Commons on Flickr: an interview with Bob Meade (part two)

This is the second part of our interview with Bob Meade. (Read the first part)

Bob Meade has been one of our most prolific ‘friends’ on Flickr. He has done an enormous amount of tagging, added a great deal of additional research to our images, and was the man behind the discovery of the Mosman Bay Falls.

I am posting this with the permission of Bob, with the intention of helping other cultural institutions learn more about behaviour online, and to also begin to understand the opportunities that now exist to engage audiences around collections and other content. These stories, ultimately, are far more powerful and important qualitative research than raw usage figures.

I have made only minor edits to the transcript so bear with the conversational tone and flow.

If you find this useful and would like to cite it in research papers and the like, I would appreciate it if you would tell me about it in the comments or via email.

To read more about the Museum’s experience of the Commons on Flickr read our three month report.

Hobbies, identity, reputation, and etiquette

Paula: So, you’ve kind of answered a lot of questions for me, but the work that you do on the common, is very prolific, and you do a lot of research. So is that part of your background that you had in previous work?

Bob: Well, a man’s got to have a hobby and I like being enthusiastic about my hobbies, so I get satisfaction out of looking at something and I am inspired by the Earl Morris/Roger Fenton thing that I was talking about before.

I think there’s a lot of things in photographs that I now look at closely and enjoy looking at closely and analyzing details to try and discover something that may have been not realized was there or not officially noted or not noticed by other people. I find it exciting discovering something.

Seb: Have you become a bigger user of Flickr, the comments. Have you re-engaged with your own, putting your own images up on Flickr now?

Bob: Yes and yes. Part of the etiquette of Flickr seems to be that, if you want to be valued as a Flickrite, you should have something on there, of your own, that cannot be found anywhere else. So I’ve tried to put up just a few images that reflect some of my interests, mainly in military and naval history so that when I comment on some of the groups to do with those topics, people can come back and say, oh, yeah, this guy’s got an interest and also some potentially valuable images.

Because I’ve got a private collection of photographs that belonged to my father, relating to his World War II service, I’ve got access to some images that thus far I’ve seen nowhere else in Australia. That’s sort of tantalizing bit of value.

But also because I have the interest in blogging, part of the question is which place to choose to put content up to – put it on my blog or put it on Flickr?

Mainly, my feeling at the moment is just put it up on Flickr to grab a little bit of interest, but what I really would rather spend my time on is blogging on my own blog. 

Where to focus energies – blogs or Flickr?

Seb: Because you are a blogger, have you or would you review the material that the Museum puts up and others put up in your own blog to contextualize it, write about it, flesh it out in more detail?

Bob: Well, one of the things that I noticed on Matt Raymond’s Library of Congress blog was that they were very interested that someone went to the trouble to recreate a photo, from one of the World War II era sort of color transparencies. As soon as I saw the Tyrrell collection photos, particularly of things around Sydney, I immediately thought, hey, I could use this on my blog.

This would be great for a ‘Sydney Then and Now’. I could use a Tyrrell collection photo, take my own photo, and it’ll be something that’ll be interesting on my blogs. Some good content, and something that I would enjoy doing, going to particular spots saying, “how close can I get to the exact spot that this other photo was taken from?”

Then the Museum started the Tyrrell Today Group, and I thought, “OK, it’s a good idea. I won’t use that for my own blog” – because that seems to be sort of rude since you had your own idea, to do exactly the same thing.

If I put any effort into that (by taking contemporary photographs to match the old Tyrrell images) , I’d give it eventually to the Tyrrell Today Group rather than try and siphon off from your photo stream to my own blog.

It just seems sort of a bit rude, ungenerous.

So I haven’t used any of your images on my own blog in ‘then and now ‘photographs, because you’ve got your own thing going there. I think I prefer to contribute to that.

In terms of whatever I can add in terms of context or richness or specialized knowledge that I have or something else that I discover, I’m happy to just put it up in the comments area of your Tyrrell Today photo stream rather than in my own blog.

However, some of the other institutions that are putting things on Flickr, for example, the State Records Office of New South Wales, and they’ve got a lot of similar images. They don’t seem as sort of interested in creating their own sort of thing like your Tyrrell Today Flickr group. So I’m directly blogging off a couple of their images to do the same sort of ‘Sydney Then and Now’ type thing that the Tyrrell Today Group does – but with their images.

Other Australian institutions on Flickr

Seb: What about State Records’ photos? Do you comment in the State Records photo stream, or is the context placed in your blog when you reuse an image?

Bob: Mainly in my own blog. I put a little bit in the comment area, of their own photo stream, on Flickr, but mainly in my own blog. I’m also doing a full photo thing where I take the photo then, my own photo now take it from approximately the same position.

Seb: Has anyone from State Records contacted you through Flickr or through your blog to acknowledge your doing this or invite you to participate more further?

Bob: Yes and no. When I saw the images on State Records’ Flickr, they had the ‘Blog This’ functionality on Flickr activated, but they also had a note saying, if you want to use these images, you must have prior permission, blah, blah, blah. Contact us if you want to use it. There’s, obviously, a conflict there which ‘Blog this’ has sort of implied permission, that we’re saying, yeah, go blog this. Go and use it, but no, come and seek permission. [laughter]

It’s not very easy if every time I want to use something I have to seek permission. So what I did was I blogged an image.

I sent them a note saying that I wanted to use an image on my blog, but I noted this conflict there.

They wrote back saying, “Oh, yeah, we inadvertently left that functionality on there. We sort of didn’t realize that that was a default position. So we’ve now disabled that, but we’re happy for you to use anything you like off here on your blog, but just please give it the correct sort of attribution and link back to the Photo Investigator.” (Photo investigator is State Records NSW website’s own online photograph library.)

They just wanted the digital ID, which is the number in their system, but I also incorporated a link that goes straight back to that, which is slightly exceeding what they asked for.

Seb: How important is it that the Commons says ‘no known Copyright’, because those images, too, if they predate a certain date of publishing, are also in the public domain? You seem to want to play by the rules of the organization putting those images in?

Bob: Well for a lot of the images, it depends on how you define publish. A lot of the images from the, say, State Rail Archives were used on trains and trams just to like decorate and create a bit of visual interest. They can’t be certain whether it’s been published or not. A lot of those images, for example, in the State Rail Collection, were there for that purpose, but they can’t be certain if they were actually used.

So I just want to be nice with people . . . I was only the first person that ever asked them this question

I regard it as my heritage and everybody else who’s here. And also it should be available for research from overseas as well. So yeah, I think it’s my right to use it . . . But I also understand that there are financial constraints involved in the mere act of trying to release them. It costs money to do that.

 On the National Archives of Australia, they had the same situation where it said they had the “blog this” functionality, which they were sort of reasonable happy for people to do. But they also said if you want to use these images, you have to seek our permission.

It linked to an area on the National Archives of Australia website that sort of explained the Attorney General Department’s view of Crown copyright, etc. etc, and made you think that, “gee, they’d be unlikely to give permission”.

But I also knew from other research I had previously done utilizing things from the National Archives of Australia, they’re only too happy to give people permission to use things so long as it’s cited according to their citation convention.

So I blogged something straight off . . . I thought, if I blog something and it’s nice and they like it, I’m more likely to get permission. So I blogged something which was an image of Lionel Rose the boxer, and I associated it with some childhood memories I had of meeting Lionel Rose.

Then I sent the message saying, “Hey, I used your functionality”.

They then said, “Yep, we’re very happy for you to blog this. Blog anything you like. We’re happy with what you’ve done. Please just let us know so we can see the sort of how it’s being used.”