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Flickr + Powerhouse Museum -> Tyrell Today

I just said There’s also dozens of photos of landmark Sydney buildings and streets. It would be a fascinating project for someone to try and take a photo from the same position today.

…and it exists! Tyrrell Today.

Argyle Cut, Sydney
c. 1880-1900. November 22, 2007

and on Google Maps:

View Larger Map



14 April, 2008 • ,


Powerhouse Museum takes part in Flickr's "The Commons"

Flickr’s The Commons rolls on. First it was the Library of Congress, this time it’s the Tyrrell Collection from the Powerhouse Museum (“science+design”) in Sydney. There’s only 200 images released so far (unlike the 2000-odd released by LoC), but the promise of 50 more to come each week, AND (geogeeks get ready), maply goodness!

In the screenshot above, the pink dots represent images by the Powerhouse Museum. You can zoom in and out of the map; clicking on a pink dot brings up that image’s thumbnail. You can also click on the greyed-out thumbnails in the strip in the lower half of the screen, and see the corresponding pink dot highlighted on the map.

Possibly Flickr has had all this map stuff for a while. :) I may have missed it. At any rate, the ‘neat’ factor comes from having more than one dot any given map, and also the contrast between today’s map data and photographs from 100 years ago.

Originally I was going to just link to this, but I had a browse through it and found so many cool images that I’m sure have no counterpart on Wikipedia, that I wanted to give it some more space. Panning for gold. Woolshed. Trams down King Street. Bondi Beach in your Sunday finest. Cutting down a tree you couldn’t even reach around. They’re all c1900.

There’s also dozens of photos of landmark Sydney buildings and streets. It would be a fascinating project for someone to try and take a photo from the same position today.

Now if only Flickr would hurry up and add “No known copyright restrictions” to its API…! Then we can slurp them up all the more efficiently.

12 April, 2008 • , , ,


If you take photos of famous people, release them as free content

Photographers of the world (that is, probably everyone who has access to read this blog), contribute to free culture by making your functional works available as free content. You could do this by uploading them to Flickr with a Creative Commons Attribution (CC-BY) or Attribution ShareAlike (CC-BY-SA) license, or upload them to Wikimedia Commons under one of those acceptable free licenses.

By all means, keep your artistic and creative works all-rights-reserved or with whatever other restrictions you feel are required. But by taking one extra click to make your functional works free content, you enable works like Wikipedia to slurp them up and be vastly improved.

Robert Scoble had the privilege to attend Davos, and thankfully he appreciates that privilege and has donated dozens of excellent photographs of famous, world-changing leaders into the public domain. He would have taken the photos and posted them on Flickr anyway, but thanks to his licensing choice, others can shuffle them over Wikipedia and instantly improve dozens of articles by a major factor.

Whenever you attend any kind of major even with your camera, please take the time to let others improve Wikipedia on your behalf by using a free content license!

03 February, 2008 • ,


Library of Congress & Flickr: that should have been us

Some big news this week is a deal between the Library of Congress and Flickr in something they’re calling The Commons, “ The Library of Congress Pilot Project”. LoC says:

We are offering two sets of digitized photos: the 1,600 color images from the Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information and about 1,500 images from the George Grantham Bain News Service. Why these photos? They have long been popular with visitors to the Library; they have no known restrictions on publication or distribution, and they have high resolution scans. We look forward to learning what kinds of tags and comments these images inspire.

This is a great initiative on their behalf. As a public institution they should be applauded for seeking to make their collections more accessible and more useful. They are indeed a leading example for other cultural institutions to look to and hopefully take inspiration from.

It’s also a very smart move on Flickr’s behalf. It inspires warm fuzzy “public good” feelings, and let’s face it, Flickr does have the best interface for social image management, and tagging is awesome fun.

But when I read this announcement I had a bit of a feeling of being stopped in my tracks. Library of Congress and Flickr? Why wasn’t it Library of Congress & Wikimedia?

Wikimedia Commons users have long recognised the value of the LoC’s collections and there are literally thousands of their images hosted on Commons.

Sharp-eyed Lupo also reminded me of this piece in the Wikipedia Signpost, July 2006:

Wikimedia Foundation representatives met this week with officials from two major institutions regarding the issue of access to archival materials. The United States Library of Congress has expressed interest in including Wikipedia content as part of its archive collection, while also indicating that it could make a sizable amount of its own material available for use on Wikimedia projects. […]

Wikimedia interim executive director Brad Patrick, accompanied by Danny Wool, Kat Walsh, and Gregory Maxwell, met with representatives from the Library of Congress this week to discuss sharing information, sources, and media. The Library, one of the largest and most comprehensive in the world, has offered access to nearly 40 terabytes (approximately 10 million items) of digital information. “That there would be a moment’s hesitation to cooperate fully with the Library of Congress is beyond my comprehension,” said Patrick. “I’m glad that we are moving in this direction.”

Indeed… so what happened in the last eighteen months?

Brad Patrick and Danny Wool have left as staff; Kat Walsh is now on the WMF Board (I’m not sure if she was then), and Danny and Greg are still active within Wikimedia even if not as much as they once were. So not all of the connections from that time have moved on. But whatever they were thinking might happen clearly didn’t happen.

It’s disappointing that we weren’t able to make this happen. More importantly, I hope we will be able to pull our shit together and not miss such opportunities in the future.

There are three aspects:

One is on the organisational side, in terms of positioning ourselves as the partner for these kinds of ventures, public-interest and smart in collectively managing huge media sets. I don’t know how we’re doing on that front. It looks like 18 months ago we weren’t so great at following through, but at lot can and I imagine has changed in those 18 months.

The second is the software side, where we are not the best prospect. Right now Flickr probably does have a better set-up. I can only repeat my request that WMF hire more software developers and put some priority on functionality relating to media-management. It may take a year or two of serious improvements before we provide anywhere near the kind of usability that Flickr does.

The third is the community side, in terms of do Wikimedians welcome these kind of ventures. And for once this is actually the easy part. For Wikimedia Commons I feel pretty confident in saying we would rejoice to receive this kind of news.

It is a bit of a kick up the proverbial.

18 January, 2008 • , , ,

Comment [8]

Photographers hate Creative Commons?

Apparently some photographers hate Creative Commons. Evan Prodromou has an excellent response. And I still remember David Gerard’s comment from several months ago, regarding the argument that free content licenses put pro photographers out of work:

The fact that good digital cameras are cheap is putting pro photographers out of work.

I am not of the opinion that authors of creative works should feel pressure to license those works under free licenses — unlike authors of educational works — but antagonism against those who choose to do so strikes me as a wrong target and a losing battle anyway.

But onto something much more annoying; trying to reference mailing list posts. >:-| If Mailman can insert a footer with a link to a mailing lists’ archive, why can’t it simultaneously insert a link to that post’s URL in the archive? Or better yet why doesn’t Mailman come with a gmane-like interface by default? Gmane is the most sensible thing in mailing lists since…ever.

I just noticed Wired has commented on the fact that Flickr lets users change CC licenses:

A Yahoo spokesperson says the company does not keep track of the changes to CC attributions on particular photos, and advises people who want to use CC-licensed images to keep records of their own, for instance by taking a screenshot of the originating Flickr page.

Seriously lame, Flickr!

31 December, 2007 • ,

Comment [3]

Who's afraid of commercial use?

The big bad wolf? (Public domain)

When it comes to free-content-ish licensing, the prospect of allowing commercial use seems to be a sheep in wolf’s clothing. It sounds bad, and one can easily dream up horrible what-if exploitation scenarios, but there’s no evidence that those scenarios have any basis in reality.

The scary scenario generally sounds like this: But what if $XYZ_LARGE_CORP takes my content and publishes it and makes a squillion dollars, and I don’t get anything? That wouldn’t be fair, would it?

Indeed that’s a possibility, but how many times has it ever happened?

Look at Wikipedia, one of the most popular websites on the web in every country around the world. If there was a way to make megabucks from it, don’t you think someone would have done so by now?

Another example is Flickr. They let their users use Creative Commons licensing and that has undoubtedly been an element of their success, but I would argue that Flickr could have had the same success without using CC at all. (CC would probably be a lot worse off though. Flickr is the highest-visibility use of CC licensing I think.) Flickr did a lot of things right, and CC licensing was only one of them. Their success seems more due to being in the right place at the right time, having an easy-to-use website, and then providing easy ways to embed Flickr content in other applications. But their RSS feeds, for example, include all-rights-reserved images, so not using CC would not have restricted that.

There is nothing, of course, stopping anyone downloading all the CC-licensed images from Flickr and creating a Flickr-fork. And there is nothing stopping anyone from mirroring Wikipedia too (except out of date dumps, cough). But so far it doesn’t seem like anyone’s going to bother. And why is that? —Because if you can access the original, why would anyone use a second-rate copy?

The original has the community that created the content, and they usually have some technical advantage. If they avoid pissing off their community and can keep far enough ahead of the tech curve, it should be true that any major fork will fail to gain enough traction to do any significant damage.

The right to fork that is created by free content licensing keeps the parent organisations honest.


Good on Citizendium for dealing themselves back in the game by choosing a CC-BY-SA license. Zealotry rules. ;)

23 December, 2007 • , ,

Comment [3]

News and notes from Creative Commons land

CC-BY Flickr user foolstopzanet' Ian Wilson
© CC-BY Flickr’s Ian Wilson – another ad from the campaign.

Virgin Australia has been hit with a lawsuit for its use of a photograph from Flickr in an ad campaign. The girl in the photo is underage and her-friend-the-photographer naturally didn’t get any kind of model release before licensing the photo CC-BY on Flickr.

Lawrence Lessig has a copy of the lawsuit on his blog which explains why Creative Commons has been named as a party in the lawsuit. It basically amounts to “they didn’t explicitly warn me something like this could happen”.

My thoughts are that I’m glad Virgin is being sued over this. They were jerks to use this photo in the first place. I understand that stupid multinational corporations can use works I license under CC licenses, but I’m happy they’re being pulled into line. I think CC being named in the suit is just misguided, but maybe it won’t hurt for the licenses to be tested in court. :) Is a URL without a username sufficient attribution?

Second thought. This confirms my belief that conscientious photographers should avoid CC licensing photographs of people. I would never CC license a photo of my friends. Famous people are fair game.

Third thought. I hope this inspires CC users to read up what they’re actually agreeing to. Like something interesting I discovered: the version 1.0 licenses have this clause:

By offering the Work for public release under this License, Licensor represents and warrants that, to the best of Licensor’s knowledge after reasonable inquiry:

1. Licensor has secured all rights in the Work necessary to grant the license rights hereunder and to permit the lawful exercise of the rights granted hereunder without You having any obligation to pay any royalties, compulsory license fees, residuals or any other payments;

2. The Work does not infringe the copyright, trademark, publicity rights, common law rights or any other right of any third party or constitute defamation, invasion of privacy or other tortious injury to any third party.

Hm, well that makes all my CC-BY-SA-1.0 releases invalid, because I sure as hell never checked those things. And I sure as hell don’t intend to. Happily, CC seems to agree that those things don’t in fact belong in copyright licenses.

On the cc-community mailing list, there has been a killer thread about what “NC” (non-commercial, as in “this photo can be used for non-commercial purposes”) means (entitled “What does NC means?”). Many people are confused about this, and CC doesn’t seem in any rush to clear up the confusion. They seem happy with the poorly defined but vaguely comforting terms. Terry Hancock writes eloquently here about how NC and ND licenses betray the tradition that the “commons” part of the Creative Commons name lays claim to.

There seem to be plenty of people within CC culture who are pissed about this, but CC doesn’t seem willing to act to even encourage people towards freer license terms. They emphasise the clarity of “choice” to the individual licensor at the expense of benefit to the commons they purport to help create. It is kinda annoying.

I am starting to think we need a http://www.NCandNDarenotfree.org/ with arguments and polite form letters that people can send to probably-misguided NC and ND license users. Especially people who set site-wide licenses, like wiki administrators: these people need a clip around the ear if they choose a NC or ND license. Well, first they need a persuasive argument, then if they persist, the clip. It could be like GNU’s campaign to end Word attachments, Although they appear to have lost the war, but small individual battles are won each day.

And the last mention must go to the recent iCommons iHeritage event, celebrating South African Heritage day. They were uploading media to Wikimedia Commons and Flickr. There is probably still a bit to go as they were recording audio as well. I helped out a bit by creating some help files on Wikimedia Commons.

I’m sure there is much more content on Flickr. I can’t really blame anyone who chose to upload there instead of Commons. I suppose the good thing is our Flickr transfer service making copying them over nice and easy. :)

24 September, 2007 • , , , , , ,

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