Welcome to the team, Jessamyn!

It’s with a great sense of calm I introduce our newest team member, Jessamyn West. She’s joining us as the new Community Manager of the Flickr Commons program.

my favorite librarian

The Flickr Commons has been around since 2008, but hasn’t been looked after too well. There is still lots of activity, but the membership hasn’t grown for a few years, and there are no special tools for members, or for the volunteer researchers who help out by adding information about the photographs shared. We did a bunch of research in 2021 about how to turn things around, and I’m happy to say, bringing Jessamyn in to help is a fantastic power-up.

Essentially, the plan to resurrect the program has two main elements:

  1. Stabilise the current membership – support community cohesion and communication, develop  aggregate/activity baseline views, fix out-of-date stuff on flickr.com/commons, reconnect with “sleepy” members, and
  2. Grow the membership – we especially want to support small institutions who either cannot afford to pay for expensive collection management software, or don’t have enough staff to build out that kind of digital resource, help show/teach members about licensing, digitization, preservation techniques that we can support, build out partnerships and collaborations around the open web, open licensing, and, importantly, careful sharing (as opposed to batch throwing huge piles of cultural materials across the internet without appropriate care).

In her own words:

Hi I’m Jessamyn, and I’ve been a Flickr member since 2004. I’m the daughter of two serious hobby photographers (mom|dad) both of whom have legacy accounts on Flickr and I’ve put a few photos up there as well. I’ve really benefited, over the last two decades, from having a well-organized archive of at least some of my family’s digital heritage. Here’s my great great grandmother, and here’s my great great grandfather from the other side of the family.

I’m a big free culture fan, having done work for the Internet Archive and Wikipedia helping make more “stuff” available to more people online. I also help run MetaFilter, a large online community. My background is in librarianship and technology, so anything that combines those two things piques my interest and makes me happy. I write an irregular newsletter on the topic. I’ve been a huge fan of Flickr Commons since it launched in 2008, often using its images to illustrate Wikipedia or other digital projects.

When the Flickr Foundation came into view, I really wanted to help get more cultural heritage institutions get the tools they needed and wanted so that they could share their culture in a place geared towards longevity and community. I’m happy to be here.

You think you’re happy to be here, Jessamyn? YES! I’m so excited about it! We were on a zoom last week basically giggling at each other. I can’t wait to get started, so here’s a huge and happy welcome to you!

Oh, and while I have your attention, we’ve also just posted another position: Tech Lead. Please share in your networks, and apply if you’re interested!

100-year plan workshop – Edinburgh

By Robert Pembleton, George Oates, and Melissa Terras

This workshop was co-developed, iterated and convened by the Data + Design Lab, with organisational help from the Centre for Data, Culture and Society, both based at Edinburgh Futures Institute.

Imagine a vibrant, student cafe at the University of Edinburgh, on a cold but sunny January day. Imagine a group of academics, students, community leaders, and changemakers gathered in the corner near surreal interpretations of bookshelves, speaking over the excited conversations of a Friday morning.  This was the setting for a How to write a 100-year plan workshop hosted by the University’s Edinburgh Futures Institute – a challenge-led multidisciplinary initiative which tackles complex issues to imagine and shape better futures.

We convened to imagine the preservation of our digital heritage for future generations. A sense of excitement filled the room. There was an energy. Everyone was eager to contribute and collaborate, to give what they had to this purpose. 50 billion images; worthy of protection. The horizon was 100 years.

This workshop gravitated to the challenge of continuing access, about what to keep. How do we ensure that the viewers and researchers of future generations can see things both in their raw form, and with contextual colour around single photos? Flickr is interestingly different here because most of the images are described directly by their creators, and have factual EXIF data attached. 

We began by trying to step out of time and allow ourselves to think on the scale of centuries. Each of us dug out a picture of a meaningful place: breath-taking landscapes such as Ben Nevis and Zumaya Beach, a now empty hut sometimes buzzing with community vibrancy, and Bobby’s blurry family photo qualified with generational memories:

“It may not be the best picture, but it’s my picture.”

This sentence popped out as we were doing the first exercise, where we ask people to find pictures of places that mean something to them. It’s always interesting to see which places people choose. They’re often of views, or capture a place where good memories have been made with loved ones. They are rarely what you might call spectacular or historic or exceptionally well-made, but they are poignant for their viewer. John Berger has called photographs “observable moments.” Meaningful to maybe just a few people, but no less valuable than a well-constructed photograph of a classical landscape. Vernacular. Flickr is full of pictures like that. Brimming

We discussed meaning, longevity, humility, and value. What do we value, and how? We tend to show a primacy for personal value. There was once a glimmer that the internet could be a space outside of capitalism , but it has of course become integrated into the machine. Now is a good time to be cautious, as we imagine new systems. 

The profundity of the changes at hand causes pause. Perhaps we should leave things in a state where they can be found and used in ways we couldn’t possibly imagine. If we curate this with the lens of the present, there is a threat of sanitisation. Obtuse decision making shrouds bias, and we’re in the midst of a swell of disinformation that’s colliding with wanting to present an unbiased picture. 

There are practical considerations for such a large archive. Do we really need 50 billion images plus the infinite amount yet to come? Maybe its value should be measured against the archive’s carbon footprint. Maybe it’s OK for some things to disappear forever. We discussed the simplistic beauty in randomness, and so perhaps an approach could be to keep a random percentage of everything. This would mean we’d keep some of the boring stuff, and history lovers of the future may be most enamoured with the mundane. Libraries, archives and other memory institutions have detailed deaccession policies – where they decide what to no longer look after – but Flickr can be thought of as a vernacular, outside, “fugitive” archive. Any decision regarding deletion of content should be collective, cooperative, collaborative, and transparent. To expose our methods, to help future generations understand how we made our decisions. Then, maybe we can release the weight of our history with joy, with ceremony, with something that could become like a tradition that we encourage, support, revisit, and maintain ourselves collectively. 

Thinking about long organisations

We talked about how ritual might help sustain a strong direction across a century. (There were jokes about everyone wearing robes.) Ritual has had a place to play in human society thus far – it seems to have longevity. Imagine a successful 1000 year old pub that never franchised and never exceeded its comfort level; it was just right. 

Towards the end of our session we went for a walk and explored the ancient Royal Mile of Edinburgh, passing by the World’s End pub. That was once the perception: there was nothing of value, the end of the world, outside of the castle’s gates. We walked in contemplation with ancient volcanoes which dot the landscape surrounding this beautiful city. A 3.8 billion year old rock? Maybe 100 years isn’t so long after all. There are more species than ourselves, and there is more to come. 

We walked past another neighbourhood whose significant industrial heritage is now demolished. The machines of the future may be quite upset indeed that they aren’t able to visit their ancestors. 

Few digital photos will survive for a century by accident. A 100 year plan should be a practical, responsive, future facing declaration of intent. We train our lens, knowing that our visions are from fascinating unknowns, impossible perspectives. We do love to play. We should nurture that in ourselves. Play inspires joy. Joy celebrates humanity. The Flickr archive is a record of what it has been like to be in certain spaces, from a certain perspective, at a certain time. It cherishes our sense of identity

“The nature of our identity must not be destroyed.”

The session ended in quiet, contemplative reflection. It elicited poetry, a snapshot of the moment. We could share it, but it wouldn’t really make sense out of context. Nothing really does.

We thank all attendees for their contributions. As with any good, invigorating engagement, our discussions provoked more questions than it answered. Here are some things that we may explore in the future. 

  • Oral histories happen everywhere. Could we or should we figure out how to attach sound to pictures in flickr.org?
  • When does a story become a history?
  • Is decentralisation a route to protecting neutrality? If more copies live in more and differently accessed and described spaces, could that diffuse the “truth” of history?

Postscript:Post-it transcriptions

The first section of the workshop is about thinking in centuries. Not something we do often, so we’ve found it helpful to expand our normal timeframes a bit at the start. We have an exercise in three parts, and participants note down their thoughts on post-its and we can all have a look afterwards.

  1. What in your life has lasted for 100 years? Fisherrow Harbour; books, photographs/postcards, documents (incl. design), monuments, environment, buildings/roads/rail; my house ~1910, grandfather’s crown from WWI, great-grandmother’s ring (now mine!); Victorian egg & bird collection, great AUK(?) items, egg at NMS, old paintings; a cannon from a tall ship; the ring I’m wearing; my flat; my house; the ring on my right hand; music (I sing classical music); I have a doll that was my mother’s mother’s from her childhood; my house; copies of vintage books I adore and own, e.g. Lafcadio Hearn’s.
  2. What in your life do you want to last for another 100 years? The same books, some of my pictures, some of my writings; code and info on AI planners, life/work results; my dichroic ring and the story behind it; HOPE; photos of my family; music!; family photographs; international communication; my children; my children, or at least, their children; my house; environment, community/society; how we lived, understanding of how we lived; the house.
  3. What in your life do you not want to last 100 years? The album with my weedy singing made by the band I was in in my 20s; META CRISIS; AI-generated crud; “reinforced divisions,” “Left v Right”; climate change; Tories; all this plastic; videos of my early teaching/lectures (Lecture Capture!); the rest of my pictures and writings; revenge porn!

Why we’re doing this

By Ben MacAskill, President & COO of SmugMug + Flickr

Ben MacAskill


At SmugMug + Flickr, we believe that photography is an incredibly important visual record of our history. As citizens, we don’t have nearly enough access to our own photographic histories that we collectively own in the public domain. In light of that, we’re thrilled to announce the founding of our very own nonprofit, the Flickr Foundation.

How did we get here? It starts in 2018 when, after years of attempts, we (SmugMug) were fortunate enough to be able to buy Flickr from Yahoo!. We didn’t buy Flickr because we thought it was an amazing business opportunity—it was losing staggering amounts of money, and nobody else seemed interested in the potential. Instead, we bought Flickr because we’ve built our company around a love for photography, and we couldn’t imagine an internet without the amazing community and the staggering collection of photography that Flickr supported.

We knew Flickr meant a lot of things to a lot of communities, but it rapidly became clear just how important it was once the acquisition announcements went out. Within hours and days, we were fielding requests from organizations and individuals around the globe wondering what it meant for their work and their communities. The CEO of Creative Commons flew out to our offices immediately to discuss the future of the hundreds of millions of open licensed works being shared on Flickr. It was an easy decision to not only protect those photos, but to work on growing the collection collaboratively.

Government agencies around the globe reached out to express how important their Flickr community is to connecting to the people they support. Schools, clubs, and community organizations also shared with us how critical Flickr has become to what they do and how they share. 

One of those first contacts we received really spoke to the importance and truly unique position Flickr occupied online. The team at the Library of Congress reached out to ask about the future of the Flickr Commons. This huge collection of public domain, cultural heritage works had been tirelessly digitized, curated, and uploaded to share with the entire world by over a hundred organizations. Those organizations included larger institutions like the Library of Congress, Smithsonian Institution, British Library and so many more. But it also contained much smaller organizations, opening collections to the public from all over the world.  

We already knew we would preserve these collections, but we wanted to do more than just focus on preservation. Millions of photos from hundreds of institutions is a huge collection, but it barely scratches the surface of public domain historic photography that still isn’t easily accessible to the general public. We were determined, but directionless. I couldn’t stop thinking about the opportunity to do something meaningful, but I really didn’t know where to start or how to prioritize what mattered. 

One night, while very unproductively thinking through the challenges, I sent a cold email to George Oates. More than a decade before, George had started this whole Flickr Commons project and laid the foundation I was now hoping to build upon. I simply reached out, and told her that I loved the Flickr Commons and I wanted to do more with that community. She answered my email, we met, and we fairly quickly went to work together to think through what the future of this preservation could look like. The scope of the project has dramatically expanded as our vision and mission became more clear, but it still all comes back to one simple idea. 

The Flickr Foundation is working to expand access to photographic history, and to preserve those photographs for generations to come. We’re also aware that our communities are documenting those histories right now. Flickr is full of events, both significant and small, that document our humanity. In order to truly preserve and share our photographic history, we must also build out a plan and a foundation for the living history on all our digital platforms. 

We’re doing this so that in 100 years, we aren’t just sharing millions of cultural heritage photographs. With the work of the Flickr Foundation, we’re creating a visual commons—a collective reference of our history and our humanity, accessible by anyone, anywhere. 

Hello, World!


Short version:
Welcome to the new home of the Flickr Foundation! We are a new US 501(c)(3) nonprofit dedicated to keeping the wonderful Flickr collection around for 100 years. Big goals, little steps.

What’s the story?
In December 2020, Ben MacAskill (President and COO of SmugMug + Flickr) asked me to return to the fold to figure out how to revitalize the Flickr Commons program. It took me a very short while to consider it before I accepted. I proposed a research project to assess what had changed in the program and the wider sector in the last decade, so a new strategy for the Commons could reflect contemporary practice and the needs of current and future members in the program

The research consisted mainly of interviews, literature review, group discussion, and quantitative analysis, and it was a pleasure. I produced two documents which, for the curious, I’ve linked to here:

Here are a few of the highlights:

  • There was a very warm public reception to this research starting, with a lot of hope for Flickr Commons.
  • Current active members want better stats. Today they’re only able to access the past 31 days of activity, and some had labored in Excel to create comparisons they needed to justify their work.
  • Current members remain concerned about the total lack of governance the program has suffered under. Less active or dormant members we interviewed said lack of governance was the reason they drifted away. There was no communication about future plans or provision of a contact person, and no shared sense of direction or commitment for the program.
  • The digital cultural sector has kept moving forward with open licensing and accompanying technical, legal, and procedural practice, but many still struggle to nurture meaningful audience engagement and almost universal reports of no time in the workplace remain. 
  • We find ourselves in a particular zeitgeist; a constellation of #blacklivesmatter, #metoo, worker’s rights, epidemiology, and a rise of nationalism. We need space for more complex historical perspectives


A big part of the strategy proposed was to create a new organization, a foundation, to run alongside the company. This organization would  develop a longer-term outlook for the collection, and investigate preservation strategies that could last for the next century. Ben agreed! So here we are.

The foundation’s mission is to make sure Flickr will be preserved for future generations. We are already working on the idea of a very long-term outlook, while acknowledging we don’t have enough voices in the mix yet. A major project will be the 100-year plan, and we’ve held several research workshops to begin to shape what such a plan should look like. It’s been interesting to begin thinking about how the foundation can and should partner with the company too. 

People & Partners

A large group has been working together to establish the foundation for about a year now. 

There are two people on the Board of Directors so far: Ryan Merkley, long-time open advocate and former CEO at Creative Commons and Chief of Staff at the Wikimedia Foundation, now Managing Director at Aspen Digital; and Stephanie McVey, SmugMug + Flickr’s Chief Financial Officer. Both Ryan and Stephanie have been hugely helpful already, and are a great compliment to the foundation. We plan to recruit more people to join the board, so please reach out if you have any recommendations.

The first Executive Director of the foundation is… me! George Oates. What a thrill and a pleasure it is to be doing this; not only as a curious designer, but as someone who is very proud of Flickr, and passionate about making our shared histories more accessible to more people. I feel very strongly that It’s not OK to delete such a huge piece of our shared cultural heritage, and we must address that risk now that we’re pouring our cultural heritage into online corporate platforms. Creating a new foundation is new territory for me professionally too, so I am extra happy for Stephanie and Ryan’s expertise, support, and guidance, and I’m really keen to bring more people into the team.

SmugMug + Flickr Volunteers

We certainly couldn’t have come as far as we have without the medium-sized flotilla of SmugMug + Flickr, Inc. volunteers and collaborators who have contributed their time and minds to bringing this new organization to life, including Ben, Cabb, Seville, Dimi, Veronica, Jill, Erin, Shannon, Leticia, Ves, Emily, Liz, Christine, Sarah, Stads, Rode, Andrew, Shane, Sean, Nikki, Craig, Navnit, Phil, Nathan, and more!

Advisory board

We have already enjoyed valuable input from lots of people, and we have plans to build our advisory group gradually. We also expect to form an advisory committee from within the Flickr Commons membership. It’s important to have people from all kinds of backgrounds and ages thinking together about this 100-year challenge we’ve set ourselves.

Our first group of advisors includes:

Funding partners

Our work to date has been directly funded by SmugMug + Flickr. We could not have come this far without it, and look forward to continuing to build this central relationship in the coming years.

Research partners

We have begun building an intersectional scholarly group involved in researching history, library science, gender studies, critical race theory, digital humanities, and archival practice. The group is already meeting monthly online and cooking up our first in-person meeting.

Our academic partners are:

Our programs

It’s probably obvious but also important to note that these programs are nascent. They’re a first pass at what we think the key elements of a long-term piece of cultural infrastructure could and should be addressing. One of our first key hires will be a program manager to help develop these programs.

  1. Flickr Commons
    Our flagship program, and current priority, we will work to restore and then grow the Flickr Commons, stabilizing and reconnecting with the 100+ international member organizations, and then looking to expand membership, particularly inviting institutions from the Global South, the Majority World. What could a 21st century Commons be?
  2. Content Mobility
    Flickr is a huge image waypoint online, and has had interoperability at its heart since it first started in 2004. This program is about researching and showing the life of an image before it lands on Flickr, when it’s on the platform, and where it goes once it’s published elsewhere.
  3. Creative Archives
    Flickr can do things traditional archives cannot. It’s made by millions of people from across the world, and holds billions of things. Its cataloging is socially generated, not standards-based. The consumer-grade technology is robust and the user base is international. And finally, the Flickr API was one of the first public APIs ever. Discuss.
  4. New Curators
    Flickr is already full of curators. Its curatorial tools include albums, galleries, tags, groups, and more. It’s a great online place for conversation too, and we hope this program can gather new influences and knowledge around historical collections and future epistemologies.

We’ll hiring in early 2023

Yes, that’s right. We’re just finalising the job descriptions on four roles: Program Manager, Tech Lead, Producer (community & events), and Archivist. Our plan is to let this first crew of five people settle in together, and then decide as a group how we should grow the team after that. Do keep your eye on our mailing list or @flickrfdn on Twitter for announcements about when the jobs go live.