Data Lifeboat Update 2: More questions than answers

By Ewa Spohn

Thanks to the Digital Humanities Advancement Grant we were awarded by the National Endowment for the Humanities, our Data Lifeboat project (which is part of the Content Mobility Program) is now well and truly underway. The Data Lifeboat is our response to the challenge of archiving the 50 billion or so images currently on Flickr, should the service go down. It’s simply too big to archive as a whole, and we think that these shared histories should be available for the long term, so we’re exploring a decentralized approach. Find out more about the context for this work in our first blog post.

So, after our kick-off last month, we were left with a long list of open questions. That list became longer thanks to our first all-hands meeting that took place shortly afterwards! It grew again once we had met with the project user group – staff from the British Library, San Diego Air & Space Museum, and Congregation of Sisters of St Joseph – a small group representing the diversity of Flickr Commons members. Rather than being overwhelmed, we were buoyed by the obvious enthusiasm and encouragement across the group, all of whom agreed that this is very much an idea worth pursuing. 

As Mia Ridge from the British Library put it; “we need ephemeral collections to tell the story of now and give people who don’t currently think they have a role in preservation a different way of thinking about it”. And from Mary Grace of the Congregation of Sisters of St. Joseph in Canada, “we [the smaller institutions] don’t want to be the 3rd class passengers who drown first”. 

Software sketching

We’ve begun working on the software approach to create a Data Lifeboat, focussing on the data model and assessing existing protocols we may use to help package it. Alex and George started creating some small prototypes to test how we should include metadata, and have begun exploring what “social metadata” could be like – that’s the kind of metadata that can only be created on Flickr, and is therefore a required element in any Data Lifeboat (as you’ll see from the diagram below, it’s complex). 


Feb 2024: An early sketch of a Data Lifeboat’s metadata graph structure.

Thanks to our first set of tools, Flinumeratr and Flickypedia, we have robust, reusable code for getting photos and metadata from Flickr. We’ve done some experiments with JSON, XML, and METS as possible ways to store the metadata, and started to imagine what a small viewer that would be included in each Data Lifeboat might be like. 

Complexity of long-term licensing

Alongside the technical development we have started developing our understanding of the legal issues that a Data Lifeboat is going to have to navigate to avoid unintended consequences of long-term preservation colliding with licenses set in the present. We discussed how we could build care and informed participation into the infrastructure, and what the pitfalls might be. There are fiddly questions around creating a Data Lifeboat containing photos from other Flickr members. 

  • As the image creator, would you need to be notified if one of your images has been added to a Data Lifeboat? 
  • Conversely, how would you go about removing an image from a Data Lifeboat? 
  • What happens if there’s a copyright dispute regarding images in a Data Lifeboat that is docked somewhere else? 

We discussed which aspects of other legal and licensing models might apply to Data Lifeboats, given the need to maintain stewardship and access over the long term (100 years at least!), as well as the need for the software to remain usable over this kind of time horizon. This isn’t something that the world of software has ready answers for. 

  • Could Flickr.org offer this kind of service? 
  • How would we notify future users of the conditions of the license, let alone monitor the decay of licenses in existing Data Lifeboats over this kind of timescale? 

So many standards to choose from

We had planned to do a deep dive into the various digital asset management systems used by cultural institutions, but this turned out to be a trickier subject than we thought as there are simply too many approaches, tools, and cobbled-together hacks being used in cultural institutions. Everyone seems to be struggling with this, so it’s not clear (yet) how best to approach this. If you have any ideas, let us know!

This work is supported by the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Data Lifeboat Update 2: More questions than answers

By Ewa Spohn

Thanks to the Digital Humanities Advancement Grant we were awarded by the National Endowment for the Humanities, our Data Lifeboat project (which is part of the Content Mobility Program) is now well and truly underway. The Data Lifeboat is our response to the challenge of archiving the 50 billion or so images currently on Flickr, should the service go down. It’s simply too big to archive as a whole, and we think that these shared histories should be available for the long term, so we’re exploring a decentralized approach. Find out more about the context for this work in our first blog post.

So, after our kick-off last month, we were left with a long list of open questions. That list became longer thanks to our first all-hands meeting that took place shortly afterwards! It grew again once we had met with the project user group – staff from the British Library, San Diego Air & Space Museum, and Congregation of Sisters of St Joseph – a small group representing the diversity of Flickr Commons members. Rather than being overwhelmed, we were buoyed by the obvious enthusiasm and encouragement across the group, all of whom agreed that this is very much an idea worth pursuing. 

As Mia Ridge from the British Library put it; “we need ephemeral collections to tell the story of now and give people who don’t currently think they have a role in preservation a different way of thinking about it”. And from Mary Grace of the Congregation of Sisters of St. Joseph in Canada, “we [the smaller institutions] don’t want to be the 3rd class passengers who drown first”. 

Software sketching

We’ve begun working on the software approach to create a Data Lifeboat, focussing on the data model and assessing existing protocols we may use to help package it. Alex and George started creating some small prototypes to test how we should include metadata, and have begun exploring what “social metadata” could be like – that’s the kind of metadata that can only be created on Flickr, and is therefore a required element in any Data Lifeboat (as you’ll see from the diagram below, it’s complex). 


Feb 2024: An early sketch of a Data Lifeboat’s metadata graph structure.

Thanks to our first set of tools, Flinumeratr and Flickypedia, we have robust, reusable code for getting photos and metadata from Flickr. We’ve done some experiments with JSON, XML, and METS as possible ways to store the metadata, and started to imagine what a small viewer that would be included in each Data Lifeboat might be like. 

Complexity of long-term licensing

Alongside the technical development we have started developing our understanding of the legal issues that a Data Lifeboat is going to have to navigate to avoid unintended consequences of long-term preservation colliding with licenses set in the present. We discussed how we could build care and informed participation into the infrastructure, and what the pitfalls might be. There are fiddly questions around creating a Data Lifeboat containing photos from other Flickr members. 

  • As the image creator, would you need to be notified if one of your images has been added to a Data Lifeboat? 
  • Conversely, how would you go about removing an image from a Data Lifeboat? 
  • What happens if there’s a copyright dispute regarding images in a Data Lifeboat that is docked somewhere else? 

We discussed which aspects of other legal and licensing models might apply to Data Lifeboats, given the need to maintain stewardship and access over the long term (100 years at least!), as well as the need for the software to remain usable over this kind of time horizon. This isn’t something that the world of software has ready answers for. 

  • Could Flickr.org offer this kind of service? 
  • How would we notify future users of the conditions of the license, let alone monitor the decay of licenses in existing Data Lifeboats over this kind of timescale? 

So many standards to choose from

We had planned to do a deep dive into the various digital asset management systems used by cultural institutions, but this turned out to be a trickier subject than we thought as there are simply too many approaches, tools, and cobbled-together hacks being used in cultural institutions. Everyone seems to be struggling with this, so it’s not clear (yet) how best to approach this. If you have any ideas, let us know!

This work is supported by the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Welcome, Susan!

Introducing Susan Mernit, Our New Development Lead

Hello, Flickr family and friends! I’m Susan Mernit, stepping into the role of Development Lead for the Flickr Foundation. My journey with Flickr began in 2004, the vibrant early days of digital photography. With nearly 5,000 snapshots—capturing everything from adventurous trips to China, Korea, and Peru to countless moments at tech gatherings—Flickr has been my digital photo album. Reflecting on those days, it’s not only the images that resonate, it’s the stories they tell and the community they’ve fostered.

Before joining this brilliant team, I led as Executive Director at The Crucible in Oakland, California, an innovative hub for artisan arts, and co-founded Hack the Hood, a nonprofit that helps low-income youth of color build skills for tech careers. My very first full-time job was as a community manager at a poetry organization, and I worked my way through college in the library.  With a history in the tech world—including time at Yahoo that overlapped with the Flickr acquisition—my career has been shaped around community engagement, open-source,  and product innovation.

So what am I going to do exactly?

Working alongside George, our visionary Executive Director, my goal is clear: to ensure the Flickr Foundation secures the resources to turn our 100-year plan into a 100-year reality. From cultivating relationships with foundations and corporate partners to reaching out to our global community of individual supporters, my job is to help build a sustainable future for the Foundation.

Beyond my professional life, I find balance and strength in weightlifting, Iyengar yoga, and hiking around the SF Bay area.  I am a compulsive reader, enjoying literary fiction, biographies, and books about tech, economics, and business.  My most used app on my phone is a US library platform called Libby. I welcome recommendations for great reads—let me know when you have one. 

Our plan for 2024: Flickr Commons & Data Lifeboat & the 100-year Plan

Find out more about our nefarious schemes for the coming year…

 

When I do planning, I usually carve it up along three axes: Projects, Pipeline, and People. I want to keep our project list very short in 2024. That allows us to focus more deeply, I think, and spend time thinking and waxing and wandering a bit as we map the new terrain of our mission, to keep Flickr images visible for 100 years.

Projects

There are three main flows of project work for the team:

  1. Flickr Commons nurturing and growing
  2. Start Data Lifeboat
  3. Continue 100-year plan ideation and workshopping

Flickr Commons

Flickr Commons turned 16 years old last week. To celebrate, we launched the first instantiation of a new front door which lives at commons.flickr.org. The intent is to help Commons fans explore the different members’ collections more easily, and get a sense of recent activity across the aggregate. We hope to do another handful of releases over this year and beyond.

The other good news is that we’re nearly, finally, ready to welcome new members into the program. The software that supported new registrations and members had decayed a bit over the last decade, so, working with the company team—thanks Ruppel et al—we’ve co-designed a new set of Commons-specific APIs that will help the Foundation really lean into supporting Flickr Commons members from now on.

We are going to build: 1) a new registration form, 2) improved onboarding resources/workflow, 3) the new discovery layer you can now see at commons.flickr.org, and 4) better admin tools for the team to watch over the health of the program, and the happiness of our members. This will all be rolling out in the first half of this year. I don’t have a date for our first new tranche of members, but rest assured, we’ll let you know!

Later in the year, we want to find out a lot more about Flickr members interact with Flickr Commons and see if we can support them to more easily keep track of their input and progress. If you fit into this group, we’d like to know you!

Data Lifeboat

Last year, we applied to the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) to develop a first set of prototyping for our Data Lifeboat concept. That’s the idea that we should actually plan for a possible end of flickr.com, developing “lifeboats” that can carry Flickr photos to other places if the big ship goes down. It was gratifying that the NEH decided to support this first block of work.

Our framing for the grant is to create two identical lifeboats containing Flickr pictures, “objective metadata” like EXIF, and a first crack at “social metadata”—the stuff that is only created on Flickr—because we think that’s essential for longer term contextual, archival framing of the existence of a Flickr photo. After all, on Flickr (and off) a photo is a social object, that is discussed, arranged, annotated, pointed at, and displayed, and EXIF data (the data that is created when a digital camera takes a photograph) falls short.

We’re planning to post NEH-grant-specific updates the blog at the end of each month, so stay tuned for that. (I’d better write that next!)

The 100-year plan

I don’t have a structure or plan written yet. But, I’ve really enjoyed all the discussions I’ve had about the idea, and especially the various workshops we’ve run in different groups about the idea. Basically, the workshop is called How to write a 100-year plan and my opening gambit is “I don’t know, what do you think” and conversation ensues.

We do hope to be able to at least get that workshop into a form where you might be able to run it without us. We’d let you know about that too.

Pipeline

We’re just over one year old, launching officially in November 2022. We’ve had an amazing start, thanks to support from SmugMug and our first cornerstone funder, Filecoin Foundation for the Decentralized Web. Since then, we’ve figured out how to accept donations of cash online via Stripe, and even stock donations! We’ve sketched out the grants we’re planning to apply for too.

People

Ewa Spohn, who also helped write the NEH grant for Data Lifeboat, has joined the crew to manage the project. With a background in mechanical engineering, program management, and people-arranging, we’re lucky to have her! Welcome, Ewa!

We’ve brought on a new part-time team member to help wrangle our Pipeline work, Susan Mernit. (Check out her sledgehammer!!) A veteran of the tech industry, Susan changed gears to lead two non-profits in California, to great success. She’s now working with nonprofits to help shore up their development plans and strategy, and we’re very glad she’s come on board to support us.

And, in case you missed it, we’re hiring: Our first job ad for this year is Archivist. It’s live now, closing January 31st.

Welcome, Jenn!

Meet the Foundation’s first ever Research Fellow!

It is with great pleasure that I introduce you to the Flickr Foundation’s inaugural research fellow, Jenn. In her own words…

Hi I’m Jenn Phillips-Bacher, the Flickr Foundation’s first-ever Research Fellow. I’ve been a Flickr user since 2007 when my first public photos were taken on a point-and-shoot digital camera. Oh, how the quality of photos have improved since then! It’s an absolute marvel to be able to trawl decades worth of (ever-improving) photography, still, in one place.

Before joining Flickr Foundation, I was most recently a Product Manager at Wellcome Collection, working to make its library and archive collections accessible to as many people as possible. I’ve also recently been a content strategist at the UK’s Government Digital Service where I focussed on tagging and taxonomies to help people find stuff. I’ve also been a web editor, project manager, reference librarian and technology trainer, all within the GLAM (that’s galleries, libraries, archives and museums) world.

My modus operandi for the 20+ years of my career has been to 1) find interesting work to do with kind people and 2) labor for the public good. That’s why I am delighted and honored to be part of Flickr Foundation’s efforts to preserve and sustain our digital heritage.

So what does it mean to be a research fellow?

Given my career history, I’d never considered that I could be a Research Fellow. I used to think research fellowships were reserved for academics (“real” researchers), which I resolutely am not. I’m still figuring out what it does mean to be a research fellow, but here’s where I’ve settled for now: a research fellowship allows me to take time out of normal life for learning and thinking while offering a practical benefit to the Flickr Foundation. That means I’ll use my research skills honed as a librarian and product manager to seek out existing knowledge and expertise, connecting the dots along the way, in order to help shape the Flickr Foundation’s work.

As the fellowship progresses, I’ll write more about what it’s like to move from a digital practitioner role into a Research Fellow role.

My research focus

My research is aimed at the Content Mobility program where I’m specifically interested in how we might design a Data Lifeboat. Not only the logistics of creating a portable archive of any facet of Flickr, but also how to plan for a digital collection’s ‘good ending’. I’ve always been interested in the idea of digital weeding—removing digital collections that no longer serve their purpose, as librarians do with physical materials. As we become more aware of the environmental impact of any digital activity, including online access and long-term preservation, we need to be even more intentional with what we save and what we let go.

As a complementary bit of research, I’ll be digging into the carbon costs of digital collections. I’m curious to see whether there’s something useful to do here that would help the GLAM sector make carbon-conscious digital collection decisions. (If you or anyone you know is already doing this work, I’d love to meet you/them!)

What else? When not working, I can be found nosing around galleries and museums and perambulating around cities in search of human-friendly architecture and good cafes. And like anyone who’s ever lived in Chicago, I have Opinions on hot dogs.

Superdawg drive-in

Photo by jordanfischer, CC BY 2.0.

Welcome to the team, Alex!

I’m very excited to introduce you to Alex Chan, who joined us this week as the Foundation’s first Tech Lead.

We’ve known since Day 1 that we wanted the Flickr Foundation to make things, and not just talk about things. It’s an important way for us to express our mission and long term hope. We know it’s a huge challenge to make Flickr images visible for 100 years, and, while technology is certainly a big factor, meaningful future-proofing of our approaches and tools and documentation will also be key.

That’s why I was so excited when Alex Chan applied for the Tech Lead position. They’ve joined us from Wellcome Collection, where they have led software engineering for digital preservation efforts for several years. We knew we needed an engineer who actually enjoys documentation and creating code that’s clear, tested, and is designed to be re-run by someone else. The code we write today will become the foundational stones of our future approaches, and the Tech Lead must be very focused on that all the time.

Apart from writing great code, Alex is also into noodling about with complex cross-stitching, and we’re already working on a first “toy” we’re hoping to publish very soon, but I’ll leave Alex to tell you about that.

Welcome, Alex!

A millions-of-things pile: Why we need a Collection Development Policy for Flickr Commons

Flickr is a photo-sharing website and has always been about connecting people through photography. It is different from a generic image-hosting service. Flickr Commons, the program launched in 2008 for museums, libraries, and archives to share their photography collections, is different again: it’s about sharing photography collections with a very big audience, and providing tools to help people to contribute information and knowledge about the pictures, ideally to supplement whatever catalogue information already exists.

A collection development policy is a framework for information institutions like libraries, archives and museums to define what they collect, and importantly, what they don’t collect. It’s an important part of maintaining a coherent and valuable collection while trends and technologies change and advance around the organisation. We think it’s time for the Flickr Commons to have a policy like this.

As the Flickr Commons collection grows, we’re seeing all kinds of images in there: photographs, maps, documents, drawings, museum objects, book scans, and more. Therefore, one aspect of the policy is to ask our members to use of Flickr’s “Content-Type” field to improve the way their images can be categorised and found in search. 

Why are we asking Flickr Commons members to categorise their images?

Since the program launched in 2008, the Flickr Commons has grown to also include illustrations, maps, letters, book scans, and other imagery. The default setting for uploads across all accounts is content_type=Photo, so if you don’t alter that default for new uploads, every image is classified as a photo. This starts to break down if you upload, say, the Engrossed Declaration of Independence, or, a wood engraving of Bloodletting Instruments.

One of the largest Flickr Commons accounts is the great and good British Library, which famously published 1 million illustrations into the program in 2013, announcing:

The images themselves cover a startling mix of subjects: There are maps, geological diagrams, beautiful illustrations, comical satire, illuminated and decorative letters, colourful illustrations, landscapes, wall-paintings and so much more that even we are not aware of… We are looking for new, inventive ways to navigate, find and display these ‘unseen illustrations’. ”

A million first steps by Ben O’Steen, 12 December 2013

Because the default setting for uploads is content_type=Photos, it meant that every search on Flickr Commons was inundated with “the beige 19th Century.” Those images had, by default, been categorised as Photos, but instead were millions of pictures from 17th, 18th, and 19th-century books. 

Earlier this year, the British Library team adjusted the images in their account to set them as “Illustration/Art” and not Photos. But, that had the effect of “hiding” their content from general, default-set searches. This unintentional hiding raised a little alarm with their followers (who were used to seeing the book scans in their searching), some of whom wrote in to ask what had happened. And rightly so, because it had yet to be explained to them by us or by the search interface.

The Backstory

In any aggregated system of cultural materials, you get colossal variegation. Humans describe things differently, no matter how many professional standards we try to implement. Last year, in 2022, the Flickr Commons was mostly a vast swathe of images from scanned book pages. Not photographs, per se, or things created first as photographs. 

There have been two uploads into Flickr Commons of over one million things. The first one was in 2013, by the British Library, whose intention was to ask the community to help describe the million or so book illustrations they had carefully organised with book structure metadata and described using clever machine tags. The BL team was also careful to avoid annoying the Flickr API spirits by carefully pacing their uploading not to cause any alerts. Since then, they have built a community around the collection for over a decade now, cultivating the creative reuse, inspiration and research in the imagery, primarily through the British Library Labs initiative.

The second gigantic upload, in 2014, was (also) mostly images cropped by a computer program. Created by a solo developer working in a Yahoo Research fellowship, the code was run over an extensive collection of content in Internet Archive (IA) book digitization program to crop out images on scanned book pages. Those were shoved into flickr.com using the API. The developer immediately reached the free account limits, so they negotiated through Yahoo senior management that these millions of images should become part of the Flickr Commons program in an Internet Archive Book Images (IABI) account. Since the developer was also loosely associated with the Internet Archive (IA), IA agreed to be the institutional partner in the Flickr Commons. That’s a requirement of joining the program—that the account is held by an organisation, not an individual. 

These two uploads utterly overwhelmed the smaller Flickr Commons photography collections, even as the two approaches were so different. 

Here’s a graph from April 2022 data that shows all Commons members on the x-axis, and their upload counts on the y-axis.


The IABI account is 5x larger than all the other accounts combined. If you remove the two giants from the data, the average upload per account is just under 3,000 pictures.

These whopper accounts both have billions of views overall. These view counts are unsurprising, given that they completely dominated all search results in Flickr Commons. While the Flickr Commons’ first goal has always been to “increase public access to photography collections”, its secondary—and in my opinion, much more interesting—goal is to “provide a way for the public to contribute information.”

You can see from the two following graphs that a big photo count doesn’t imply deeper engagement. In fact, we’ve seen the opposite is true, and the Flickr Commons members who enjoy the strongest engagement are those who spend time and effort to engage. Drip-feeding content—and not dumping it all at once—will also help viewers to keep up and get a good view of what is being published.


The fifth account in the most-faved data is the fabulous National Library of Ireland, with about 3,000 photos then, which excels at community engagement, demonstrated by its 181,000 faves.


In the comments data, IABI ranks 21st (~3,000), and British Library 27th (~2,000). The top-commented accounts are all in a groove of stellar community engagement.

Employees working in small archives (or large ones, for that matter) simply cannot compete with a content production software program that auto-generates a crop of an image in a book scan and its associated automated many-word metadata. At the Flickr Foundation, we have a place in our hearts for the smaller cultural organisations and want to actively support their online engagements through the Flickr Commons program.

I remember when the IABI account went live. Even though I wasn’t working at Flickr or at the Flickr Foundation at the time, I thought it was a mistake to allow such a vast blast of not-photographs into the Flickr Commons, particularly the second massive collection, mainly because it had been so broadly described, meaning it would turn up content in every search.

Fast forward to last year, in April, when—as my strange first step as Executive Director—I decided in consultation and agreement with the staff at IA to act. We agreed to delete the gargantuan Internet Archive Book Images (IABI) account.

A couple of weeks later, people realised it had happened, and a riot of “Flickr is destroying the public domain” posts popped up. I had not prepared for this reaction, which is the opposite tone I want the Flickr Foundation to set! I’d consulted with the Internet Archive, and a consensus had been reached. But, I was also ignorant of the community enjoying the IABI account—I had presumed there was no community engagement since nobody had logged into the IABI account since just after the giant upload had happened in 2014. That was a mistake, I readily admit, but in my defence, the IA team echoed that same impression when we discussed it. The lone developer (who didn’t work at IA) had uploaded the millions of book images and did not engage with the community. The images were generated from lots of different institutions’ collections digitised through the Internet Archive’s wonderful book scanning initiative. Unfortunately, correct attribution for each institution had not been included in the initial metadata produced for each image. (This was later rectified by a code rewrite by Smithsonian Libraries and Archives, with support from Flickr engineering.) In some cases the content was known to have no copyright—so didn’t fit in the Flickr Commons’ “no known copyright restrictions” assertion and could/should have been declared public domain materials—along with the content_type=Photo declaration, and broad, auto-generated metadata (along with some tagging to group images into their books, for example). In other words, a millions-of-things mess. 

Despite my hesitation, we decided to restore the entire account. This scale of restoration is an incredible engineering feat and an indication of the world-class team working behind the scenes at Flickr. We also set the correct content type designation and adjusted the licences on the restored images to CC0 as Internet Archive does not claim any rights for them. This has the benefit of making them more clearly classified for reuse. 

What we are doing about it

We need to be more restrained when it comes to digital commonses. These huge piles of stuff sound great, but they are not often made with care by people. They’re generated en masse by computers and thrown online. (As a related aside, look to the millions of licensed pieces of content that are mined and inhaled to improve AI programs as their licences are ignored.) 

The British Library acknowledged this, asking for interaction and effort from interested people, and stated explicitly that their 1 million images were “wholly uncurated.” People ultimately enjoyed hunting around in a millions-of-things pile for illustrations of things and made some beautiful responses to them. Indeed, one person managed to add 45,000 tags to the British Library’s Flickr Commons content. 45,000!

Perhaps I’m about to contradict myself again and say this scale of access at a base level was good, at least for computers and computation. But, it wasn’t good inside the Flickr Commons program, and that’s why we need the Collection Development Policy so we can encourage and nurture the seeing, enjoyment and contributions to our shared photographic history we always wanted.

And that’s why we’re drafting the new policy in collaboration with the membership, so we can help Flickr Commons members know how to hold the shape of the container we’ve created instead of bursting it. 

With thanks to Josh Hadro, Martin Kalfatovic, Nora McGregor, Mia Ridge, Alexis Rossi, and Jessamyn West for your time and feedback on this post.

Flickr Commons: About Content Type and Advanced Search

This is a sister post to A millions-of-things pile: Why we need a Collection Development Policy for Flickr Commons. We’re writing this because our new policy changes what turns up in Flickr Commons searches.

Images can be categorised as Photos, Screenshots, Illustration/Art, Virtual Photos, or Videos on Flickr. The default setting for uploads across all accounts is content_type=Photo, so if you don’t alter that default for new uploads, every image is classified as a photo. This starts to break down if you upload, say, the Engrossed Declaration of Independence, or, a wood engraving of Bloodletting Instruments.

Therefore, we’ve launched our new Collection Development Policy to ask Flickr Commons members to classify their images more specifically.

Default search settings

Searching on Flickr defaults to only showing content_type=Photos and Videos. That default means that if one of the Flickr Commons members does change the content type for their uploads, those other types will fall out of the default search results.


This is the default setting: Photos and Videos

We know this can come as a surprise to viewers who were familiar with how things worked before we started asking Flickr Commons members to use the new policy. That surprise isn’t great, so we’re working on addressing it, and working with the flickr.com Customer Support team to get documentation online.

Part of that work is to show how the search works, so you can broaden it to include other content types. To do this, you open up the Advanced Search panel—on the right, under the header search box—and look for the “Content” heading. You can select or remove the different types of content as you wish.


Here you see a different selection: Photos and Illustration/Art

If you want to share around a list of search results that also contain, say, images cropped from page scans of old books (which would now be marked as content type=Illustration/Art), you can see that these settings will show up in the search URLs as parameters if you change them, like this:

https://flickr.com/search/?is_commons=1&text=smile&content_types=0%2C2

Those parameters highlighted in bold tell you the search is filtering for Photos [0] and [%2C] Illustrations/Art [2]. So, as you adjust your content type settings, you can share URLs that will take other people straight there without needing to adapt their Advanced settings.

We know this is a bit fiddly, but your default settings—whether on upload or as you search—should stick if you ever adjust them.

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!

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.