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.

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.