Wikipedia Loves Art: Lessons Learned Part 2: Competition

This next part of the story will take you through the actual competition which was held during February 2009.

I admit…index cards…say it with me now…FAIL! (now don’t we all feel better?)

“We ask that you shoot each work twice. First time shoot the object with an index card in the frame that displays the object’s accession number, your team name, and category name so we can assign points. Second time shoot the object again, but this time without the card. Submit both shots to this group. Museum staff will use the information on the index card to properly caption the image with the correct object information and credit line and the second, clean shot will then be used for Wikipedia.”

Wow, this was a silly idea. It was something we adopted from Wikis Takes Manhattan and it seemed straightforward enough in that situation where it worked, but ours was a different story.  Institutions needed to caption submitted images, so index cards to keep all the submissions straight and give us some context seemed like a good idea at the time. We knew it would be tiresome, but we didn’t realize it was going to be comedy and tragedy on so many levels.  Some participants came up with creative solutions to save time and trees: Trish used a spiral notebook and just flipped pages; yonghokim used a laptop; some used Photoshop to do something similar; there was the awesome whiteboard approach from Moria; and check out the home-grown whiteboard from The Wookies!  These inventive ways to deal with this just kept us smiling.  Once everyone added shots to the group everything got out of order anyway and we had a total mess to sort through (Flickr drawback!  More pros/cons on that subject down the page). We actually could have saved time on our end if we hadn’t used them—yes, Erin and I wanted to scream. Looking back, I had to ask myself…what was wrong with tagging, exactly?


Wiki LOVES art (end) via luluinnyc | Amy Dreher on Flickr

In the end, Amy’s shot above and this Twitter status from CJ say it all. This was hard on the photographers, it was hard on us and it was overall a total mess. Sorry folks, by the time we realized what was happening, we didn’t feel it would be fair to switch gears, but at least we all suffered through this part together. So many of you tried to help by creating sets to keep things in order, making sure accession numbers were on your photos and overall just being absolute troopers in the face of this nuttiness. Many, many countless thank yous.

You gotta freeze like ‘ya mean it…

If you are ever running a project like this, please make sure to freeze all lists, rules and deadlines once the competition starts and ensure everyone working with you knows the ground rules. Changes are enough to drive participants off the deep end. To see an example of this madness, see #2 here. We just can’t add items to lists or extend deadlines. The answer just has to be no.  This was something I knew, but sometimes I’d let things slide.  That was a mistake and I know better—if you were one of the participants affected by any of these changes, I apologize (sorry, Trish).

There was only one time when changes couldn’t be helped—Victor, I will never forget your face upon hearing that some works on the MoMA list had been removed from the galleries after the first week of the competition. It was kind of a funny moment for all of us. Thank you, everyone, for taking that in stride!

Flickr = Awesome + Problem

Flickr is an amazing tool and we just couldn’t have done this project without it. The ability to go in and machine tag images, so they could be easily sorted and categorized was vital. The ability to easily delete disqualified images from the group, to have multiple administrators and moderators—all awesome. The API provided a 2-day programming project to bring you the scoreboard. Communication via the discussion forum was a breeze. There are Greasemonkey scripts and they saved us major amounts of time. We could come up with a creative solution to close the submissions across 5 timezones (thank you for this idea, zyrcster). Most of all, Flickr allowed each institution to take part as group admins and allowed participants to get to know us and vice versa.

On the flip side, some participants were new to Flickr which meant things like licensing, adding to groups, tagging, bulk uploading, batch processing…all that was just new enough to be difficult.  CJ helped with a howtoFlickr and Ayelie pitched in with a photography guide (thank you both). We also ran into trouble when we saw participants using free Flickr accounts, uploading high resolution images and then maxing out their account storage (free accounts have limited storage). Users with Flickr Pro accounts didn’t have storage issues, but they curate their feeds and were not keen on flooding their audiences with massive amounts of standard art shots.  As mentioned above, we also had serious issues when images were added to the pool landed out of order.

Collaboration hurdles (btw, I was never very good at hurdles in track)

As I had mentioned, one of the objectives was to ensure correct information was migrating to Wikipedia and this meant creating a funnel of sorts. Everyone shoots and uploads to Flickr, museums have the opportunity to caption properly, so that when images are selected for Wikipedia articles information is correct.

Very early, we started running into a few issues. We noticed some participants uploading to the group and missing steps like adding tagging or changing licensing.  We’d politely e-mail or comment to try and explain what adjustments needed to be made, but we started hearing responses along the lines of “No worries, I’m really not in it for the competition, so I’ll just upload directly to Wikimedia Commons.” You can also start to see this come up over and over again in the forum. We started to realize this was an ideals thing, a cultural thing. I am not here to take sides on this issue, but I am here to say these kinds of issues on a project where we are all trying to work together is a bit problematic. Check out the killer example: Toransuke posts a question about what can/cannot be shot, we explain the situation. Then Toransuke mentions in this thread that in response to the previous thread someone FlickrMailed him to say “hey, just upload to Commons directly.” Toransuke works for a museum, understands why we might not be so happy about this, so he asks about it. The image below so perfectly captures what it felt like to be seeing these things and wondering what I got all of us into.


vaquilla by lawmoment via Flickr. All Rights Reserved.

It’s at this point, that I will ask you to e-mail me if you are thinking about a similar project, so I can explain the nuances in greater detail—this was a serious issue and not one we take lightly. I want to emphasize that there were many awesome participants who worked hard to understand and follow our labyrinth of guidelines—both Erin and I will be giving some serious props to these peeps in the next two posts.

Lessons Learned in Round 2:

  • Have contact information for all participants. We asked everyone to register and this was essential. It made informing the group of any major changes and clarifications much simpler. This extra step could not have been more worth it.
  • Freeze. No exceptions, no matter how tempting or simple the request seems.
  • Keep it simple. Tagging would have been fine, index cards were overkill.
  • I wouldn’t take on a project like this without a tool like Flickr, but I’m really lost on how to fix the other issues Flickr caused and they were fairly substantial.
  • Clarify when you need to. Fix problems fast.
  • Be sure to check the forums at all times to answer questions.
  • Always provide e-mail addresses so participants can contact you offline if they need to.
  • The nuances of collaboration were serious enough to stop any future participation from us.

OK, tomorrow we will focus on what’s been happening after the close of the competition and single out some really awesome peeps.