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:
- Attract users who do not know about our collections, or haven't thought about visiting our subsites.
- Observe the tagging and commenting behaviours to learn from the experience
- 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.
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
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