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Wednesday, 15 December 2010


I was fiddling about in my office bookshelves the other night, waiting for a pizza to arrive. I uncovered my work notes from 2008, the year I was laid off by Yahoo!. Written some time between November 7th and 11th, this note-to-self feels timely again, given the most recent layoffs in my former backyard.

The Flickr Foundation is a not-for-profit organization devoted to protecting the Flickr archive in the long term, and to facilitating cultural heritage projects concerned with the digital domain.

In January of 2008, we released The Commons on Flickr. Ostensibly a pilot project to share photography archives from the Library of Congress, The Commons has flowered into a unique collection of photography (and other visual materials) from publicly-held collections all over the world, and shared with no known copyright restriction.

It was in conversation with various member institutions we realized what a cultural treasure the whole of Flickr comprises - over 3 billion "works" published by their creators. It is a unique reflection of the world since Flickr's inception in 2004 (and going back to the beginning of photography in The Commons).

This massive corpus deserves special treatment, and conservation into the future.

There's an unsurprising tension between corporations and perpetuity, so [in an alternate future where I didn't lose my job and Yahoo! created a new priority for itself as a corporation] we've decided to create The Flickr Foundation*, a DotORG to make new methods of protection, partnership and proliferation to conserve the world's digital commons. *Was I clear on the alternate future bit?

Having worked at the Internet Archive for about 18 months now, I feel I've gained more knowledge in the arena of digital preservation, and am still interested in this Foundation idea. It's not just the photographs themselves either. It's the Whole Thing. The conversations, the connections, and the contexts are also profoundly valuable. Defining the edge of one person's network in preservation terms—their data footprint in a system, or systems—is deeply complex, and something of a useless model, since it's the entire system that gives Flickr it's richness.

I've also learnt more about the -clasm suffix, particularly in terms of biblioclasm. There's myriad examples in history of bookish destruction throughout history. It's not that corporate death is necesarily always a political or destructive act, but, particularly with digital information, the vast deletion swathes could be considered somewhat "clasmic."

Earlier this year, I was honoured to be asked to participate in a National Conversation on the Economic Sustainability of Digital Information in DC, held by the Blue Ribbon Taskforce on Sustainable Digital Preservation and Access (phew). One of the points which has stuck with me is the necessity for us to consider the longevity of our data and knowledge in a corporate context. Archives are so often born post-mortem, but they need to become part of the business plan; not only in terms of a negative "funeral strategy" but a positive data management plan.

Lots of questions and ideas. And concerns.

Posted at 4:04 am

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