The People and the Commons

The Flickr Commons is a remarkable project in many ways, and we’ve certainly followed its birth and progress closely on hangingtogether (see here, here, here, here and here.) Just in case you need a reminder of why the Commons is remarkable, I ask you to consider the following numbers from the LC Flickr Pilot Project report [pdf], where you can find even more compelling statistics.

  • As of October 23, 2008, there have been 10.4 million views of the photos on Flickr.
    79% of the 4,615 photos have been made a “favorite” (i.e., are incorporated into personal Flickr collections).
  • Over 15,000 Flickr members have chosen to make the Library of Congress a “contact,” creating a photostream of Library images on their own accounts.
  • 67,176 tags were added by 2,518 unique Flickr accounts.
  • 4,548 of the 4,615 photos have at least one community-provided tag.
  • Average monthly visits to all PPOC [Prints & Photographs Online Catalog] Web pages rose 20% over the five month period of January-May 2008, compared to the same period in 2007.
  • The report recommended that “this experiment in Web 2.0 cease to be characterized as a pilot and evolve to an expanded involvement in this growing community.” That was October 30th 2008. In December, Yahoo and Flickr laid off George Oates, the heart and soul of the Commons. In all of my interactions with Commons participants, it has always been quite clear to me how much they cherish their relationship with George, and what a pivotal role she has played in making the Commons a success. For a moment there, I feared that one of my favorite projects of 2008 might grind to a premature and unfortunate halt.

    And then another remarkable thing happened. Within days of the news that George wouldn’t be around to steer the Commons anymore, the Flickr community decided to highlight the importance of the Commons to them and their interests through the creation of a Flickr Commons Group. I didn’t find any reference to George’s departure in my cursory reading of posts on the group page – maybe I am embuing its arrival with a meaning that didn’t exist to its founders, but even as a coincidence, the way the community is now claiming and celebrating these collections is remarkable.

    My colleague Eric Childress just pointed out that there is now also a blog called Indicommons, which intentionally extends the Flickr group’s ability to sift through the amazing treasure-trove of Commons images, and comment on them. For a timely example, look at the entry which brings together all the inauguration-related images from the Commons.

    The Flickr Commons group and Indicommons was created by individuals outside of contributing institutions, but all of the contributors have been invited to use these venues as a platform to communicate with their most fervent users, and they all seem to have joined in. Some of the folks on Indicommons have even partnered with Commons institutions to create additional tools for the Flickr Commons (see the batch date changer for contributors, and these Power Feeds for Commons aficionados.)

    I guess it’s a brand-new day. This certainly isn’t your mother’s cultural heritage community anymore. And this isn’t your mother’s audience anymore, either. If you’d like to hear an interview on BBC with Anna Graf, one of the movers-and-shakers behind the Group and Indicommons, check here [mp3]. As much as George was the heart and soul of the Commons, the greatest tribute to her achievement may be that the future of the Commons rests with the People, and the People are doing their part to carry it forward.

    Kudos to all of those who took the initiative to create the Group and Indicommons!

    3 Comments on “The People and the Commons”

    1. “I didn’t find any reference to George’s departure in my cursory reading of posts on the group page – maybe I am embuing its arrival with a meaning that didn’t exist to its founders.”

      George’s departure was definitely the impetus for the group. so much has occurred in the group since then, however, that references to that sad chapter in Flickr’s history have been pushed pretty deep into the group’s discussion archives.

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