SALT has joined the Flickr Commons. “SALT is an independent not-for-profit cultural institution from Turkey that explores critical and timely issues in visual and material culture and cultivates innovative programs for research and experimental thinking.”
The Lowcountry Digital History Initiative has added three new exhibits. They are Charleston’s Cigar Factory Strike, 1945-46, Keeper of the Gate: Philip Simmons Ironwork in Charleston, South Carolina, and Voyage of the Echo: The Trials of an Illegal Trans-Atlantic Slave Ship.
A digital archive of the lives of British and Commonwealth citizens involved in World War I has gone online. “The records of more than 4.5 million men and 40,000 women who served with the British army overseas are currently listed. Millions of others will be added to the website in the coming months including the names of members of the Royal Flying Corp/Royal Air Force, the Royal Navy, the Canadian Expeditionary Force and the Australian and New Zealand Imperial Forces.”
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Have you heard of IFTTT? It’s available at http://ifttt.com. Pronounced “ift” (like “lift” without the l), IFTTT is a free Web tool that uses channels to easily automate Web tasks. You can get a basic overview at https://ifttt.com/wtf but the premise is really simple — you choose a trigger (like a new item on an RSS feed, someone tagging you on Facebook, someone following you on Twitter, etc.) and in response to that trigger you can choose an action (automatically following a new Twitter follower page, sending Facebook-tagged photos of you to Dropbox, storing your Tweets in an Evernote account, etc.)
At first glance it looks simple and somewhat limited, because there are only so many triggers and actions. But as I spent a lot of time playing with it (I’m using it to automate a bunch of stuff at work) I realized that it could help me solve one of those annoyances that’s been bugging me for a long time, and that is keeping up with The Flickr Commons.
The Flickr Commons is a group of about five dozen institutions and repositories from all over the world that have come together to make some of their collections’ visual content available online without copyright. Group members include the New York Public Library, NASA, the National Archives of Norway, and the National Library of Scotland. So you can imagine there’s tons of great material there.
Unfortunately I couldn’t find a way to look at the latest Commons photographs in toto. I could look at individual institutions and follow them through an RSS feed; I could search Commons content; I could not find a way to look at the latest Commons stuff. I did not want to have to monitor 60-odd feeds. I wanted all the latest Commons content in one place.
IFTTT to the rescue!
IFTTT and RSS Feeds
IFTTT lets you pull content from RSS feeds as one of its triggers, which is probably what I do the most with it, as there are countless RSS feeds out there. Each institution participating in Flickr Commons has an RSS feed of the latest photographs added to its content.
I grabbed an RSS feed from one of the Flickr Commons members and started messing with it. Since an image thumbnail shows up in the feed, I tried grabbing the image and sending it any number of places, like Picasa and Dropbox. I wanted to make the photographs available publicly and I wanted to have an easy way to go to the original image if I saw something I liked and wanted to look at more closely (remember, the RSS feed has only a small image and not the full-sized photograph.) Picasa didn’t allow me to append enough information and Dropbox didn’t allow me to delineate the images enough.
So finally I ended up using Flickr itself — specifically, my own photostream.
Setting Up IFTTT
The IFTTT trigger/response sets are called recipes. So my recipe trigger was new content in one of the Flickr Commons institutional feeds. (I had to set up about 60 recipes, which was the most tedious part of this whole business.) If you want to play along at home and have an IFTTT account, I shared my recipe at https://ifttt.com/recipes/52593.
The action was to take the content from the institution’s feed and put it in my own Flickr photostream. But that wouldn’t be enough because there’s only so much good I’d get from a random image – I’d also want to know where it came from and where I could go to see larger versions of the image. So in addition to just moving the image over, the recipe also puts the source of the image and a link back to the original image in the description. There’s also an option to create new tags for each image as well — remember that because I’m going to come back to it later.
The Harvest on My Photostream
So I set up umpty-zillion recipes based on RSS feeds from Flickr Commons institutions let them run, and within a day I started having images automatically post to my Flickr photostream at http://www.flickr.com/photos/taracal/.
The URL in the description is not clickable from the galley page, but it is clickable on the individual picture’s page.
So what do I have now? Now I have a constantly-growing group of photos from the Flickr commons as my very own photostream, but in addition I have an RSS feed of all the latest content posted to Flickr Commons (via my account’s RSS feed on Flickr.) And with IFTTT, I can take that feed and do something else with it. In this case, I set up IFTTT to send me an alert via the iOS notification Pushover whenever the RSS feed updated. This came in handy when a picture of Queen Elizabeth came through on my iPhone and I was able to immediately text it to my anglophile friend Dee.
I had no hesitation in setting up these RSS feeds of visual content to aggregate on my own photostream because the Flickr Commons is just that — a Commons — and violating copyright was not a concern. Besides, I made sure that each description sourced the original image and linked back to it, trying to ensure that nobody thinks I’m the creator/keeper of these images.
If the aggregation of thumbnails, with clear attribution and links back to original content, could be considered fair use, I would really like to go further with this. There are so many institutions using Flickr. If you do just a simple people search for State Library you’ll find all kinds of goodies.
With IFTTT you could take the RSS feeds of the institutions in which you’re most interested and start a flow of thumbnails to your own Flickr stream, but more than that, you could give all pictures from that group of institutions the same tag and start creating your very own repository.
For example, I could go through Flickr’s people search and find North Carolina organizations — the NC State Archives, the Museum of Natural Sciences, the North Carolina State Library for the Blind, etc. I could set each of these up with an IFTTT recipe to send new content to my photostream, and tag each item as it’s added with not only the photo’s description but also with a unique tag of my own — maybe NCGROUPRB (something that probably isn’t replicated elsewhere on Flickr.) Then I just let it run. What I’m doing here is creating my very own Flickr subset from lots of different sources, in this case photographs from North Carolina organizations and institutions. (You could do this with any other topic you can imagine that can be found in the people search — state fairs, national museums, or even cooking schools!) When searching this collection, I could use incredibly general search queries (school, food, etc.) along with my unique tag and have success in finding images relevant to my context because I had narrowed down the searched pool of images in advance via the IFTTT image aggregation.
This setup isn’t perfect — IFTTT limits how much you can extract from a given RSS feed — but I’m having a lot of fun with my newly aggregated feed of Commons content and looking at a lot more pictures. If you find this useful and end up doing your own Flickr mini-content-curation project, let me know in the comments!
This collection is all from one place — the Liljenquist family — and includes the frames of the pictures as well as the ambrotype and tintype photographs themselves. Many of the pictures are soldiers (including some portraits of African-American soldiers) but there are some civilian pictures here as well. There are also many group pictures, both of civilians and soldiers.
Some of the pictures are fairly dark and hard to see — or maybe it’s my monitor. If you want more detailed images than are available at Flickr, you can go back to LOC.gov and download archival-quality TIFFs, though they are a slow download. I downloaded one of 84MB and one of 116MB.
A remarkable collection, but also depressing in a way… the soldiers all look so young…
The National Archives has had Mathew Brady photos on Flickr for quite some time, though only about half the photos have been uploaded. But I was thrilled to read yesterday that NARA has a) organized the photos into over 40 topical sets and b) geotagged most of the images. Yow! I don’t know the count of images in this collection but I would guess thousands…
The Brady photos are available here on Flickr; this page also shows the sets. Unfortunately Brady’s name is put first in the set, so it’s hard to read the sets for descriptions here. Still, on this page you can see sets for Zouaves, Union generals, railroads, prisoners of war, and camp scenes, and several place names (among other things.)
(There is also a clearly-marked set of images of causalities. This set does have images, sometimes graphic, of wounded and dead people. Please be aware.)
I took a look at the Civil War Entrenchments and Defenses set, which has at this writing 111 photographs. A set of thumbnails was on the front page, with some details available on mouseover. All the images I looked at more closely had geotags and some additional information, though most of them did not have comments.
These new sets make it a lot easier to browse these remarkable photographs. One tip: when looking at individual photos be sure to look at available sizes. All the images I looked at had maximum sizes that were very large — 3000 x 2405, for example — and at that size the level of detail is fascinating and at the same time absolutely chilling.
Flickr has debuted a new photo page which is currently in rollout, but if you have a Flickr account, you can login and opt in to the new view right now. So what are you waiting for? Log in and look for the pink banner at the top of the page which reads, “We’re introducing a new photo page, and you can check it out early. Take me to the future!” Click on “Take me to the future!” and you’ll get the new page. (This isn’t permanent; you can opt-out of the new photo page version if you don’t like it.)
The biggest difference is that the photo is a lot, lot bigger. (This is one of my Fair pictures. Trust me to get arty with the fried butter shot.) To appreciate the photos better there’s also a new light box feature; hit f on your keyboard and suddenly you have a really really big picture on a dark background. (This probably looks more impressive when it’s not a giant fried butter image.)
Flickr has grouped a lot of functionality together. A small nav strip lets you move back and forth through the photostream as well as zoom into the light box view (once you’re there you have the option to view the photo in other sizes as well.) Another small menu nearby gives you a dropdown menu of many, many possible actions (from tagging the photo to ordering prints to even deleting the photo if it happens to be yours.) You can also share the photo via e-mail, or get HTML to show it, or theoretically share it across different blogs (I write “theoretically” because there’s a place for it, but the blog list Flickr gave me was empty.)
Way down toward the bottom of the screen, in light type, there’s a set of keyboard shortcuts you can use to navigate available photos:
← previous photo → next photo f view in light box scroll film strip right
I have not used Flickr as much as I have in the past — it’s easier to just put photos up on Facebook. But this new display and the way the actions are grouped means that Flickr is, once again, a really great place to showcase photos.