Beyond Text: Report from the Multimedia Usability Meeting in Paris

What’s Wikimedia Commons?

Expanding our collective knowledge requires not just text, but contemporary and historical photographs, paintings, maps, figures, video footage, spoken text, animations — in short, multimedia. With more than 5.5 million freely usable media files, Wikimedia Commons is a vast repository of such content. It was founded in 2004 to be the central clearinghouse and library of multimedia for all of Wikimedia’s projects, and also serves the free content and education community as a whole.

Wikimedia volunteers act as photographers, illustrators, discoverers, reviewers, catalogers, researchers and engineers. Sometimes, in order to make more material available, they serve as liaisons with cultural institutions. Most recently, for example, the Tropenmuseum in the Netherlands made 35,000 historical photographs of Indonesia available (more about this partnership).

From November 6 to 8, a group of about thirty people met in Paris to discuss how to improve the processes and technologies for contributing multimedia to Wikimedia projects. It was the first meeting of its kind, sponsored and organized by one of Wikimedia’s chapter organizations, Wikimedia France, in partnership with the Wikimedia Foundation.

In July, the Wikimedia Foundation received a $300,000 grant from the Ford Foundation to make it easier to add multimedia to our projects (see previous blog post). The purpose of our meeting in Paris was to support the kick-off of this initiative, and to bring volunteers doing multimedia-focused work together with software developers. Beyond the scope of activities within the Ford grant, we hope to see a large number of volunteer projects flourish that will enrich the Wikimedia experience beyond text.

We used the three-day meeting to both plan specific projects and activities, and to actually develop working code. Among the outcomes:

  • Increased awareness of our shared activities through demonstrations and discussions (list of projects we reviewed).

  • Experimental roll-out of functionality to track usage of media from Wikimedia Commons across other Wikimedia projects; a first implementation of wiki-editable subtitles for videos, and smaller hacks and improvements.

  • Draft ideas and concepts for improving the user experience on Wikimedia Commons as a whole: upload, site experience, metadata, search, third party use of Commons content, education about the project mission.

  • A clearer articulation of the needs that are specific to working with cultural institutions (galleries, libraries, archives, and museums – “GLAM”): case studies and success stories (a first case study was developed at the meeting), metrics, mass uploading tools, support processes, etc.

Developers developing

Developers developing

Summaries and notes from the respective work groups are available. If you’re interested in participating in any of these efforts, feel free to add yourself to the relevant “movers” section.

Unlike Wikimania and other larger Wikimedia gatherings, this meeting was a rare opportunity to focus on one specific problem area, and the first international gathering of this type. This approach turned out to be highly productive, and we hope to be able to use it in other problem areas in the future.

Because it’s rare for such an international and diverse group to meet, some participants met prior to the multimedia meeting to support the Wikimedia-wide strategic planning process; notes from this pre-meeting can be found on the StrategyWiki.

We want to thank all the participants of the Multimedia Usability Meeting for attending, and hope to organize similar meetings focused on other challenges and opportunities in the future. The Wikimedia Foundation wishes to thank Wikimédia France for sponsoring and organizing the meeting. Furthermore, we are grateful to Wikimedia Nederlands, Wikimedia Deutschland, and Wikimedia Polska for additional travel sponsorships. Your donations to the Wikimedia Foundation and to Wikimedia chapters help us to support future meetings like this one.

Erik Möller, Deputy Director, Wikimedia Foundation
Delphine Ménard, Treasurer, Wikimédia France

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