Fresh & New(er)

discussion of issues around digital media and museums by Seb Chan

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Community resilience – the emerging Commons community

January 8th, 2009 by Seb Chan

Courtney at the National Library of NZ beat me to it but as she writes, Flickr staff and Flickr users have visibly self-organised to grow the Commons on Flickr.

There’s a new public Flickr Commons group on Flickr and today, a new Commons blog – Indicommons. These point of presence are acting as meeting places for Flickr users helping research and explore the images that have been placed in the Commons

This has been a very heartening response from the community to the unexpected departure of George Oates. It is also a very positive initial rebuttal to the early fears that the Commons might disappear (which was very unlikely to happen unless Yahoo pulled the plug on Flickr altogether).

But as we’ve seen with recent announcements from Google, AOL and others, niche projects – even popular ones – can disappear overnight in the current economic climate. It is also a reminder that social media platforms like Flickr, and user-generated content as a whole, pose a huge conundrum – being community-built assets under corporate ownership.

Whose data is it?

Whilst Paula Bray is engaging with this emergent community, I am particularly interested in how the geographic makeup of this self-organising community evolves. The majority of Flickr users are still from North America and there had been a focus on keeping a good balance in the Commons of material from other parts of the world.

At the Powerhouse we’ve been uploading more quirky photos from the Phillips Collection and there are still more to come over the next couple of weeks.

Tags: 2 Comments

  • I’ve been pondering some similar questions and issues surrounding The commons, Seb. In no particular order I’ll jot some points.

    – I’ve thought for quite some time that Flickr may not be self-funding. It’s really hard to find any (public) financial figures for Flickr as a business unit. From what I see of the online advertising associated with Flickr, I doubt it is generating much revenue. The server and data storage costs for Flickr are likely huge. Yahoo has had some financial issues this past year, even apart from the economic vortex engulfing much of the world and most industries. There are however untapped sources of revenue which may make Flickr viable by itself, but which may also hasten a spin off from yahoo, namely stock photo rights. viz this blog post:

    http://www.danheller.com/blog/posts/pulling-flickr-sword-out-of-yahoo-stone.html

    My conclusion is that flickr is a very valuable property which is not being utilised fullly to produce revenue. Either Yahoo’s present management will eventually act on it, or future management will act on it. Flickr will not disappear.

    – I’m not privy to the Terms of Service the instutions which form The Commons have signed (and don’t need to be) but for average joes like me, it’s coverered by section 9 b. of Yahoo’s ToS. Stuff I uploadt can be used by Yahoo for the purpose for which I have submitted it until I withdraw it.

    I hope that even if Flickr or The Commons goes belly up that people like you will be able to look back and be satisfied that at least you set free some of that “no known copyright” property which would otherwise have been much less visited on your own websites.

    And whose data is it? Well, as “no known copyright” it now belongs to the world. If Yahoo and Flickr fall over, all of the images on The Commons are searchable via Google, and presently live on Google cache. They will still live there if Flickr and Yahoo die.

    There’s all sorts of reasons why Flickr users are still mainly North American centric, but the Library of Congress’ move yesterday to liberate 169 of their photochrom travel views of Europe by posting them to Flckr is a move to attract interest from outside the USA, methinks.

    – I’ve read a number of times that there are a several more institutions lined up for The Commons, but nothing has happened since the New York Public Library debuted on December 10, 2008. George Oates, you’ll recall got the bag on December 11. When new institutional members number 18, number 19 and number 20 actually make it to face the public on The Commons then I’ll be more confident it has lungs and a heart.

    – The new Flickr group is a good thing, and there is much enthusiasm there. There may be some disparate aims amongst the group members (of which I am one) and we’ll see if altruism remains the guiding light. The cynic in me doubts it.

    -The indicommons blog is an interesting innovation and can do much to publicise The Commons on Flickr. In some ways more easily readable and navigable than the group discussions within the Flickr group for The Commons – but its an awful lot of work for the people involved. I wish them well.

    – A much more powerful way to publiscise The Commons would be a corner on the home page of Yahoo’s search engine ( http://www.yahoo.com/ )with an everchanging photograph from The Commons and a link through to the image on Flickr. higher profile, wider audience, more hits. But Flickr itself doesn’t even have a corner of that page, which tells you more than you need to know about the priority of Flickr to the Yahoo organisation.

    – Just like what has come to be the Library of Congress’s concern about the USA centric nature of the Bain collection and their 1930s and 1940s images has led them to put up the photochrom travel views, The Phillips Collection plates have plenty of universal appeal as opposed to the Tyrrell Collection stuff and the Clyde Engineering stuff – and I think the comments garnered by the unusual Phillips images are already showing that.

    – For all The Commons institutions the issue of the resource appetite of users’ comments and the sometimes required responses is a vexed one. This is a budgetary issue and a resource allocation issue – and these things can rarely be solved ad hoc. Build it and the Flickr users will come, but perhaps not with money.

    For some of the answers, we await some published figures including $$ from several institutions of The Commons.

  • Ok, I declare that The Commons on Flickr has got legs. Since I wrote my comment above:

    Number 18 – National Galleries of Scotland
    Number 19 – State Library of Queensland, Australia
    Number 20 – State Archives of Florida
    Number 21 – Oregon State University Archives

    have joined the party. Yay!