Opera, Biology, CAD, More: Wednesday Morning Buzz, May 13th, 2015

NEW RESOURCES

Now available: a new multimedia tool for teaching about World War I. “ABMC, a government agency that administers America’s overseas Armed Forces cemeteries, established a partnership with LEARN NC, the outreach arm of the School of Education at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and Virginia Tech to create a guide to help educators teach about World War I. The initiative matched curriculum-development experts from the two universities with middle and high school teachers from North Carolina and Virginia to study an American WWI cemetery in France and to develop a multimedia teaching guide from what they learned.”

A group of ex-Skypers have launched a virtual whiteboard. “The Deekit app offers all of the whiteboard features you’d expect, such as drawing tools and the ability to add text. In addition, you can pin notes on the side, and the whole app is collaborative: anybody can contribute no matter where they are and in realtime. Boards can also be shared and archived for future reference.”

There’s a new place to watch opera online. And it’s free! “Launched today, The Opera Platform is a new website which will broadcast and archive (for 30 days) full opera productions from some of Europe’s leading opera companies, including Welsh National Opera, The Royal Opera and Teatro Real Madrid.”

The Chicago Academy of Sciences is putting its biological collections data online. “As of mid-April, we have data from 4,643 mammal specimens and 9,075 bird eggs and nests published on VertNet, as well as on the Global Biodiversity Information Facility and iDigBio (two other projects that bring together natural history specimen data). On the VertNet homepage, you can search for specimens with our collection prefix (CHAS) by going to “Search Options” and entering CHAS in the “InstitutionCode” box. See if you can find the oldest specimen, or the specimen collected farthest away, or your favorite mammal or bird species!”

USEFUL STUFF

Oh my. A Web-based CAD tool? Yes please.

Journalism.co.uk takes a look at using Twitter Curator.

Craig Newmark tips you to 4 Twitter tools that are the “real deal”.

TWEAKS AND UPDATES

Guess what? You no longer need a Twitter account to use Periscope. “Other improvements were the result of requests, including the ability change profile pictures from Periscope’s default image, making it easier to reply to chat messages while broadcasting and clearly marking when a user has been blocked.”

Flickr has done a big revamp and added new tools. “Today, we’re happy to announce Flickr Camera Roll and Uploadr, two powerful tools that will revolutionize the way you upload, organize, and share every photo you’ve ever taken. With these tools, you can now maximize the potential of all of that free space and finally take control of the photos in your life.” Had a bad experience with Flickr and not particularly interested in going back. Looking for a new place for my photos to live.

Google wants you to be able to order food directly from search results.

AROUND THE SEARCH AND SOCIAL MEDIA WORLD

From Digiday: Yahoo fails to impress with digital magazines.

The Chicago Tribune’s Instagram account for its archive photography has been an unexpected hit. “Daughtridge and photo editor Marianne Mather post up to eight photos a day, little black-and-white flashbacks from the massive archives of the Tribune Tower. Recent photos show morning commuters on an express bus in 1981, two women at North Avenue Beach in 1960, and a late-career Babe Ruth in his Boston Braves uniform, sitting in the Wrigley Field dugout in 1935.” Good morning, Internet…

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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!

Wondering What the World Looked Like Before? SepiaTown.

I like maps. I like vintage photographs. So it’s no wonder I like SepiaTown, which combines maps with vintage photographs. You can try it at http://www.sepiatown.com/.

The front page has links to featured areas and a map of New York, but you can also search out interesting places of your own. I did a search for Washington DC and a few other places but I didn’t have any luck until I did a search for Hollywood, zoomed out, and found a few places in Los Angeles.

The old images are placed on a map. Click on them and you’ll get a vintage photo side by side with a map with links over it. The links give you additional detail about the image, any available comments (though I didn’t see any), an opportunity to share the image with a huge host of social networks/bookmarking sites/etc, and, best of all, the ability to compare the image then to the current Google Mapped image now. (Since not all streets are still there some of the map placements are approximate.)

The images I saw came from a variety of places, including public library collections, Flickr Commons, and Wikipedia. All the uploads I saw were from SepiaTown staff, though the site encourages uploads from visitors. There is a site blog available that shows highlights from the collection, as well as a latest uploads page.

How much you get from this site depends on where you’re looking — some places are wonderfully covered but many places have no pictures at all. I hope very much the site gets more contributions from the Web in general. SepiaTown will really be something to see when 70%, say, of searched locations give you a map with pictures.

Georgia O’Keeffe Museum Gets Database

The Georgia O’Keeffe Musuem has announced an online database with over 3,000 images of items from its collection as well as archival materials. This includes lots of drawings and paintings by Georgia O’Keeffe herself. You can access the museum at http://contentdm.okeeffemuseum.org/.

You may either browse the collection or search it by keyword. Browsing involves going through different types of collections — Drawings, Paintings, & Sculpture; Photography; Georgia O’Keeffe General Correspondence; Personal Tangible Property; and William Innes Homer Papers.

The Drawings, Paintings, and Sculptures collection alone has over 900 items in it; I just started there. The listing of items includes a thumbnail of the item, a title (or a description if it was untitled), name of the artist (O’Keeffe, naturally) and the date of creation if available. Click on the thumbnail and get a lot more details including dimensions, medium, etc.


Now let me tell you something so you don’t miss out. The detail page has a small image and a large image. It looks like this is it, and you might think, “Wow, that’s irritating. I can’t view more detail than this?” Look in the upper left corner. You’ll see a magnifying glass and a 12.5% notation. You can magnify the large image another eight times or so and use the smaller image to navigate around the details. Also up in that corner there’s a link to add an item to your “Favorites” or to get a citation URL for the item you’re viewing.

Wanting to explore more, I did a keyword search for the collection; naturally I searched for skull. I got 31 results. Some of these were multiple shots of a patio and the side of a house but there were also several drawings here, photographs, and even a few of those “tangible items.” Actual skulls.

Be sure to view a great image of a skull with a broken pot, and a perhaps unintentionally funny photograph of two ladies gingerly holding a critter skull. The search results look very much like the browse results, with thumbnails, creation date, etc.

Once you’ve explored the collections, be sure to go back and check out the museum’s site itself, which contains an O’Keeffe biography, overviews of her art and the houses in which she lived, and of course information on the museum’s hours, collections, research, and everything else you might expect.

I enjoyed browsing these databases. There was enough here that you could do a lot of exploring (and the zooming ability is terrific!) but not so much that you feel overwhelmed or like you can’t find anything familiar. Recommended.

Search National Library of Australia Images by Color

Hat tip to ResourceShelf to the pointer about a new resource from the National Library of Australia — the ability to search about 18,500 images from the Library’s collection by color.

You can try it yourself at http://ll04.nla.gov.au/ . It’s pretty simple; pick a color from the color grid on the left. (There’s a menu beneath it to more precisely specify the color for which you’re searching.) As soon as you pick the color you’ll get images from the Library’s collection. I picked a subdued yellow and got nine images which looked like drawings, paintings, and possibly a photograph.

You can click on an image and you’ll get an overlay window showing the image and what colors it has in it. But that’s all. You won’t get a larger image, you won’t get any more detail about the image, and as far as I can see you won’t even get a link to the original image in the archive.

So this is an interesting toy, possibly useful for designers who want to look at the way color is used — but it’s not a sideways tool for discovery in the National Library of Australia’s image collection.