LC and Flickr – 3 months later

We had the good fortune today to talk to Helena Zinkham, Michelle Springer and some additional staff members from the 12 people team at LC which worked on the LC-Flickr project. We were also joined by George Oates, who shepherded the collaboration from the Flickr side. The conversation highlighted a number of interesting facets of the collaboration which I hadn’t fully appreciated yet, and I thought they’d be worth sharing

  • In a very elegant way, Flickr solves the authority conundrum of exposing collections content to social process. No need to worry if some comments or tags are misleading, arbitrary or incorrect – it’s not happening on your site, but in a space where people know and expect a wide variety of contributions. On the other hand, LC selectively reaps the benefit of these contributions. Over 100 cataloging records have been changed through input from the Flickr community.
  • Identifying and siphoning off the information of use to LC is a time-consuming and laborious process. While Flickr offers a number of ways to look at user interactions with the content, LC has started building its own database, which pulls in information through the Flickr API for more convenient evaluation. Social tagging in this framework doesn’t mean letting others catalog your collections for you – it really means offering up materials for a conversation which you have to follow closely to extract the bits worth bringing back.
  • We had an interesting discussion about what I’m tempted to call the “absorbency” of Flickr. The 3k+ images LC posted in the prototype seemed a reasonably easy chunk of material for the Flickr community to process, meaning tag and discuss. (In some instances, images actually have reached their Flickr-imposed limit of 75 tags.) The group speculated that a larger upload of images would have perhaps caused a less thorough review of the photographs, and this thinking also seems to have influenced LC’s decision to keep updating their Flickr stream 50 images at a time. George commented that Flickr has made 1000 Flickr friends through the project so far, and 50 images at a time probably seem delightful to them, while 10s of thousands at a time might be overwhelming.
  • While at a pace of 50 images per week, the entire photographs of the Bain collection (50k) will take about 20 years to expose on Flickr, I think that piece of math may miss the point: from the conversations I noted a much greater interest in deep engagement with the presented material rather than in comprehensiveness. The evidence suggests that this deep engagement has been achieved – see, for example, the discussion surrounding these two photographs. Those with the desire and need to see all of Bain can always do that on the LC website – Flickr compliments this offering by turning parts of the collection into conversation-starters. LC staff seemed so impressed with the value of the interactions on Flickr that they felt linking back out to the Flickr pages from the catalog was as important as bringing back salient corrections and updates into the catalog.

    For LC, Flickr is still a prototype – commitments on a policy level will be discussed after the prototype has been thoroughly evaluated. For Flickr, working with cultural institutions seems to become a way of life. George commented that she has about eight more cultural institutions ready to be launched over the next 8 months, ranging from very large to very small. There will be new and different things to be learned from the next launches – how will the material fare without the boost the LC-Flickr project enjoyed as the goundbreaking initiative? I’m looking forward to continuing the conversation with our LC colleagues, and I’ll be watching out for those next cultural heritage collections on Flickr…

    3 Comments on “LC and Flickr – 3 months later”

    1. I think the point about a 50 images per week release being ‘managable’ is a good one. On the otherhand 20 years is a long time to get a single collection on Flickr. Perhaps what is needed is more streams of release for the pictures – so users can track areas of particular interest, rather than just a single ‘Library of Congress’ photostream

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