Friday, April 18, 2008

an Academic Flickr

I couldn't agree more with this post by Peter Brantley, in which he is discussing a conversation with Raymond Yee. In it, he calls for an 'academic Flickr'.

He's right on the money when he emphasizes the importance of an open interfaces that permit reuse:

What I realized through the course of my conversation with Raymond was that the most critical aspect of a new Flickr like service is not really an attractive user experience. Certainly, that's essential to help find images and associate data with them; it's also what makes an application desirable enough to initiate use. However, what will make the application ultimately successful is the availability of open services that permit re-use: mashups that encourage integration with other services and content.

It is this feature - the ability to disintermediate the content, at least partially, from the restricting frame of the application - that is the most fundamentally important virtue of Flickr, and should be for any application that is premised on widespread internet adoption and use. Support for re-use enables a plethora of user experiences to be designed and developed. The needs of mobile users are distinct from highly interactive uses in in-world education, and in turn vastly different from many research imperatives.

This reminds me of a comment by Richard Wallis at Talis about a "reading list" (UK speak for course reserves) product that they were coming out with that he (somewhat boastfully) noted, doesn't even have a user interface. It simply provides data feeds and APIs for syndication/integration of content in other contexts like the course management system.

Really, you'd get three main things with an 'academic Flickr' that you don't get with the kinds of curated digital collections done now in libraries:
  • network effects of a shared web scale database (shared tagging, comments, search, etc)
  • a great best of breed user interface that allows convenient uploading, tagging, organization, image editing, and licensing of content
  • an open API to permit reuse of content
Our experiment with accessCeramics on Flickr aspires to take advantage of all of these things. Of course, Flickr has shortcomings (especially in the concept of longer term curation) when used for an academic sort of project like ours. That's where 'academic Flickr' could come in.


jhigman said...

I'm working on the reading list application at Talis that you mention, and it certainly does have a user interface! The point is, though, that the users shouldn't be constrained to the interface that we've built - the value in the reading list data should be accessible by whatever means you like, through the institution VLE, through your own hand-crafted web pages, or through mash-ups with other data.
And the fact that the application is based on semantic data (RDF) makes it much easier to open it up for sharing, integrating, or augmenting with your own local data.

Jeremy McWilliams said...

One thing to consider with remix/reuse of images on a conceptual academic Flickr is copyright ownership. In accessCeramics, we have the ideal situation because the contributing artists own copyright on their images. Artists can then assign a Creative Commons license on an image (we require it), which generally enables more liberal use. This probably wouldn't be possible in most other situations, like an art history collection, for example. Like other academic publishing, it's doubtful owners would just want to give their bread & butter away.

With that said, there's no question an academic Flickr would be great in a number of cases. It would be a nice parallel to open access journals. Hopefully our site will get to the point where it can at least get more people involved in the discussion.

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