Why do museums prefer Flickr Commons to Wikimedia Commons?

A conversation has sprung up on twitter about why museums prefer Flickr Commons to Wikimedia Commons after Liam Wyatt, Vice President of Wikimedia Australia posted "Flickr Commons is FULL for 2010. GLAMs, Fancy sharing with #Wikimedia commons instead?" and I responded with "has anyone done audience research into why museums prefer Flickr to Wikimedia commons?".  I've asked before because I think it's one of those issues where the points of resistance can be immensely informative.

I was struck by the speed and thoughtfulness of responses from kajsahartig, pekingspring, NickPoole1, richardmccoy and janetedavis, which suggested that the question hit a nerve.

Some of the responses included:

Kasja: Photos from collections have ended up at wikipedia without permission, that never happened with Flickr, could be one reason [and] Or museums are more benevolent when it happens at Flickr, it's seen more as individuals' actions rather than an organisations'?

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.

Twitter can be a bit of an echo chamber at times, so I wanted to ask you all the question in a more accessible place.   So, is it true that museums prefer Flickr Commons to Wikimedia Commons, and if so, why?

[Update: Liam's new blog post addresses some of the concerns raised – this responsiveness to the issues is cheering.  (You can get more background at Wikipedia:Advice for the cultural sector and Wikipedia:Conflict of interest.)

Also, for those interested in wikimedia/wikipedia* and museums, there's going to be a workshop 'for exploring and developing policies that will enable museums to better contribute to and use Wikipedia or Wikimedia Commons, and for the Wikimedia community to benefit from the expertise in museums', Wikimedia@MW2010, at Museums at the Web 2010. There's already a thread, 'Wikimedia Foundation projects and the museum community' with some comments.  I'd love to see the 'Incompatible recommendations' section of the GLAM-Wiki page discussed and expanded.

* I'm always tempted to write 'wiki*edia' where * could be 'm' or 'p', but then it sounds like South Park's plane-rium in my head.]

[I should really stop updating, but I found Seb Chan's post on the Powerhouse Museum blog, Why Flickr Commons? (and why Wikimedia Commons is very different) useful, and carlstr summed up a lot of the issues neatly: "One of the reasons is that Flickr is a package (view, comment search aso). WC is a archive of photos for others to use. … I think Wikipedia/Wikimedia have potential for the museum sector, but is much more complex which can be deterrent.".]

Clay Shirky at Smithsonian 2.0

Below are my notes from watching the video of Clay Shirky at the Smithsonian 2.0 event on YouTube. I figure they might be useful to someone, though I'm sure I missed interesting points, and I didn't take notes on bits that sounded like his talk in London a little while later.

[I've been thinking generally about the Smithsonian 2.0 event, and realised that it doesn't matter that from the outside, the outcomes weren't groundbreaking – a lot of what they were saying seemed self-evident, or least what is generally seen as The Right Thing to do in cultural heritage tech circles – the process was the important part.

It's not so much what they're saying, it's the fact they're having the conversation. Their institution made room, literal as well as metaphoric, for the conversation, and they (presumably) invited people from all over their organisations to participate in those conversations. It's the importance of the visibility of the project, the big name guests, the resources invested – that's the groundbreaking part.]

Anyway, onto the talk.   There were some good soundbits – for ten years we had 'new media capabilities but old media messages'. In the days of super-distribution, 'the critical moment for media isn't production, it's distribution'.

[This next paragraph (or 16'50" – 19' in the video) is transcribed a bit more closely as I wanted to quote it in an article]
'Look at what Flickr's done. They've reversed the usual pattern of interest groups. Usually it's 'let's get everybody who cares about High Dynamic Range photography in a room, and then we'll share what we know'. Gather, then share. On Flickr, the pattern is 'share, then gather'. The artifact itself has created the surface to which the people adhere. It's created the environment for the conversation. Every artifact is a latent community. Which is to say, every artifact, in addition to being interesting to the people who come to look at it, or read it or watch it or what have you, has additional potential value in that all the people who are looking at it might also be interested in talking to each other. You can imagine a hub and spoke system, where the artifact is at the hub… the group that assembled here didn't have to know in advance they cared about High Dynamic Range photography, all they had to know about was that they liked that picture. If you think of the artifact as a hub, and there are spokes leading into it, which are the people who care about it, you can draw the line now going in both directions, it's not just that the artifact goes outwards and people can view it, people can talk back. Everybody sort of gets that hub and spoke model.  What's really astonishing is the lateral lines, the lines you can draw among the spokes, because there are many more of those lines to be drawn than there are [of] the hub and spoke. So if every artifact is a latent community, much of social value comes from having these kinds of convening platforms available for people to start sharing value in communities of practice.'

The enormous cost of professionally managed artefacts… Library of Congress project on preserving digital artefacts… metadata in cataloguing system not about managing ideas, about managing artefacts. (Ontologies) force organisations to be mind readers and fortune tellers.

What could go wrong? People take digital assets, repurpose them. It's already happened.  [So it's ok.]  So if repurposing already happens, how do we get value out of it?

Fear of being expected to control everything with your name on it; society has internalised idea that you're not.  [So it's really ok.]  As well as the kinds of uses you don't have to expect, you get the kinds of uses you don't have to feel responsible for.

If taking tax dollars, should do something for the public. When implement new forms of sharing, it also changes the way things happen in the institution. It would be easier for a curator to find something from one of the Smithsonian museums because of the Commons.

Question – if it's good, will they always come? Ans: no. Qu: how do you deal with that? Ans: the effect of failure on an institution is likelihood times cost. Spend more time discussing whether something is a good idea than would have spent just trying it (yes!). It's easy digitally to fail fast, cheaply, easy to learn from failure.

If you want to have something spread to the public, try it a few different ways. Don't make one perfect system then assume it will pass on to the public, be propagated. Have a few different ways of trying things. On average, the stuff that interests people propagates; you can't treat it as a distributed media buy. Have an economic structure where you can afford prizes cos haven't put all eggs in one basket.

Question – following up on tagging on Flickr – reactions to when moustaches were being tagged – people felt it degraded the value of the content.  Ans: aggregate value of tag is high, create cross-cutting collection. But it's always possible to find the banal stuff. Objection is not that people are saying these things, it's that "we have to hear it now". Previously separated spheres of expert and public discourse…

Question – how do you measure value – two different ways of measuring it, how do you bring them together?  Ans: so many different kinds of value, no institution can create them all, but they can host them. So, how much is this costing us and is there any reason to stop it from happening?  (But was the qu about digitisation and other things with up-front costs?)

If you think value is only things that you buy and manage and control… being a platform increases value for and the loyalty of the people who go there.

London Transport Museum's Flickr scavenger hunt

I haven't looked at the whole site yet but I loved the idea so I wanted to post it while you could still vote (until 20 July 2008):

London Transport Museum is hosting a Flickr scavenger hunt on Sunday 6th July in Covent Garden as part of the events for the London Festival of Architecture 2008. Focusing on the transport network's quirky design features, in a race against time teams of photographers will have to unlock a series of cryptic clues in order to snap roundels, station murals and much more. Have you got what it takes to get all the shots and make it back to the Museum? Prizes for the first team back (with the most correct answers), and – voted by the public – the best team and the best picture uploaded on Flickr.

Next-generation approaches at 'UK Museums on the Web Conference 2008'

Session 3, 'Next-generation approaches', of the UK Museums on the Web Conference 2008 was introduced by Jon Pratty.

Jon questioned, 'what is a virtual museum?. It can be pretty much anything. Lots of valuable historical documents aren't in 'online museum', they're just out there to be found by search. It raises the question – how much permanence should digital objects have?'.

George Oates, 'Sharing museum collections through Flickr'
Introducing the Flickr Commons project and talking about some early results. Some practical information on what it means to join the program, and things that have come out of it.

Flickr 'swerved in from left field' and bumped into museum people and librarians and archivists.

It started with Library of Congress thinking about how to engage with Web 2.0. They were looking for a Web 2.0 partner. They have 14 million images, about a million digitised.

Flickr is designed specifically to search and browse photos. It has a big infrastructure and supports interfaces in 8 languages. It has lots of eyeballs – "it's made of people".

From the Commons point of view, it's simply a service, organisations can publish content into it.

They hit a hurdle: can a collecting institution publish content onto a site like Flickr? As collecting institution, someone like the Library of Congress doesn't necessarily own the copyright or know who the copyright holder was. They devised a new statement – 'no known copyright restrictions' – this provided a way to use this content once institution had done as much work as they could to trace copyright so they could still publish if not able to trace copyright holders.

Might open up to other sorts of content.

What's it for? Increase access to public photography collections; gather context about them, [something else I missed].

Powerhouse – lots of the collection was geo-tagged. It means you can find photos from then and now, for example around the CBD of Sydney. [Cool! I love the way geo-tagging content lets you build up layers of history]

Brooklyn – it made sense to use their existing established Flickr account, so Flickr created functionality to support that. The Smithsonian joined on Monday.

Soon they'll have content from other partners including a charming collection from a tiny local museum.

Last 28 days Library of Congress – 15,000 [or 50,000?] views per day, 8 million views over last six months, 72,000 tags.
Powerhouse – 77,000 views (more views of that collection in one month than in the whole previous year), 3500 tags.
Brooklyn – figures affected by merged account issue.
Smithsonian – 10,000 views in first day, 100 new contacts

The numbers are probably affected by the ratio of photos e.g. smaller numbers when an institution has put fewer photos online.

"But, is it any good"?"
Suddenly there are conversations between Flickr users and institutions, and between Flickr users, contributing information and identifications.

They contribute the identification of places and people, with information about the history behind photos.

Now and then – people are adding their recent photos of a location via comments on Flickr.

Library of Congress have made a list of types of interactions [slides], they include the transcription of text on signs, posters, etc in background, geo-tags, non-English tags.

Institutional context and Flickr – bind them together with hyperlink, but being on Flickr frees a program from institutional constraints.

Flickr has been designed as a vessel or platform where interactions and conversations can happen.

The information that the community provides is proving useful. The Library of Congress has updated 176 records in catalogue, recording that it's based on 'information provided by Flickr Commons Project 2008'.

The Smithsonian found it was opportunity for collaboration between institutions/departments and staff.

How to join: the process is publish – interact – feedback.

What to think about: give a broad representation of what's in your collection. Think about placement of images in photostream and sets. Plan to attract special interest groups. Think about what is already digital, what is popular? It can direct your digitisation efforts with feedback from a live community. Or you could go into your stores or collections database and possibly digitised randomly.

How much metadata to include? How many fields from database into description of photo; more or less?

When: can be a challenge for institutions.

How? You could use the normal Flickr uploadr if you don't have too many images; or you could use API to write applications that will work with Collections Management Systems.

Who? Might be web technician and curator.

The catch? It costs $24.95 for a Pro account. But you get unlimited storage, and could conceivably put whole collection online.

The future:
It's a work in progress. Probably will end up developing tools like additional reporting
Grow gently (make sure institution can handle the changes and respond to interactions)
They will continue their focus on photographs, not photographs of objects "(sorry)". "Flickr is about … empathic photography"
"Go local" e.g. small archives in little towns – people can still participate even if they don't have a web team, or web site.
API methods, RSS
Searching, browsing, maps
Search across Commons coming soon. Maybe combine searches to see a map of photos taken in 1910.

Questions from 'Beyond Single Repositories' at MW2008

I'm still working on getting my notes from Museums and the Web in Montreal online.

These are notes from the questions at the 'Beyond Single Repositories' session. This session was led by Ross Parry, and included the papers Learning from the People: Traditional Knowledge and Educational Standards by Daniel Elias and James Forrest and The Commons on Flickr: A Primer by George Oates.

This clashed with the User-Generated Content session that I felt I should see for work, but I managed to sneak in at the end of Ross's session. I expected this room to be packed, but it wasn't. I guess the ripples of user-generated content and Web 2.0-ish stuff are still spreading beyond the geeks, and the pebbles of single repositories and the semantic web have barely dropped into the pond for most people. As usual, all mistakes are mine – if you asked a question and I haven't named you or got your question wrong, drop me a line.

Quite a lot of the questions related to 'The Commons'.

There was a question about the difference between users who download and retain context of images, versus those who just download the image and lose all context, attribution, etc. George: Flickr considered putting the metadata into EXIF but it was problematic and wasn't robust enough to be useful.

Another question: how to link back to institution from Flickr? George: 'there's this great invention called the hyperlink'. And links can also go to picture libraries to buy prints.

[I need to check this but it could really help make the case for Commons in museums if that's the case. We might also be able to target different audiences with different requirements – e.g. commercial publications vs school assignments. I also need to check if Flickr URLs are permanent and stable.]

Seb Chan asked: how does business model of having images on Flickr co-exist with existing practices?

Flickr are cool with museums putting in content at different resolutions – it's up to institution to decide.

"It's so easy to do things the correct way" so please teach everyone to use CC licence stuff appropriately.

Issues are starting to be raised about revenue sharing models.

[I wonder if we could put in FOI requests to find out exactly how much revenue UK museums make from selling images compared to the overhead in servicing commercial picture libraries, and whether it varies by type of image or use. It'd be great if we could put some Museum of London/MoLAS images on Commons, particularly if we could use tagging to generate multilingual labels and re-assess images in terms of diversity – such an important issue for our London audiences; or to get more images/objects geo-located. I also wonder if there are any resourcing issues for moderation requirements, or do we just cope with whatever tags are added?]

Update: following the conference, Frankie Roberto started a discussion on the Museums Computer Group list under the subject 'copyright licensing and museums'. You have to be a member to post but a range of perspectives and expertise would really help move this discussion on.

Personal blogs in cultural heritage and museums on Flickr

I meant to mention this at the e-learning group's 'Wine, Web 2.0' event on Thursday when someone asked about official blogs written from personal (rather than marketing or institutional) viewpoint: the British Library's Breaking the Rules blog strikes me as very personal – maybe not compared to the blogosphere as a whole, but compared to other 'work' blogs within the cultural heritage sector.

Also, the East Lothian Museums have been using Flickr (http://www.flickr.com/photos/eastlothian/ to display some of their 25,000 items. It's worth checking out if you're thinking about how you might use Web 2.0 sites or if you're curious about their content. FWIW, they're also blogging.

Is anyone using machine tags/triples for National Grid references?

I'll post this around the various lists but I am still thinking about how best to phrase it. I'm not a geo-geek and I'm never quite sure if I'm using the right language to describe whatever it is I'm talking about.

We've been having more conversations about how we can use tagging to publish more information about LAARC photos. This would allow us and our users to explore, use and compare site photos in lots of different ways. Eventually it may also be applied related data streams such as archaeological finds/museum objects and related media, but for the moment we're just exploring what we can do with an existing platform like Flickr.

Using machine tags to add latitude and longitude looks simple enough, and seems there's a de facto standard for geo:lat and geo:lon. But is there a similar de facto (or proper) namespace standard for machine tags for UK National Grid references? Leave a comment or email me if you know of any, or even if you're just using them yourself.

Some relevant links:
Flickr: Discussing Machine tags in Flickr API
geobloggers » Advanced Tagging and TripleTags
geobloggers » Flickr Ramps up Triple Tag (Machine Tags) Support.