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.

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.