SmugMug and Flickr have joined forces once again, and this time, it’s to expand of their efforts to promote and preserve photography online. They’ve started Flickr Foundation, a new non-profit foundation dedicated to preserving billions of historic and culturally significant photos. Flickr and SmugMug want to keep them “safe, sound, and accessible for future generations,” so they can have a remarkable and easily available insight into history.
“At SmugMug + Flickr, we believe that photography is an incredibly important visual record of our history,” says SmugMug and Flickr COO Ben MacAskill. “But as citizens, we don’t have nearly enough access to our own photographic histories in the public domain. The Flickr Foundation is being founded expressly to change that.”
The seed for the foundation actually started way back in 2008, and you may already be familiar with it. It’s Flickr Commons, the idea of Flickr designer George Oates. She wanted to create a program that would help the world’s cultural institutions share their photography collections, and it was launched in collaboration of the United States Library of Congress.
“The Commons project began with two aims,” says Oates. “Firstly, to increase exposure to the amazing content currently held in the public collections of civic institutions around the world; and secondly, to facilitate the collection of knowledge about these collections, with the hope that this information would feed back into the catalogs, making them richer and easier to search.”
As you probably know, Flickr’s been through a lot over the past decade or so. It changed owners and had its ups and downs, SmugMug acquired it from Yahoo in 2018. Today, you can find a remarkable collection of public domain and historically significant images from various contributors, including the Smithsonian, the British Library, NASA, The Library of Congress, and many others.
We’re to thank in large part to Oates for that collection. “Having departed Flickr years earlier, she was brought back in 2020 to help revitalize The Commons after participation had flagged,” SmugMug notes. “I reached out to George with two questions,” says Don MacAskill, CEO at SmugMug and Flickr. “What does a bright future for the Commons look like, and how do we build something that has value to the member organizations and the open culture ecosystem?”
Oates came up with a solution: Create a non-profit foundation to run alongside the beloved photo community. Its express goal is to preserve photography online for the next hundred years. She says that the proposal was approved almost overnight.
The Flickr Foundation’s mission
“The foundation’s mission is to make sure Flickr will be preserved for future generations,” says Oates. “We are already working on the idea of a very long-term outlook, while acknowledging we don’t have enough voices in the mix yet. A major project will be the 100-year plan, and we’ve held several research workshops to begin to shape what such a plan should look like.”
The Flickr Foundation is developing programs in four major areas of cultural preservation: Flickr Commons, content mobility, creative archiving, and fostering new curators. Through these efforts, the Foundation aims to preserve, expand, and care for the wealth of historic images on Flickr, and plan for the long-term health and longevity of the entire Flickr collection.
“At the heart of the Foundation is the belief that sharing is vitally important to our communities and our society,” says Ryan Merkley, long-time open advocate and former CEO at Creative Commons and Chief of Staff at the Wikimedia Foundation. “Sharing is in our nature, and it has compounding benefits for everyone involved. The more people who see these photos from the world’s most important institutions, the better we understand our history. The better we understand our history, and the more we work together to preserve it, the brighter our future becomes.”