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Wikimedia Commons is turning 10 years old this Sunday — will you help celebrate? We’re asking everyone to join the Wikimedia community by sharing a freely licensed image with world.

Wikimedia Commons is one of the world’s largest resources of freely licensed educational media. It is the central repository of the majority of illustrations for Wikipedia, and it includes more than 22 million images of everything from the first human flight to the last of the quaggas. Historical treasures, like an 8th century Chinese star map, can be found alongside the most recent stars of the annual Eurovision song contest.

You can find the images on Commons illustrating the articles on Wikipedia, as the photographs in your newspapers, and as diagrams in your school projects. They are always freely licensed, and include the contributions of individual amateur photographers alongside donations from the collections of the world’s leading archives.

All this is possible thanks to the incredible work of the volunteer Wikimedia Commons community. Over ten years, four million registered users have uploaded the images and other media, curated licensing and attribution information, created categories, organized metadata, and removed non-educational content or images that are not freely licensed.[1] In addition to their work on-wiki, these volunteers have inspired partnerships with leading cultural institutions in order to make even more images and media available to the world.

The very first photograph uploaded to Wikimedia Commons ("Quail1.PNG " by Node, under CC-BY-SA-3.0)

The very first photograph uploaded to Wikimedia Commons (“Quail1.PNG “ by Node, today under CC-BY-SA-3.0)

Wikimedia Commons officially launched on September 7th, 2004, with an informal email to a Wikimedia mailing list. The note, which pointed users to commons.wikimedia.org, expressed a vague hope that someday the project would “get[s] its own domain.” (We’re happy to say that it’s still right there!) That same day, user:Node_ue uploaded the very first photograph, a snapshot of two wild Gambel’s quail, taken while they “happen[ed] to be eating birdseed in my parents’ backyard.”

The creation of Commons had been suggested by then-volunteer Wikimedian Erik Moeller (today the deputy director of the Wikimedia Foundation). His initial March 2004 proposal for a central repository for images, public domain texts, and other freely licensed documents expressed the hope that Commons could “provide the largest such repository of freely licensed material, with a quality control mechanism” — the Wikimedia community itself – “that other projects lack.”

The years since have witnessed creativity, collaborations, and even competitions — all originating from the Commons community — , evidence that its initial vision has become reality.

Over the past decade, the Commons community has greatly expanded the depth, content, and availability of photographs, historical documents, and other materials through partnerships with cultural institutions, known to Wikimedians as GLAMs (for Galleries, Libraries, Archives, Museums). Donations from organizations such as the French National Library and the German National Archives have added priceless educational and cultural richness to Wikimedia Commons. This past summer, the U.S. National Archives, having already provided more than 100,000 images, announced its intention to upload all of its holdings to Commons.

Wikimedia Commons is also the home of the community-created Wiki Loves Monuments competition, now in its fifth year and currently inviting entries until the end of September. Wiki Loves Monuments, which asks people from around the globe to share images of their cultural heritage, including historic buildings, monuments, and other creations, has been recognized by the Guinness Book of World Records as the largest photo competition in the world.

We’re celebrating these and many more achievements and milestones on this 10th anniversary, and we’re asking you to celebrate with us. How can you get started? There’s a good guide here, but in general Commons is always looking for freely-licensed images that are not yet part of its collection, especially high quality images for Wikipedia articles that don’t yet have illustrations, or images of notable people, places, or historic events. If you don’t have a freely-licensed image of your own to share, you may want to consider starting a conversation with your local cultural institution about how they might contribute their collection to Commons.

By sharing appropriate images under a free license, you’re becoming a member of the Commons community of creators and curators, and ensuring the project’s strength for another decade to come.

Lila Tretikov, Executive Director

  1. In doing so, Wikimedia Commons volunteers have become well acquainted with the intricacies of international copyright law (did you know that users have researched and documented the “freedom of panorama” regulations for 147 countries on Commons?). The Commons’ community’s careful curation of images is evidenced by the extremely low number of copyright takedown requests received by the Foundation each year, as documented in our recently released transparency report.

 
A selection of images from Wikimedia Commons (you can also browse through the full collection of 6,389 Featured Pictures – images that the community has chosen to be highlighted as some of the finest on Commons):