Flickr’s The Commons is a really clever initiative.
Flickr gets high-value historical content (the kind of stuff that drives the long tail) and some nice publicity. The collections get to bring their content to many new users in a new way. Beyond access, the collections can also accrue tags, comments, and geo-tags, potentially adding a layer of valuable data. Since the photos are in the public domain (and marked as such), everyone has full re-use rights; there’s no threat of Flickr holding the collections hostage. (I don’t know whether the collections can mass-export all the associated data in a useful format, though. If not, The Commons is basically just a neat toy and not of archival value.) All around, it’s a great collaboration between for-profit and non-profit entities, where everybody wins, including the public.
The confluence of all this is maybe best demonstrated in this blog post by Australia’s Powerhouse Museum, the latest to join The Commons:
What Flickr offers the Powerhouse is an immediate large and broader audience for this content. And with this exposure we hope that we will have a strong driver to increase the cataloguing and digitisation of the remaining Tyrrell glass plate negatives as well as many more the previously hidden photographic collections of the Powerhouse.
In other words, projects like this create demand for more digitization of open content. Now that’s a comedy of the commons.