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IFTTT and Flickr — Making a Tool for Mixing the Commons

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

Starting the IFTTT recipe

Starting the IFTTT recipe

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.

Setting up the Action Part of the IFTTT recipe

Setting up the Action Part of the IFTTT recipe

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/.

Photostream on Flickr

Photostream on Flickr

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.

Texting Dee

Texting Dee

Other Possibilities

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.

People search on Flickr

People search on Flickr

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!

New Online Photo Collection Shows Delaware in the 1920s and 1930s

Two Guys, One Huge Fish

Two Guys, One Huge Fish

The state of Delaware has announced a new online photo collection — over 2000 images of Delaware in the 1920s and 1930s, taken from the state’s Board of Agriculture glass negative collection. The collection is available here (giant messy URL alert.)

These pictures are wonderfully random. Stones marking the corners of Delaware? Check. Shipment of chickens going to Argentina? Check. All kinds of buildings? Check. Two guys holding a huge fish? Check. Electrical meter from 1936? Check. Tomato inspection shed? Check.

(Some of the items are also NOT for young audiences. There are also several murder scene pictures here and at least one image of a corpse. Please use caution when visiting this site and don’t let your kids/students run around in it without supervision.)

Hold your mouse over a picture for a tool tip with further description and a date. When you click on a picture to look at it more closely, it shows up full size, and you can shrink it or pan around to see the whole thing. This is unusual but useful as many of the pictures are landscape pictures, and this is an easy way to quickly see details. While looking at the detail page you can also rotate the images, print them, or download them in a few different sizes. (Note that the Delaware Public Archives does claim rights for these pictures and written permission is required to reuse them, which might be why they’re not in Flickr Commons.)

Auto racing at the Delaware fair

Auto racing at the Delaware fair

You can do a simple keyword search or an advanced search that lets you do field-level searching. A search for fair found 30 results, including lots of images and a couple of fantastic pictures of fair auto races from 1933.

A good presentation and it isn’t often you get such a large collection devoted solely to Delaware. Just use caution when browsing. Especially when it’s, like, 6am and you haven’t even had your coffee yet.

GazoPa Answers Now In Beta Testing

Been sitting in my queue for a while. GazoPa, which I have written about before, is now offering a new feature, GazoPa Answers, in beta.

GazoPa Answers is at http://answers.gazopa.com/. As you might imagine it’s yet another answers site, but it’s based on answering questions about photos/images or which have to do with photos/images. I remember a site that basically helped you identify things by uploading images of them and asking for help, but the name of that site is slipping my mind at the moment. Anyway GazoPa Answers is for asking all kinds of questions about an image, not merely “What is it.”

There is a page for the various categories of questions, though the front page just gives you a bunch of questions and popular tags. Being so new there aren’t many questions, what I saw ran the gamut, including “Who is the best Thundercat?,” “What does this mean on map?” (along with a symbol), and “How can we make this?” along with an image of Saturn Peaches (also known as donut peaches.)

Questions have their own individual pages which show a larger version of the image, any answers (all the questions I looked at had either no answers or just one), and tags. The GazoPa technology was also used to show images similar to the one which was being asked about, which in the case of this map symbol was partially accurate and partially hilarious.

I can easily imagine using something like this, but there’s not much to evaluate at the moment. You can share the questions on Facebook, but in a pretty basic way — when I tried it it doesn’t even include the images. I didn’t see an easy way to share via Twitter. GazoPa images needs more ways to get the questions out there.

Flickr Bows a New Photo Page

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.

How to Build Keyword-Based Flickr RSS Feeds

After I wrote the article yesterday with more resources and thoughts about information trapping, I got a couple notes from people who wanted to know how to make keyword-based Flickr RSS feeds. You have to build an URL, but it’s pretty easy. Flickr actually offers RSS for several types of searches — a full list is available at http://www.flickr.com/services/feeds/ — but I’ll give you an overview for keyword-based feeds and a couple other options.

Keyword-based Feeds

To build a keyword-based feed, start with this URL:

http://api.flickr.com/services/feeds/photos_public.gne

Then, add ?tags=keyword to the end to find words in the tags for each picture. You can also use the comma to stack tags. For example, this URL would build an RSS feed of new Flickr photos tagged giraffe and zoo:

http://api.flickr.com/services/feeds/photos_public.gne?tags=giraffe,zoo

(That’s an actual RSS feed URL. Pop it in Google Reader, NewsGator, or whatever your preferred RSS reader is.)

Be careful about adding too many tags, though, as Flickr’s data pool is a lot smaller than, say, Google’s vast repository of Web pages.

Feeds for Flickr Groups

Maybe you don’t want to get as specific as a tag. Maybe you’d rather follow a group. You can search for Flickr Groups at http://www.flickr.com/groups/; once you find one you like (may I recommend CreativeCommons or Flickr Central?) you can get RSS feeds for them by starting with this URL:

http://api.flickr.com/services/feeds/groups_pool.gne

and adding ?id=groupname to it, where groupname is, um, the name of the group. That’s where you might run into some trouble, as I couldn’t easily spot the actual group ID. I ended up using a site called http://idgettr.com/. Just enter the URL for the group and it’ll spit back an ID number. So the RSS feed for Creative Commons would be:

http://api.flickr.com/services/feeds/groups_pool.gne?id=26241990@N00

You’ll have to experiment some with your search terms when building RSS feeds for Flickr, but I recommend you try some of those general search terms that get you way too many results with a Web search. Flickr is huge but it’s still smaller than Google’s Web page index (I would guess) and my keyword-based Flickr feeds very, very rarely get irrelevant results. Try it!

Online Telecommunications Image Gallery from BT

If you like vintage advertising, do I have a site for you. I read on Web User yesterday about a new online image gallery from BT (which I thought was called British Telecom but it looks like no, it’s BT.) This site has just over 1100 images related to telecommunications and going back to the late 1800s. You can access it here (sorry, messy URL).

Categories include Advertising & Marketing, Communications in War, Famous Events, Phonebooks, etc. Some of the categories have subcategories. (There’s a keyword search as well, but there are few enough images scattered across enough categories that I liked browsing better.) I checked out the Kiosks and Payphones section — 46 pictures of phone kiosks, I am not kidding you. They’re presented in thumbnails with titles; clicking on the thumbnail gives you a larger version and descriptions of the images, including dimensions, date, description, category, etc. You might want to keep a close eye on those dates; one kiosk photo was dated 2026 and unless it was a TARDIS I’m fairly sure it’s from 1926 or therebouts. (Yes, I know the TARDIS was a police box. They look similar.)

The images in this collection are for sale. In addition to the regular-sized image you also have the option to view a larger image, and while there’s a watermark it’s not too bad, so this site is a fun browse even if you don’t want to buy anything. If you DO want to buy something for personal use, the prices are reasonable; low resolution photos are 1/10 of a pound (which is, what, 15 US cents?) High-res pictures are eight pounds (about $11.82). Commercial use is a different scale which is “confirmed at checkout.”

If you had told me that over 1100 photos of the telecommunications industry would be so interesting I don’t think I would have believed you, but there’s plenty of good stuff here. Despite the fact that the site is designed to sell items, there’s enough data available to make browsing fun as well (which is smart because then the site gets covered/linked to by people like me.) If you enjoyed this site back up to the BT Asset Bank; here you’ll find more things like videos, pictures of BT buildings, logos, etc.

New Easy Tool for Bird Photos and Songs

Dang it! I missed the 2010 International Day for Migratory Birds. I had plans to put up my birdhouse with tinsel and little lights too. HALLMARK YOU BETRAYED ME!

Oh well, I can wait until next year, and in the meantime use a recently-announced tool to identify the birds that hang around in the backyard. Dendroica is available at http://www.natureinstruct.org/dendroica. This site does not have the most extensive number of details on each bird, but it’s easy to search and incredibly easy to browse a large number of birds at a time.

When you first visit the site you can choose being a visitor from Canada, the US, or Mexico. once you’ve chosen you’ll get a list of species available (in the US there are 642) and a search box for narrowing them down. Click on a bird in the search box and you’ll see a picture and hear an example of the bird’s song. (Very occasionally there is not a picture available for a bird.) Underneath the picture is a description of the birds’ song and in almost all cases links to hear more versions of the bird’s song and see more pictures. If you can’t think of what bird you want to hear/see there’s also a link to get a random bird from the list.

There’s no data about habitat, or range, or anything like that, but this is an incredibly easy site to browse. If you’re interested in sparrows, search for the word sparrow and you’ll get a list of 33 species through which you can easily browse, comparing pictures and songs. Most other bird sites I’ve used would require a lot of page reloads to go through a list of birds like this. Very nice.

Registration is not required, but if you DO register you’ll have the ability to contribute pictures and songs of your own, as well as take quizzes based on the birds you’re looking at, or create customized lists.

If you need a lot of scientific and habitat data about a particular bird, this site is not for you. But if you want to quickly get a bird song or photograph, or easily browse through lists of birds looking for whatever’s been ransacking your apple tree, this site is terrific! Recommended.

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