Presenting at WikiConference USA

Tomorrow its the beginning of WikiConference USA 2014 which is an exciting conference will be devoted to topics concerning “…the Wikimedia movement in the United States, as well as related topics of free culture and digital rights.” This is going to be an interesting couple of days.

My presentation will be made for Commons Machinery and is called Image by Wikipedia Here is the abstract

Imagine if you could go anywhere online and see the license and credit of any image you so choose. With the click of a button, you could see who created an image, where it’s been published before, what license terms are associated with it, where you can find other copies or mashups of it, and where you can buy a signed print from the creator.

Providing proper attribution for images is the key to making that happen. Unfortunately, it’s not unusual for images and other material from Wikipedia and Wikimedia Commons to find their way into newspapers or other publications with less than stellar attributions. “Image by Wikipedia” or just “Image from Internet” is a common attribution to find. Creative Commons and other open licenses have made it simple to license images for everyone’s free use, but using images licensed in such a way requires proper attribution and this has proven to be quite difficult.

In this session, we invite participants to a discussion about the relevance of attribution, the possibilities that proper attributions offers, and how contributors to Wikipedia (and Wikipedia itself!) want to be attributed when images and other materials are re-used. The session will also give examples of how the world would look if we could automate the process of attribution, demonstrate some of the tools that already exist for automatic attribution (as well as the limitations of current technologies) and lay out how Wikipedia could help people move from “Image by Wikipedia” to something more relevant.

Join the #AttributionRevolution

Proper attribution is important and also usually difficult, or at least time consuming. That’s why anything that can help with this will become an important and useful tool. The awesome crew at Commons Machinery are now looking for beta testers for the so if you are a photographer, graphic designer, multimedia artist or just a visual creator please sign up to test this new tool.

Here is the description from the home page: is a new set of tools to make attribution and remixing easy and quick for you. Are you a multimedia artist? Do you design presentations for work or school? Do you find crediting various sources difficult because you have to spend hours on getting the attribution right? Fear not, is here!’s tools and services ensure that there is a persistent link between a creation and its context. Be it for a presentation, school assignment, music video or article, you will always have the information you need to know to give the credit people deserve.

We believe that proper attribution is the currency of the information age. Giving due credit encourages people to produce more and share more! Except now, you don’t have to remember: will remember for you!

You can sign up to become beta testers for here. You can also tweet to us at @elog_io. Join the #attributionrevolution…and you could get special goodies too! If you have questions about our services or specific attribution problems that need solving, write to us at and we’ll make you our top priority!

Join the Attribution Revolution

Victorian Transgression, Transgender & Attribution

The hugely popular twitter account @HistoryInPics received a nice publicity puff when Alexis Madrigal wrote about the account in The Atlantic the article was all about the great new spirit of a couple of teenagers running their business. But the article did not mention the ways in which their business was built on copyright violation, sometimes presented false histories and generally produced little of value.

A much better article, provoked by the Atlantic, was posted on the Wynken De Word blog: It’s history, not a viral feed. Here the author thoughtfully explains what is wrong with the feed. The lack of attribution and basic helpfulness to source images and also the ways in which false history is so easily pushed and becomes accepted truth.

Yes, the images do create an interest. But they do not allow any further discussion beyond “cool image”. The learning experience is snuffed out before it even has a chance to begin. Let me demonstrate:

Today this cool image was re-tweeted from the account @historyepics (an account similar to @HistoryInPics). It was entitled Victorian Transgression

victorianJudging by the content the image is old enough to be in the public domain and therefore free to re-use. But it could also be a new photo done in an old style which would mean that the right to reproduce is limited and this could very well be copyright violation. Even if the photo is free to use the lack of attribution is very unfortunate.

The picture is still the picture. It is intriguing and lovely. But what does it mean? Who are the people in the photo? Why are they wearing those clothes? Are their linked arms to be seen as intimacy and acceptance? Or maybe mutual support?

Without any knowledge of the background we can only speculate as to what the image means. Is this a photo of a Victorian transvestites? Is it just a joke (a Victorian lolcat)? Are the couple going to a fancy dress party? Or is this a transgender couple? Is it the result of a wager? Maybe it’s a theatrical image? Is it a protest against social conformity to unreasonably rigid gender roles in Victorian society? Or is it just photoshop?

If this photo is as old as it seems then it is in the public domain and can be spread without any information. But this legal right does nothing to support our learning in general and our knowledge of the specific situation.

If only we had a database containing vast knowledge… Yes, I googled Victorian Transgression and found nothing about the photo. But I did come across these other images. This time they were from Pinterest.

And this

What does it all mean? Is this a useful addition to the knowledge of gender roles in Victorian society? Or is it just shallow eyecandy for us to like and ignore? Without knowing what the picture represents I cannot use it in other settings (like lectures). I could be helping in the creation of false history.

Without attribution (even to a incomplete source) the barriers to actual knowledge and understanding of what we see is to high. All we have is an image that appears across our screens. The reality of the image can only be replaced by our own subjective interpretation without any recourse to facts. The reproduction of content, without sourcing it, takes the knowledge out of its context and makes it one dimensional. Only by showing sources can the onlooker be assisted to a better understanding.

To @historyepics & @HistoryInPics and their ilk who make social media shallow, I say: Images without context is not history. I doubt they care, but I do.

Is attribution really that important?

This post was written for Commons Machinery:

A little over a year ago, I was presented with a fascinating idea: that we have moved beyond the concept of authorship and are more interested in the provider. The basic idea is that “who told me” becomes more important than “who made it”.

This is an important, interesting and valuable distinction. Often, when it comes to authorship, the person who told me the idea and the person who created the idea are the same. But there are many situations where the creator is not relevant to my enjoyment of the information or the importance of the knowledge it imparts.

When we read information on Wikipedia, we are aware that every page is the product of hard-working individuals creating, arguing and re-writing so that we can easily skim the text and think that we “know” something. Who made it? Doesn’t really matter – does it? But who told me? Wikipedia told me. And I will return to Wikipedia for my information needs.

When a teacher explains basic mathematics, the genius creators of the system are totally ignored. The educator’s role supersedes the mathematicians: the information itself is more important than the great minds who first developed it. In some cases we even wrongly attribute – even with the correct information easily available – something like “Who discovered America?” The popular (mis)belief is louder than the real knowledge we have in our brains and libraries.

In our permanent states of information overload, it is more important to follow the right people and sources of information. My information sources are more important to me than the individuals who create that knowledge. If my sources are trustworthy, I get good information. If they are not, I don’t.

by Connor Ullman, used with permission

by Connor Ullman, used with permission

All this is true – but all this does not change the value of attribution. In each case (except Columbus…I don’t understand Columbus), there is a creator who has worked hard to produce something of value. That work should be recognized and appreciated. Not every individual who worked on a Wikipedia article is recognized but we should always recognize the effort of the collective.

This is even truer when the creative work stems from an individual (or a smaller collective than Wikipedia). All the creators of works should be recognized so that they may be appreciated and valued. Some will be rewarded financially; others will be rewarded with our respect. But without attribution, how can we know who to respect?

For example: I like the Depressed Alien comic strip by Connor Ullmann. I particularly loved this one, and I sent the image from my phone to a couple of friends and smiled. But by using this image here (with permission) and attributing the work to Ullmann, we know who made us smile, more people can smile, and Ullmann may be encouraged to continue making us smile. By recognizing someone’s creative skills, we are rewarding them for their insights, talent and work. Isn’t that a great reason for attribution?


Making attribution work

One of the problems with using as many Creative Commons licensed images as I do is creating and maintaining a system so that I am able to attribute the right picture to the right creator in the right way.

This is why I’m excited about the project Commons Machinery that promises to make my life much easier.

Commons Machinery is building infrastructure in support of the Commons. Our aim is to make the use of digital works as easy as possible by developing new technology built on open standards for licensing, attribution and provenance.

So support Commons Machinery and make attribution (and life) easier.