Chris Horwell from the New Zealand Historic Places Trust shares her experience crowdsourcing images for the Register Online, a listing of heritage places, to increase its value for the people who use it.
I’d like to share my experience of crowd sourcing images using Flickr and the positive relationship New Zealand Historic Places Trust (NZHPT) has built with our Flickr contributors — or, as I affectionately call them, my “Flickr family”.
NZHPT Image Project
When I took on the role of Image Researcher in 2010, my primary task was to add images to the NZHPT Register Online. The Register is an online listing of heritage places. It has two goals: to let the public know that these treasures exist, and to assist in their protection. There are around 5,600 entries on the Register, including historic places, historic areas, wahi tapu and wahi tapu areas. It includes houses, public buildings, bridges, archaeological sites, shipwrecks, churches and monuments.
Our aim is to have at least one image displayed for all historic areas and historic places in New Zealand. This is a daunting task when you consider that in 2010 (when I took on the position) we only had images for 68% of the registered properties, and a lot of those images were poor quality or too small to see any real detail. Here is a typical listing on the Register (which is also NZHPT’s National Office).
Thankfully my predecessor discovered the photo sharing website Flickr.com. For a yearly subscription of $25, we can see thousands of images, and we can contact photographers to ask permission to add their image to our Register.
After establishing our own Flickr page, we posted lists of historic places and areas requiring images and within a short time people started adding images to our pending pool. Since taking on the role of Image Researcher I’ve seen the number of images submitted to our pool explode — to date over 400 images have been added to our Register, with 150 images waiting in our pending pool and more being added daily.
It's been my experience that people who post images of historic places on Flickr already have a genuine interest in visually preserving our heritage. Being members of a photo sharing website usually means they’re happy to have their images viewed and commented on, and are quite approachable regarding sharing their work. I’ve found that as long as you ask nicely Flickr members are a very amiable bunch.
When I find a photographer who has several images I'd like to add to our Register, I contact them requesting ‘blanket permission’ to use their images. This means they give NZHPT permission to use any of their images displayed on Flickr, thus eliminating the need for multiple back and forth correspondence. So far I’ve had a 100% positive response to my requests.
Some individuals are very organised and have arranged their images in sets labelled for easy reference, eg “Churches” or “Nelson 2011”. Some members go out of their way to photograph places listed on the Register whenever they travel. I even have a few people who research the properties and include information and a link to the Register listing with their photos. In all cases, proactive Flickr members regularly add images to the pending pool. I can then transfer these to our Images Project page where they can be viewed by Flickr members.
With the help of our Flickr family, we’ve seen the number of listings with a corresponding image attached increase from 17% in January 2008 to 90% in May 2013 — as well as a substantial improvement in the quality and variety of images displayed.
Dealing with Flickr and its members is pretty straight forward. Non-reply to Flickr mail and the regular changes to the format of their website are my only complaints. Those minor issues aside, it’s easy and fun to use and I highly recommend visiting the site. There are so many beautiful images and some very talented people out there.
Today I find myself in an unusual situation: part of the generation that was on the cusp of the computer age, e.g. Star Wars (original release) vs (21st C.) Minority Report. Having missed the initial technological tidal wave while raising a family, I tentatively put a toe in the water using Flickr and now find myself riding the crest of the wave that is social media on my bloggy-board, white-knuckling it while secretly enjoying the thrill, and all the while hoping I don’t fall off and drown in the rip tide that is the web.
It’s a scary world wide web out there…
…but come on in, the water’s good!
Some examples of replacement images from Flickr: