Many hands make light work

Have you ever tagged someone else’s photo? I know I have. A describing word, or perhaps even two joined together; a ‘lasso’ to group photos together from an event; identification of a subject in the photo; a colour; a season…

All that work that we’ve put in has contributed to making something greater than the sum of its parts: an organic information system, derived of descriptive words and phrases made entirely from individual contributions. You can see what’s going on in the world by watching hot tags fly by on our main tags page. You can even see what’s going on now in some of the bigger cities in the world on our new Places pages. All thanks to the determined effort of you, you nerdy taggers, you.

There are about 20 million unique tags on Flickr today. 20 million! They are the bread and butter of what makes our search work so beautifully. Simply by association, tags create emergent collections of words that reinforce meaning. You can see this in our clusters around words like tiger, sea, jump, or even turkey.

What if we could lend this wonderful power to some of the huge reference collections around the world? What if you could contribute your own description of a certain photo in, say, the Library of Congress’ vast photographic archive, knowing that it might make the photo you’ve touched a little easier to find for the next person?

Well… you can.

Announcing The Commons.

The first incarnation of The Commons is a pilot project we’ve created in partnership with The Library of Congress. The Library has an enormous photo catalogue, containing over a million photos. The Library team has chosen about 1,500 photos each from two of their more popular collections to show on Flickr. You can see what the streets of Puerto Rico looked like in the 40s, or what King George wore to the trooping of Colors in 1911.

Here’s a small taste of the wonderful content in the Library’s collection…

Part of the cowling for one of the motors for a B-25 bomber is assembled in the engine department of North American [Aviation, Inc.]'s Inglewood, Calif., plant (LOC)   Instructor explaining the operation of a parachute to student pilots, Meacham field, Fort Worth, Tex. (LOC)

Hay stack and automobile of peach pickers, Delta County, Colorado (LOC)   Workers leaving Pennsylvania shipyards, Beaumont, Texas (LOC)

Burman (LOC)   London strike. Truck under police protection (LOC)

Yaqui Indians (LOC)Sir Genille Cave Brown Cave (LOC)Blind stenographer using dictaphone (LOC)

There are two main aims to The Commons project, starting with the pilot: firstly, to increase exposure to the amazing content currently held in the public collections of civic institutions around the world, and secondly, to facilitate the collection of general knowledge about these collections, with the hope that this information can feed back into the catalogues, making them richer and easier to search.

The Library of Congress team has also blogged about the project, if you’d like to read about it from their perspective.

Now it’s over to you, dear members, to go forth and look at these gorgeous pictures, and add a tag or two, if you will…