What Visitors are Saying: A View into the Smithsonian on the Flickr Commons

On June 16th, 2008, the Smithsonian Institution made
first foray onto
the world of social photo-sharing websites as the fourth institution to join
Flickr Commons. The Commons is
a special area of Flickr that gathers together photo collections from both
national and international libraries, museums, and archives.

Here is a summary of moments that have excited, and frankly at
times, baffled us. 

People really do like portraits
of long dead scientists

If the truth be told, none of the members of the Smithsonian
Commons team expected much response to the SI Libraries photo set, “Portraits
of Scientists and Inventors.”
Boy were we wrong.

The scientists hold 4 of the top 20 slots for ‘most viewed’
photos from the Smithsonian photostream (Smithsonian photos have received over
1.2 million ‘views’ to date). To be fair, 3 of the 4 photos are of famous
scientists (Albert Einstein and Marie Curie) and the fourth is an intriguing
shot of Felix Nadar (photographer and aeronautical scientist) in a hot air

Portrait of Felix Nadar, Smithsonian Institution Libraries

Portrait of Felix Nadar (1820-1910), Photographer and Aeronautical Scientist,1910, Smithsonian Institution Libraries, http://www.flickr.com/photos/smithsonian/2583275097/

“America’s Attic” is
relevant in social media environments

…especially when it hits on current events (the presidential
) or issues (evolution vs. creationism).

The SI Archives launched a set of rare, previously
unpublished photos to the Commons which document the Tennessee v. John Thomas
Scopes Trial, a.k.a. “The Trial of the Century.” Flickr members debated
constitutional amendments
, science, and religion.

Tennessee v. John T. Scopes Trial, Smithsonian Institution Archives

Tennessee v. John T. Scopes Trial: The Seven scientists asked to testify for the defense standing in front of the Defense Mansions, 1925, by Walton Davis, Smithsonian Insitution Archives, http://www.flickr.com/photos/smithsonian/2898310107/

We see historical
record, they see creative inspiration

One flickr member, who happens to be a digital artist, was inspired by this portrait of
Edward Gay
from the Smithsonian Archives of American Art:

Reinterpretation of Edward Gay portrait by Flickr user, "Lynchburg, Virginia"

Reinterpretation of Edward Gay portrait (Smithsonian Archives of American Art) by Flickr user, "Lynchburg, Virginia," 


Web communities, like
Flickr, aren’t just distractions for the hip and wired

Since joining the Commons, we have connected with fish researchers
(www.fishbase.org), the Metropolitan Museum of Art (see their identification of
artworks from the Met’s collection
attached as a note on a photo from the SI
Arhives of American Art), history
, and enthusiastic
around the world. 

In a non-scientific survey of 61 visitors to SI on the Commons, they
self-identified as ‘regular people’, photographers, bloggers, students,
researchers, educators, librarians, and even one craftsperson. As a side note, 100
% of these respondents have a more favorable opinion of the Smithsonian because
of our participation in the Commons.


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