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January 17, 2008

Flickr Commons

Via a tweet by @briankelly I discovered Flickr Commons, a collaboration between the Library of Congress and Flickr to "give you a taste of the hidden treasures in the huge Library of Congress collection" and to demonstrate "how your input of a tag or two can make the collection even richer".  There are more formal announcements here and here.

Brian's initial tweet generated a mini Twitter discussion (something that some people say Twitter isn't supposed to be used for though I tend to disagree).  The general consensus seemed to be that using the resources and tools of the private sector to widen access to public collections makes perfect sense, provided ownership of the data is retained - i.e. in this case it is OK because Flickr isn't Facebook! :-)  There are certainly some very, very obvious benefits in terms of visibility of content, size of audience, quality of user experience, and so on.

On that basis alone, this is a very interesting development and one that I'm sure many parts of the cultural heritage sector will be keeping a close eye on.  Congratulations to the Library of Congress and Flickr for getting their fingers out and doing something to bring these worlds together!  I'm guessing that the two collections that have been made available via Flickr so far are part of the American Memory collection - I haven't checked.  I'm also guessing that, like much of that collection, these images are effectively in the public domain?

As I've said before, what is frustrating for those of us in the UK about this development is that it is much harder to see this kind of thing happening here, where so many of our cultural collections are locked behind restrictive 'personal', 'educational' use licences.

Operating a hand drill at Vultee-Nashville, woman is working on a It'll be fascinating to see what kinds of tags people add.  The Flickr policy statement - "Any Flickr member is able to add tags or comment on these collections. If you're a dork about it, shame on you. This is for the good of humanity, dude!!" is short and to the point.  Like it!

I took a quick browse around the 1930s-40s in Color collection/set.  Here's a nice image (see right), now tagged with 'bandana', a word not in the original catalogue record as far as I can tell.  From there it is possible to navigate to other images in the collection with the same tag - there are three at the time of writing.  OK, so this isn't a earth-shattering example of user-generated content but you get the idea, and bandana researchers all over the world might well be hugely grateful to have three more resources at their disposal! :-)

It will also be interesting to see the kind of comments that people leave.  Hopefully we'll get beyond the use of 'wow' and 'awesome'!  Wouldn't it be great to see comments by the people (or their families or colleagues) in the photos.

Final thought... we've been making the point here for a while that Flickr is a repository and that the Flickr experience is a useful benchmark when we think about how repositories should look and feel - I think this kind of development makes that even more obvious.


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Hi Andy - I'm impressed with speed of your post on this annoucement. As I mentioned on Twitter, I agree with the benefits this can provide.

But I think your comment "[it] makes perfect sense, provided ownership of the data is retained - i.e. in this case it is OK because Flickr isn't Facebook! :-) " is misleading - the Facebook T&Cs state:

"Facebook does not assert any ownership over your User Content; rather, as between us and you, subject to the rights granted to us in these Terms, you retain full ownership of all of your User Content and any intellectual property rights or other proprietary rights associated with your User Content."

You don't hand over ownership of content to Facebook - you give them permission to make money from your content. There is a difference.

Two comments:

Firstly, the discussion on Twitter would have been easier to follow if it had been tagged, rather than via @

Secondly, the pictures are listed by a new Flickr copyright status of 'No known Copyright' - only available to the LoC collection (which is from the American Memory collection btw) - so, I guess that not only should Flickr and LoC be applauded, the truth is that LoC has no right to not share with commercial partners...

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