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:
- Research Report – Flickr Commons Revitalization and Strategy 2021-2023 – Flickr Commons Revitalization
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!
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:
- Commons and libraries specialist, Jennie Rose Halperin,
- HCI/CogSci research leader and director of UX, Elizabeth F. Churchill, and
- Strategist and co-founder of Foundation for Public Code, Ben Cerveny.
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.
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:
- University of Edinburgh’s Edinburgh Futures Institute, particularly the Design Informatics cluster led by Professor Melissa Terras, which explores digital humanities, big computing, the value of arts and culture, and the creative industries.
- Dr. Temi Odumosu is at the University of Washington Information School, and we’ll be exploring long-term thinking, archive excavation, and historical and colonial representation.
- The School of Advanced Study in London, with Professor Jane Winters, looking at web-native archiving, images, ideas, and society.
- Photographer and social practice artist Eliza Gregory is at the Department of Design, Sacramento State, and we’ll be collaborating about social practice art, community development, a century of exhibitions, and photography curricula.
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.
- 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?
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.