Right. May. We’re about six weeks in. We’ve met with people in Helsinki, Cloyne, Slobozia, Belleville, Aberystwyth, San Diego, Sydney, London, Richmond, Tartu, Upper Arlington, Edinburgh, Melbourne, Chicago, Reykjavik, Amsterdam, Copenhagen, Culiacán, Washington DC, São Paulo, and that mystical universe called Zoom. One wonderful thing about the pandemic is the new comfort we feel having calls with anyone anywhere. (Although we must also all figure out how to restrain ourselves from Zooming for all hours of a day as COVID things hopefully calm down!)
The interviews have been split across current Commons members, and non-member birds of a feather, which include academics, sister orgs like the Wikimedia Foundation, Creative Commons, Europeana, DPLA, OCLC, Local Contexts, people working in not-Commons GLAMs, and a even a biodiversity super-editor. This week we’re sending a new blob of “Hello! Can we talk to you, please?” emails to try to talk with more members. This is made interesting by the number of email@example.com email addresses that must have been spurted into the sign up form when people first created an account, and are no longer checked. (If you are from a Commons member org and this sounds like you, please reach out!)
Our research interview target remains about 40-50 interviews of Commons members and birds of a feather, so it feels like we’re roughly on track to do that, having done just over 20 so far. We’re tracking to complete interviews by the end of July-ish.
Early findings from conversations
- Stats justify effort
Everyone who works in GLAMs is time-poor. While we can’t solve that problem, we can look to find ways to provide reporting and data on usage and interaction derived from the work done by Commons members. I still feel like Flickr Commons is a fantastic place for community engagement, regular research contributions that are accurate and fastidious, and the sheer exposure members can enjoy by being part of the program has proved to be exciting (and even shocking) for some members. Views in the millions simply don’t happen on isolated org websites, unless you’re a very big GLAM, and there are only a few hundred of them in the world. The vast majority of GLAMs are tiny, with less than 10 staff. We want to provide reporting that helps member orgs understand why this effort building community on Flickr can reap real rewards.
- Governance indicates stability
Understandably, we’ve heard from some members that they drifted away because the future of the Commons under the previous owners was so unclear. Why should we put effort into something so crumbly? It’s a good question, and hopefully, this research work will lead to a new level of program governance and a refreshed foundation not previously considered.
- Indigenous self-determination is not represented in any (?) cultural catalogues
There’s growing awareness and concern at the colonial nature of most GLAM catalogues and how their design and creation has obliterated meaning about the places and people that collection objects come from. The added realisation that Open Everything All The Time can actually be culturally disrespectful and destructive has been a huge realisation for me. As in, what if the object in this photograph should only be seen by women? Or only in the winter? When it’s bundled into a huge content upload into a digital platform, that information is disregarded (or indeed may not even exist in the first place). We’re talking with Local Contexts, OCLC Research Library Partnership, reaching out to academics working on this, and reading more widely to ground ourselves in the problem, for example Camping in the shadow of the racist text by Dr Ali Gumillya Baker. If you’re working in this area, I would love to hear from you.
- Flickr as infrastructure & tooling for it
We’ve heard how Flickr and the API has actually become a bone in the digital bodies of some Commons members. Some are seeing it as a bonafide archive (though not with true preservation capacity) and others have built it into a core technical element of how they do digital. We’re also surveying tools that orgs have developed or borrowed to get photos into Flickr or to move them around to other services like Wikimedia Commons to see if there’s work we can do to improve them or support them.
Key research themes
As mentioned in our announcement blog post, we’re researching the terrain through three core themes, and have added a fourth:
- Current members: Where they’re at, what they need, how their digital infrastructure has changed in the last decade, their approach to digital licensing
- Growing the program: How can we improve on-boarding of new members, streamline registration, form and strengthen governance, restore the Commons as a great destination for socialising around and enhancing cultural content
- Being part of the openGLAM ecosystem: What are the qualities and redundancies of the various participating support orgs in the openGLAM ecosystem? Can we be more selective and complementary of each other in our approach?
- Cost neutrality: Flickr Commons is in such an interesting position, compared with other cultural “public good/service” bodies like Wikimedia or Creative Commons. As Harry Verwayen from Europeana said, it’s a “cocoon of net neutrality inside a corporation, and what does that mean?” How should the company, Flickr, construct its ongoing protection of the Flickr Commons program? Indeed, should it? How much does the Commons cost, anyway?
There are broader questions coming up too, like what does success mean for Commons members, and also for the company? How could we define the different usage styles, both of Commons orgs themselves and also Flickr members who help gather information or curate Commons content, and how might we use these different usage types to help newer members engage? I mean, really, why is the Flickr Commons cool and why should people keep using it?!?
What are the deliverables of this research?
In consultation with Ben MacAskill and Carol Benovic-Bradley, we’ve decided the research will focus on producing two main deliverables (as well as the raw research data/interviews/notes):
- Research Report – what’s happened, who we talked with, what we found
- Flickr Commons Revitalization Plan: 2021-2023 – A shorter term way forward to implement features to support current members and growth of the program, and a preliminary governance framework. Nobody involved is denying that Commons has had no love for aaages. All of us are keen to change that.
Other points of interest:
- We’ve made certain that every Commons member now has a lifetime Pro account. Yay!
- Very early wide-net research cast over existing Flickr accounts that may be cultural orgs caught about 60,000 accounts with “museum/library/archive” in their account names. This very wide net was tightened to about 2,000 Commons candidates who have public photos, have logged in recently, and appear to be orgs, not individuals.
- Last week we had our first Commons Connect webinar, which we’re hopefully going to do three or four times throughout the research, inviting people we’ve connected with directly through the course of the interviews and meetings. At the first webinar, people tuned in from Library of Congress, Llyfrgell Genedlaethol Cymru, San Diego Air & Space Museum, Wikimedia Foundation, Deseronto Archives, Creative Commons, University of Copenhagen, OCLC, Flickr, London School of Economics Library, British Library, and… who am I forgetting!? But, a great turnout, and we’re already looking forward to the next one.
As always, if you’re interested in the discussion, please consider joining the public Flickr Commons group, which we’re chatting in with a few new discussion threads. If you’re a Flickr Commons member and you haven’t received our interview requests, please do reach out!