Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Awesome photo – thanks!! Or, what I've learnt from our Flickr pilot

The National Library's Flickr pilot has recently turned 1 – we've been on Flickr since late June 2007.

We now have nearly 600 images on Flickr. About two-thirds of these are from the Alexander Turnbull Library collections (also available on the Timeframes website), the rest being made up of the 'In 2017 libraries will be… ' set and a set of newspaper banners from our Papers Past website.

Since Flickr introduced statistics in mid December, we now have 6 months of info about visitation to our Flickr images, and we've also been tracking visitor interaction (comments, tags, group invitations etc).

In this post, I want to reflect a little on what we’ve learnt from this Flickr experiment, and share some of the benefits and potential challenges for other collecting organisations looking at running a similar pilot. As Virginia has previously posted about the 'In 2017 libraries will be …' adventure, I won’t cover that here.

Launch off – June 2007

Andy brought the enthusiasm to give Flickr a bash to the Library after attending Museums and the Web. He talked the idea through with a group of interested web and Turnbull staff, and a pilot project was agreed to. The purpose of the pilot was to:

  1. Attract users who do not know about our collections, or haven't thought about visiting our subsites.
  2. Observe the tagging and commenting behaviours to learn from the experience
  3. Evaluate opportunities and issues for any further posting to Flickr.

We decided on the account settings we’d use on Flickr, and the way we would describe and attribute images. The first images we loaded to Flickr were selected from the Collection Highlights and Online Exhibitions sections of www.natlib.govt.nz, and made links between the Flickr pages and the main site. You can see some of our first images in the 'Collect' set.

First reactions

We got some early feedback. Alexandra Turbull (sic) had a couple of questions about why we weren’t using Creative Commons licences and at the time we didn’t have any answers (or a NZ CC licence, for that matter). Now there is a NZ CC licence, but you can’t opt to use it on Flickr. We're also not all that sure how CC and Crown Copyright intersect; this is a topic I'm hoping will be discussed that this year's NDF conference.

Image size was another issue – check out the comment on this 1589 map of the Pacific Ocean.

You’ve gotta make some friends

In August a staff member went through Flickr and added about 50 of libraries and museums as contacts. Like a pebble dropped in a puddle, this activity created a contact-ripple, with our contacts' contacts starting to friend us.

We now get a contact request most days, and about once a month I do a quick search for new collecting institutions on Flickr to friend. I do check profile pages before accepting a contact request, and I’ve rejected a couple, usually because amongst their groups these people have listed things like 'Hot Naked Asian Chicks'.

We now have 365 contacts, but I don’t see this as useful measurement. Instead, I look to comments, tags and favourites as a measure of engagement. Which brings me to …

Statistics and engagement

To begin with, we monitored comments, tags and favourites as a way of seeing how people were interacting with the images. To date, based on a comination of measures, these images of the Wahine (249 views; 3 favourites; 7 comments) and a ventriloquist (195 views; 9 favourites) are the most popular items.

Keeping track of this interaction was easy, as Flickr notifies you when someone performs one of these actions. Keeping track of views was far more difficult. In mid December Andy and I were discussing how we could deal with this (visit each image once a month, record the number of views in a spreadsheet? it seemed very time consuming) when, like magic, Flickr introduced stats for pro account holders.

Although the stats tool is neither deep nor customisable, we do now at least get a daily report of the number of view on our photos, photostream and sets, as well as information about most-viewed images (daily and all time) and referrers.

Our 10 most-viewed images on Flickr are made up of almost entirely of ‘In 2017 Libraries will be …’ entries, with this one in the lead:

However, coming in at No. 7 with 317 views is this novelty cheque, and I have no explanation for that.

In total, we've had 56,926 views on our Flickr items. Offhand, on our busiest single day, we had 440 views. This year, monthly views have been:

January - 5,311
February - 2,142
March - 3,251
April - 3,263
May - 4,645
June - 4,430

In terms of interactions this year, February was our busiest month, with 14 comments, 47 favourites and 12 tags, and June the slowest, with 3 comments, 25 favourites and no tags.

There's this great quote by Winston Churchill on this topic: "Statistics are like a drunk with a lamp-post: used more for support than illumination". It's hard to tell what 'success' means in this context. A comment on every photo? (in which case, we’re not succeeding). A view for every photo? (in which case, we are).


Instead of paying attention to numbers, I watch trends. This is what I’ve learnt:

1. Favouriting is the most common interaction, followed by commenting then tagging. (This surprised me, as I thought tagging would be more common. I even experimented for a month, adding miminal tags to items I was uploading, to see if this would increase the tagging activity. It didn't.)

2. Most comments are of the 'great photo' variety. A small number give some more information about an image, and the smallest proportion are questions. When you do get a question though, it's generally thoughtful or thought provoking. We've had no problems with spam.

3. New sets of images usually lead to a jump in visitation.

4. Most of our interactions (including contact and group requests) happen overnight, suggesting non-New Zealand users dominate.

5. Promoting new sets in our enewsletter is a good way to attract views.

How we operate now

While I still occasionally add new Collection Highlights and online exhibition images to Flickr, I started curating sets of Timeframes images late last year. Sometimes these support features on the site; for example, a group of photographs recording the return of the Māori Battalion is linked to from this Collection Highlight about the event. Sometimes they're because I chose a theme (like beaches), and occasionally people suggest one to me (like speedway or how not to take photos).

I’ve recently reached out to our Turnbull Library staff to see if they’d like to curate some sets – although I was an image researcher in a previous incarnation and enjoy doing this, I think the more kinds of personal interests you get out there, the more the selection will resonate with Flickr people. It also shares the load around – selecting images is the most time-consuming part of the process. So far, I've had a couple of offers, and one person who wholeheartedly took me up and suggested 5 of the last 8 sets we've added.

For the past two months we’ve been loading a set a week. I try to keep the sets to 14 or fewer items; this is to ensure all new images appear on the first page of our photostream.

A recent development

The project is still a pilot, and we’re still learning what people want to do with our images. A bit of buzz monitoring revealed that one of the things people want to do with the images is use them on their blogs.

In April Mike Riversdale noted that it seemed weird that we left the 'blog this' button on our account options, but then tell people they have to contact us to get permission prior to reproduce images from Flickr.

This spurred us to rethink our permissions statement, and tweak how images are selected for uploading to the site. Since April, we’ve only added images that have no reproduction restrictions, and we use the following permission statement on these:

You are welcome to reproduce this photograph on your blog or another website. Please:

1. Maintain the integrity of the photograph (i.e. don't crop, recolour or overprint it)
2. Reproduce the photograph's caption information & link back to it here on Flickr.

We would like to know how you're using these images - send us an email with a link to your site.

If you would like to use this photograph in a different way (e.g. in a print publication) please contact us.

We then discovered that our original decision not to make all images downloadable (this is a global setting) meant only people with a blog account linked up to their Flickr account could use the images. So I checked with our collection curators that the new permissions statement could be retrospectively added to all the images we had available. Thankfully, the answer was yes, and so we’ve flicked the switch in our account details, and made all the images downloadable.

Last week Paul Capewell emailed us heads up about his use of this photo of the Beatles on his blog – that’s exactly the kind of thing we’re hoping to encourage.

The third party API setting is still not activated. This is because of concerns about images being pulled into applications without any context such as titles or attribution etc. It's not so much about copyright, but about usage rights that were negotiated when materials were donated to the library. The flipside is of course that the images are not open to new and engaging user contexts, thus you won't see our Flickr images in an app like Flickr Fastr. We're hopeful though that this will also be revisted in the future.

It takes time (but not that much time)

Changing the permissions statement probably took about 3 days all up (and a sore wrist from all the cut'n'pasting).

On average, I probably spend about 2 hours a week selecting, clearing & loading images, responding to comments and requests, monitoring what people are saying about (and how they're using) our Flickr images, and recording the stats.

What I've learnt

1. It feels really good when people talk to you on Flickr. It's one of the most enjoyable parts of my job.

2. Sort out the permissions stuff BEFORE you start loading images. Find the most unencumbered images in your database, then make them available in the most open way possible.

3. The trickiest challenge we've had during the Flickr pilot was a request to add this image to a Whaling group. It was a request that generated quite a lot of debate among staff of the National Digital Library, some of whom felt joining the group would reflect badly on the Library. However, the decision was made to add the photo, following the Turnbull's attitude that it is not their place to make 'moral' judgements on how people wish to use collection images.

4. Flickr is a good way of dipping a toe in the social media water - a lot less time and energy has to be invested than in, say, oh, I dunno, blogging? Compared to this blogging pilot, there's also been less work with creating policies, administration, and in replying to comments / commentary.

And looking forward?

I think we'll keep loading one set of images per week to Flickr - it feels like a comfortable amount. And we're still investigating Flickr Commons with interest.

My priority over the next couple of months is getting more staff involved in selecting images to add to Flickr. Looking a bit further forward, I'm thinking about how we might use Flickr to record and share the redevelopment of our Wellington building. Any suggestions?

Image credits from top

Wahine sinking in Wellington Harbour, 10 April 1968
Unidentified Evening Post staff photographer
Reference number: EP-Accidents-Sea-rescue-Wahine-folder-2-of-4-01
Photographic print
Dominion Post Collection, Photographic Archive, Alexander Turnbull Library

Man with his ventriloquist dummy ca 1870.
Photographer: William James Harding
Reference number: 1/4-006818-G
Wet collodion glass negative
Photographic Archive, Alexander Turnbull Library

Draft novelty Christmas and New Year gift cheque / printed by James Rodger & Co. Christchurch. 1910s.
Reference number: Eph-A-CARDS-New-Year-1910s-01-1
Ephemera Collection, Alexander Turnbull Library


Deborah Fitchett said...

Thanks for posting about your experiences with Flickr!

Re using it to record the redevelopment of the Wellington building, I used Flickr on a sort of unofficial trial basis to record the building of our new lift (something of more interest to the engineering students and researchers who make up our customer base than perhaps to most populations!) I basically took photos at each stage and added a title and caption describing what was going on - sometimes it put a strain on my creativity (and I seem to have given up for those latest three!) but I think it's made for a nice record of the process.

(We have low viewing stats, though - it was mainly only promoted via occasional postings on our blog and a sidebar widget with the latest three images.)

Phil said...

Thanks for taking the time to write such a great overview of your experience.


Paul Capewell said...

As Phil said - thanks for making this whole process so transparent. It's so good to see you're sticking with it too - so often people get involved in this as a tester and then leave orphaned accounts.

Fascinating data and trends, thanks for the revelations. Many will find it useful.

Mike Riversdale said...

Excellent article, one the best "reviews" I have read anywhere about use of any social networking site.

Keep up the top work and looking forward to the use of Flickr Commons, Creative Commons licensing and most definitely the building work - an excellent way to raise interest in the project.

And thanks for the link :-)

Courtney Johnston said...

Thanks everyone for the nice comments - and for your suggestions & nudges throughout the year, which have helped us keep pushing the project forward!

bennui said...

Fascinating work. The New Zealand National Library never fails to impress me. I've been considering such a project for the library I work for, and I am curious to know a couple of things.

The Flickr Commons page doesn't provide a whole lot of information describing what distinguishes it (functionally) from a typical Flickr account. I do notice some modest presentation enhancements in the participating organizations, but I am wondering what you sense are the benefits of using Commons compared to what you have now.

I know this can be difficult to discern, but I am curious to know if you've researched how/if Flickr affects or drives traffic back to your Website.

I understand your point about third party APIs, but has the Library considered actively using such APIs to create different online interpretations of its own collections?

Courtney Johnston said...

Thanks bennui

Andy's going to be posting here about Flickr Commons in the next couple of weeks, so I'll leave that question to him.

We just had a dig through our web stats and it works out that the click-through ratio from Flickr to Timeframes and www.natlib.govt.nz is about 1 click per collection image over the time we've been up there.

Is that good or bad? I'm not sure. We also can't tell which images are sending visitors through - but thanks for reminding me, I'll put this into our trend-tracking mix.

digitalnls said...

Fantastic information about the use of Flickr, and something that we here at the National Library of Scotland are only just dipping our toes in.

In response to the question about using the Flickr API to build online collections, I'll draw reference to the following http://americanimage.unm.edu/ which is actively using Flickr as the content repository for the feature. It mirrors our intent to use Flickr as a means to promote reuse of content (where allowed)

I'm looking to source a building project at the moment that we can include as a set on our own Flickr account so watch this space.

I'm still forever hoping for a cultural exchange between Libraries and am first in line!

Seb Chan said...

Thanks for this Courtney.

For those who are asking about the difference between this and the Commons, I've published my report on our experience in the Commons and how it does differ. (We also have a 'normal' Flickr account)

Read the report over at Fresh & New.

Courtney Johnston said...

Thanks Seb. People interested in Flickr Commons should also check out Shelley Bernstein's recent post 'Top 10 Reasons The Commons on Flickr is Awesome' on the Brooklyn Museum blog.

Mike Licht said...

A few questions regarding "crowdsourced" data on images in your collection:

-- Do you verify user-supplied tags and comments?
– How many crowdsourced leads were staff unable to verify?
– How many items were tagged with conflicting if not mutually-exclusive terms?
– What is the “arrearage” or backlog of crowdsourced tags, comments, and notes to be verified?
– What kind of disclaimer do you provide patrons about the unverified crowdsourced data that appears on the Web with your institution’s imprimatur?
– When will you do a cost-benefit analysis of crowdsourcing versus professional curatorial research and cataloging?

Web 2.0 is great for outreach, and is certainly of use in widening curatorial networks of knowledgeable collectors, scholars, and amateur enthusiasts, but I am concerned that there has been no impartial independent review of the quality and value of "crowdsourced" data in the museum and library environment.

Courtney Johnston said...

Hi Mike

Thanks for the questions. In order:

We don't "verify" in terms of approving/moderating, but we are alerted every time a tag, note or comment is posted in Flickr - the site makes it really easy to monitor these interactions.

We pass on new information that people submit about our photographs to our curatorial staff. So far, only a handful of comments provide extra information of the kind we might add to catalogue records - most are personal responses.

I'm don't recall seeing any "conflicting" tags. I think it's tricky to make any judgements of tags; people add them as search and discovery aids, and while I might be confused as to why someone has added a certain tag, it will make perfect sense to them.

There is no backlog. All activity is sighted within about 2 days of occurring - there is very little overhead here.

Currently, tags and comments are not being sucked back into the Library's own databases, so all interactions remain on Flickr; I don't believe a disclaimer is needed here, as this is pasrt of the point (and joy) of the site.

Your final question sets up a kind of either/or approach to institutional cataloguing and 'crowdsourced' contributions that I don't really support - I think in an ideal situation, the two can happily and helpfully co-exist (see the Powerhouse Museum's online catalogue, for example). Our own sites don't currently support commenting and tagging, so Flickr is a great place to share our collections, and to learn more about these activities. We don't currently have a review of the kind you suggest planned - I would recommend that you look at the Library of Congress's report on The Commons on Flickr, as the closest kind of review I can think of to the one you are suggesting. You're probably also aware of the Steve Museum project, which is seeking to explore the kind of questions you're asking.

Anonymous said...

The overview is fascinating.

I was wondering one thing, I know that national library of Australia has taken a 'PictureAustralia' project. Apart from cultural institutions as participants to contribute images, any user can also contribute through a Flickr account. Why don't National Library of NZ do something similar to utilise the power of Flickr, crowdsourcing great materials from users, increase the interaction with users, plus drawing more potential users to discover the library materials.

Look forward to your reply!
Kind regards

Anonymous said...

Hey, it's QingQing again.
Forgot to ask one more thing, would it be possible for users to contribute their own digital image to National library? if yes, how does this process be conduct if national library accept it
via Email ,
via Flickr
via ....other tools?

Also, what vaules do you think contributions made by users on Flickr through (comments, notes,favourting, tagging that benefit national library.

Would you say, implementing Flickr facilite a new relationship between users and library staffs that this entails, librarian give up some of the traditiona power associated with being the controllers/gatekeeper of knowledge.
For example: permit users to contribut content,challenges the traditional view: It is librarian's sole domain to give information to users.

Kind regards

Courtney Johnston said...

Hi QingQing

Trying to answer your questions in order;

1. We don't currently have plans to encourage people to add their photos to the National Library's collection via Flickr (although I wouldn't rule this out as a potential thing for us to do in the future)

2. We're always very happy to hear from people who'd like to donate images to the collections. We have information about donations and bequests here. We can talk to people on a case by case basis about the best way for them to deliver their items to us.

3. I think the different ways that people can add information/metadata to images on Flickr have different value: for example, a comment left on a photo might correct inaccuracies or add information; a favourite indicates "popularity"; adding an image to a gallery adds context to it. Bringing this information and activity into our own collections is something we're working on.

4. Earlier in the comment stream I addressed the Flickr people/librarian as gatekeeper question. To quote myself "Your final question sets up a kind of either/or approach to institutional cataloguing and 'crowdsourced' contributions that I don't really support - I think in an ideal situation, the two can happily and helpfully co-exist (see the Powerhouse Museum's online catalogue, for example)." We've always benefited from people who can tell us about our collections, and while being on Flickr might be a different place to be having the relationship, the relationship itself is just the same.

Hope this helps, Courtney

Anonymous said...

Thanks a lot for taking times and efforts to reply Courtney. Your feedback is greatly apprecited!

PS: wish you have a wonderful day a work!

QingQing ^^