content” which means that the upload form is currently half international copyright crash-course and half upload-interface. The plus side of this is that you can be sure as a user of Wikimedia Commons that everything there has had it’s copyright checking done for you. None of this “contact us if you would like to use the image” stuff, everything is available to use and re-use. Flickr, of course, offers a much broader range of potential copyright licenses – including non-commercial and all-rights-reserved. However, in Flickr Commons a GLAM is only allowed to use the “no known copyright restrictions” tag which means that all content in Flickr Commons is already approved by the providing institution to be used in Wikimedia Commons anyway.
3) No ads, no corporation, no commercial motivation. OK, so this one isn’t exactly new, but it’s worth reiterating. Since 2005 Flickr has been owned by one of the internet’s giant commercial enterprises – Yahoo!. Flickr Commons sits at the more altruistic end of the spectrum of their activities but the fact that Flickr is owned and operated by a US commercial entity no-doubt features as a potential risk in GLAMs meetings to assess whether to join the project (especially so for publicly-funded GLAMs outside of the US where there can be rules about domestically-sourced partners etc.). Of course where I’m going with this is that Wikimedia projects are all completely ad-free, run by a charity, charge no fees for usage, require no log-ins or personal information etc. etc. The flip-side of this is that, as a corporation, Flickr can choose to take down images if the uploader says so, the Wikimedia Foundation can’t. I’ve heard that some GLAMs have been reticent to upload to Wikimedia Commons out of the fear that they can’t delete them later if they change their mind.
4) Contextualisation. The most obvious difference between Flickr and Wikimedia Commons is that Flickr is a website for photographs to be seen in-and-of-themselves whereas on Wikimedia the images are (at least ostensibly) intended to be used in an encyclopedia. Of course there’s no obligation that an image uploaded to Wikimedia Commons would ever be used in a Wikipedia article but that is the general idea. Flickr is good for discussing photograhy as an artform in dialogical fashion (a very valid activity – don’t get me wrong) and the audience there is allowed to curate galleries quite easily. On the other hand Wikimedia Commons is good for being able to take a more curatorial approach – to embed the images in an educational context where the cultural significance of the subject/medium/author etc. can be elaborated. Both are useful things but Flickr can be a bit of an ‘echo chamber’ – especially when it’s an image of a collection item.
5) Usage checking. If you look down the bottom of the page for any image in Wikimedia Commons you will be able to see a section entitled “File Usage on Other Wikis”. This global checker is relatively new and enables you to see just how and where any individual image is being contextualised in articles across all the different language editions of Wikipedia. For example, check the usage of this image of former German Chancellor Konrad Adenauer (donated to Wikimedia by the German Federal Archives). You can see that it is used in three articles in the English edition but also two articles in Hebrew, two in Arabic, etc. etc. That’s the kind of statistical usage-proof that makes for great executive summaries to management.
5.1) Usage Checking – categories! This one is really new. Not only can you look up the stats for an individual image but now you can do it for a whole category using the “GLAMerous tool” by Magnus Manske. Try one of the “popular groups” to give it a go. This tool will aggregate the usage statistics for any category – most especially things like “category:images from xyz museum”. This lets you see in short order the combined multimedia contribution and usage of any GLAM on Wikipedia. Very nice!
Ultimately, they’re related projects with similar aims – the publication of GLAM multimedia content to a wider audience – but they go about their work in deliberately different ways. 2010 will no doubt prove to be an interesting year for multimedia in Wikimedia projects.
[update: Mia’s blogpost about this topic now includes a collection of the tweet replies she received to the question “has anyone done audience research into why museums prefer Flickr to Wikimedia commons?”
Some of the responses included:
Nick: Flickr lets you choose CC non-commercial licenses, whereas Wikimedia Commons needs to permit potential commercial use?
Janet: Apart fr better & clear CC licence info, like Flickr Galleries that can be made by all! [and] What I implied but didn’t say before: Flickr provides online space for dialogue about and with images.
Richard: Flickr is so much easier to view and search than WM. Commons, and of course easier to upload.
Hopefully, I’ve adequately addressed these comments in the body of my post. iane15 had this to say in the comments:
- At Hampshire County Council, the Museums Service got 99% to a Flickr Commons agreement, then Flickr said they ” need to delay adding more Commons partners until later in the year”. That was June 2009. Emails in December have gone unanswered. I don’t think we’re even going to bother any more.
[Update 2: Seb Chan from the Powerhouse Museum has just made a detailed reply to this post detailing what advantages the Powerhouse saw (and still sees) in Flickr Commons over Wikimedia Commons. Whilst my blogpost identifies what I see as Wikimedia’s advantages for GLAMs, I must admit I do agree with his assessment of Flickr’s relative strengths. The kicker is this:
Whilst Wikipedia and Wikimedia are, in themselves, exciting projects, their structure, design and combative social norms do not currently make them the friendly or the protected space that museums tend to be comfortable operating in.
He also reiterates the importance of the Multimedia Usability initiative which might be able to address some of Seb’s points (though not all, as some are social rather than technical issues) and hopefully make Wikimedia a little bit more GLAM-friendly.]
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I find it extremely interesting that both Seb and you speak of “context”, but in very different ways. When he says “context matters”, he refers to the “like mindedness” of the Flickr community when it comes to images, ie. people who love images. You refer to “contextualisation”, ie. to make a long story short, the use of images as powerful tools to illustrate texts/articles. I find this “community who likes images” is probably what Wikimedia Commons lacks most. Not that WM Commoners don’t like images, but I think that “love” on the average is being trumped by the need to be efficient, copyright savvy, efficient, fast (the uplaod form reflects all of this, apart the “fast” part ;))
This does for a much more difficult community to get into or to interact with, I think. And it’s a shame, really, because I think both “contextualisations” are equally important. Images should be studied, appreciated, looked at both for themselves and for their historical, encyclopedic and educational value.
Unfortunately, Wikimedia Commons still has not found its exact scope. It’s still hesitating between being exclusively there for Wikimedia Projects and becoming the biggest multimedia repository on the net. I think that the success of GLAM-Wikimedia relationships in terms of images goes through a clear streategical positionning of Wikimedia Commons in that regard.
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