Wessex Archaeology And Flickr: How We Use Web 2.0

By Tom Goskar | 08 December 2006
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Wessex Archaeology have been at the forefront of using web 2.0 applications in a archive/museological context. © 24 Hour Museum

Wessex Archaeology is one of the largest commercial archaeological practices in the UK, employing over 160 people. We are a registered charity with educational objectives and play a vital role in helping people learn about their past.

In September 2005, we decided the Wessex Archaeology gallery (on the web) was looking a little long in the tooth. It was using a proprietary ASP gallery script and the process of uploading new photos was a pain.

We had to manually create thumbnails, medium and large size versions of each photo, and follow a rigid structure. There was no chance for people to interact with the photos themselves, and the script itself was not particularly reliable.

This realisation triggered a review of our website strategy, stimulating an investigation into new 'web 2.0' approaches, such as social media, blogging, RSS and podcasting.

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Wessex pics now can be viewed in Flickr, as well as on the Wessex website © 24 Hour Museum

Community and Flickr

I had been using Flickr myself for a few months, and had become quite familiar with how it worked. The community focus of Flickr fitted in perfectly with Wessex Archaeology's charitable aims - to communicate archaeology and help people learn about their past.

It looked like a great way to reach out to new communities across the world. Our photos could be seen by a whole new audience; people who might not normally visit an archaeology website.

However, Flickr's terms and conditions do not allow organisations to use their service without permission, which we were granted when we asked. At this point, Flickr had just been bought by Yahoo, giving it financial and infrastructure stability. This was crucial to our decision to use their service, as we were about to commit effort into building a substantial gallery with them.

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Each artefact image has lots of tags, and users can add their own too. © 24 Hour Museum

Interaction and Commitment

Flickr allows us to let people to "tag" our photos to help add extra meaning to them (moderated, of course), and to leave comments and ask questions about each photo, or set of photos. We might add the tag "skeleton", and someone might add "bones", for example.

We have joined special interest groups on Flickr, and submit photos to them, extending the reach of our work right into the communities that have built up around these groups.

However, when you involve yourself in an online community such as Flickr, we have increasingly learned that you need to commit yourself to active participation within that community.

If people ask questions about photos through the commenting system, it is important that those questions are answered, and it's important that user-added tags are checked. This means regularly logging into the system, and chasing up answers.

If people use the special interest group discussion forums to talk about your work, it's important that you enter into the conversation as well. This engagement builds up respect for your organisation, and keeps people coming back to look at new photos, and visiting your main website (we get a lot of referrals to our site from Flickr).

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Within Flickr, subject groups can be clustered together © 24 Hour Museum

Decentralisation and Integration

Immediately, our photos, although decentralised from our website, had far better exposure than ever before. We completed our 'user profile', and changed our 'buddy icon' to our logo, and ensured that links were added to relevant parts of our website in photo descriptions, to ensure that people know who has provided them and to put them in context.

One of the major factors that makes Flickr a good service to use, is that they provide an API. They encourage people to build applications that use the photos that they host. This enabled us to build our photos back into our website with our own look and feel, and thus have our gallery accessible from two locations.

Using the FAlbum plugin for WordPress, the engine which powers our blogs, integration of our Flickr account into our own site was very simple. A simple install and quick edit to the templates, and it looked like the rest if our website.

A quick edit to the main site navigation, and it was live, and updating itself from Flickr whenever we added a new photo or even changed a description. Since Flickr handles image resizing for you, there's even less work to do.

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Now Wessex have got their own web pages with pictures directly linked to the Flickr site, with links bringing readers back to the Wessex site from the remote web pages. © 24 Hour Museum

Does it work?

Over the 12 months before September 2005, our gallery was viewed by an average of 480 people per month. 6 months after we began using Flickr, in March 2006, we received 5664 visitors (based upon sessions) to the FAlbum gallery script.

The number continues to climb as we enlarge the gallery (it's nearly 500 photos now!). This is not taking into account visits to our gallery directly on Flickr itself, as they only count individual photo views, or a cumulative total of people who have viewed your "photostream" (currently 11,500 views).

We have been very pleased with the success of this experiment, and will continue to build our gallery on Flickr. Some have expressed concern about people misusing the ability for people to add tags to our photos, but so far, in over a year of having the account, user-added tags have been sensible and helpful.

An increasing number of picture researchers are using Flickr to search for images to use in publications. Our exposure on Flickr has seen an increase in requests for our photos to be used in print, for which we often charge a fee if it is for commercial use.

For non-commercial use, it is now our philosophy to freely allow people to use our photos. We will soon be adopting a Creative Commons (Non-Commercial/No Derivatives/Attribution) license to actively show that people may use our photographs. Flickr supports these licenses, and allows you to specify them by default or on a per photograph basis. A logo is displayed next to the photo that reflects this.

We strongly believe that people using our images on their blogs or personal websites are of great benefit to us. They help others find out about our work, and hopefully help them learn a little bit about the past.

Feedback from regular gallery visitors has been very positive, and the open source frameworks that can connect to the service have allowed us to explore new ways to use our photographs that we had never before considered.

We will be considerably expanding the number of photographs available, and using the new "geotagging" feature on Flickr to show where photographs were taken on a map. Never before has making an image gallery actually been exciting!

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