Fresh & New(er)

discussion of issues around digital media and museums by Seb Chan

Fresh & New(er) header image 2

Farewell George Oates

December 12th, 2008 by Seb Chan

Everyone here at the Powerhouse Museum was shocked today to hear that George Oates, the architect of the Commons on Flickr (and former designer behind Flickr), was laid off by Yahoo. Only last week was she presenting to our staff.

George was the conceptual mind behind the Commons – her ideas, passion and drive to expose and connect collections has created a large body of evidence that has been sorely required by the libraries, archives and museums sector. There now exists, thanks to George, solid evidence that obscure photographic collections are of interest to a wider public and worthy of digitisation and preservation; solid evidence that admitting that there are things that those in our sector don’t know about doesn’t damage institutional reputations; and that rather than diminish revenue form image sales, wider free access may actually increase them.

George was able to bring collections (and people) together in the past 12 months that we, within the sector, have found difficult to achieve in the past decade. She was and remains a cultural connector.

She will be sorely missed by all of us at the Museum and we hope that her work in establishing the Commons does not go to waste, and is not forgotten.

On a personal note, I am especially shocked and saddened by this news because just a few hours before George found out, she and I were presenting a joint workshop to delegates at the Culturemondo Roundtable. Here in Taipei, she has inspired people from Asia, Africa, and the rest of the world, to do more with and think more of their collections.

At Culturemondo we were not unaware of the political economy of the Internet. Geert Lovink had, only yesterday, reminded us all of the problems inherent in the way that many Internet companies have been founded and funded. A little later we were discussing the need for data portability in cloud computing. That this news would come on the same day was cruel indeed.

I’m sure that the company or organisation that George works for or establishes next will be as equally impactful as Flickr, but right now I’d like to send the most positive vibes possible to George in this difficult time.

Tags: 11 Comments

  • Paula Bray

    I am deeply saddened by this news. George has been a great influence and inspiration for me whilst working on the Commons project. She has achieved something amazing, connected collections and shared stories. I wish her all the best!

  • Bad news indeed – but with luck (and good vibes) I hope this turns into a positive opportunity for her.

  • I echo that. Best wishes George!

  • I am shocked as well – George is considered one of the best designer in the industry.

    Geogre wish you all the best of Luck!!

  • Very sorry to hear this. I’ve only heard George speak once but she’s insprirational and she’s just made so much stuff happen that most of us would have dismissed as too big a mountain. She’s got to have a bright future still, but I’m sure she’s feeling pretty crap right now. Good luck, George, and keep an eye on your creations, they’re quite a testament!

  • I know I speak for the hundreds of attendees to the recent National Digital Forum in Auckland, NZ, as well my team members at the National Library when I say that we were all shocked and saddened to hear this news.

    As very recent members of The Commons, I know part of the attraction of the project – in addition to being able to share our collections with a passionate and curious community – was the generosity and genuine interest George showed towards collecting institutions, and the work she did to bring us together in a new way.

  • This is awful news. I agree with the others: George is inspirational. The work she has done with Flickr and especially with the Commons – one of the most interesting things to happen with collecting organisations in a long time – is remarkable. And she does it with style and wit and kindness. I wish I could do more than just write this.

  • My years of observing corporate life, and more particularly in times of economic downturn, suggest that when the layoffs are coming be in your home office with high visibility to the bosses.

    As the man wrote at the Guardian link, cuts are often basically arbitrary.

    When the red pencil comes out, the most recent memories are the ones that count.

    As for Ms. Oates, she can get right over to Google and cash in on her unique experience and contacts file and help them set up more co-ventures like the Google – Life photographs project.

  • Also very shocked by this news. Georges had so many cool plans with the Commons project which she was working out. Alas. Somehow I suspect she will do all this stuff anyway, only in a different context. I wish her all the best!

  • I’m shocked. I can’t think of much to say except good luck. I always wondered about the future of flickr. Are the dark clouds gathering?

  • I can only echo the sentiments left by others. A sad day for Flickr. I know it must be very hard but hopefully it will be a great opportunity for George to move onto bigger & better things. It can only be a matter of time before Yahoo decides to sell Flickr – probably to Microsoft.
    Good luck George our thoughts are with you.