[Foundation-l] Commons and The Year of the Picture

Michael Snow wikipedia at verizon.net
Mon Jan 19 07:05:16 UTC 2009

This isn't directly related to the board meeting, but I want to pause 
for a moment to share some ideas. Not all of them are mine, quite a bit 
of this is directly from the chapters.

The Swedish chapter had the idea to declare 2009 The Year of the 
Picture, to put a concerted effort into adding images to the Wikimedia 
Commons, along with using more illustrations in Wikipedia and elsewhere. 
I think this is absolutely a great idea. Making better use of visual 
material in our projects also fits in with the ongoing effort to improve 

I applaud the efforts of all the chapters in this area, and I encourage 
anyone who can to join in. You may recall that the German chapter 
recently secured the release of a large number of images from their 
federal archive, and several other chapters are also working on free 
image collection projects. Hopefully our April meetings of chapter 
representatives, in conjunction with the board, will be an opportunity 
to develop more ideas and strategies. And of course, you don't even need 
to have a recognized chapter to get a group together and organize photo 
expeditions, as for example some of the people in the now-approved New 
York chapter have done.

Commons is obviously an important part of any such efforts, as our 
repository for freely licensed media. Now because Commons is a project 
in itself, there has always been some tension around how separate and 
independent it should be from the other projects. Should it be 
considered to have its own community? (Yes, says Brianna, otherwise it 
would be no different from Photobucket.) How much should it take 
direction from the other projects in order to serve their needs? For 
that matter, should the other projects occasionally take direction from 
Commons as its participants do things like screen for copyright issues? 
Just how broad of a scope does Commons have?

Our mission, fundamentally, is educational. That may sometimes be a 
limitation, where media that doesn't have serious educational potential 
should be avoided as a distraction, or things that detract from 
education can be edited out. However, the needs of education may be 
broad indeed, so I'd say that the scope of Commons could be broader - 
actually, maybe I should say deeper instead. Along those lines, I'll 
share some comments I made in an internal discussion on the subject.

Speaking primarily from my experience working with images, I find it 
really restrictive to think of Commons as limited to those images 
actually needed for Wikipedia. I think perhaps we should approach it 
from the perspective of what a project like Wikibooks could use - 
Wikibooks not as it is, but as it could be.

The actual art of matching illustrations to text requires having not 
just one passably suitable picture, but choosing the best for your 
particular purpose out of a range of similar options. It also is not a 
matter of taking the one platonically perfect picture and dropping it in 
every conceivable place, though given what's currently available that's 
often what we end up doing. To find a good illustration when you want 
one ultimately demands a vast library of images, many of which might 
never be used otherwise because nobody has called for the particular 
combination of features they provide.

I deal with this regularly in a professional capacity, this is what 
stock photography firms are built on, and I can assure you that there is 
no adequate freely licensed stock photography resource in the world. 
Commons is the best there is, and it is barely usable, and then only 
sporadically. Maybe some people imagine we have too many pictures of 
people's cats and dogs, since those are popular subjects, but I'll say 
we don't have nearly enough even of that - and in particular we don't 
have enough variety. Suppose I wanted a picture of a dog and a cat 
together, a fairly mundane subject, for which I did at least find a 
category with 27 files at 
http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Category:Cats_and_dogs. I suppose 
that's a start, but at a glance there's no way that provides enough 
options for what I might want, especially if I was particular about how 
they're posed or what breed they are.

There are no doubt bigger gaps in our library, and arguably more 
important ones. But mostly we need to get more pictures and figure out 
ways to use them.

--Michael Snow

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