Wednesday, 1 June 2011

Mass uploading your Flickr photos to Wikimedia Commons

Why would I want to?
  • Wikimedia Commons is the multi-media friendly website that shares images, audio and video with Wikipedia in 270+ languages plus sister projects such as Wikiversity and Wikisource. Many people and organizations would like to have some or all of the photos they are happy to share freely on Flickr, available and used on Wikipedia. A number of large institutions already use "Flickr Commons" to share images from their digital collections and if these are released on a public domain license, or only limited by requiring attribution, these are candidates for easy mass upload to Wikimedia Commons.
  • Many individuals have interesting collections of images on Flickr from their hobbies or holiday trips. With a bit of work ensuring the titles are plain English (these are used as the file names on Wikimedia Commons), tidying up Flickr tags and adding a few good descriptions these would make great additions to Wikimedia Commons.
  • Once uploaded, you have the benefit of other "e-volunteers" helping by improving descriptions, adding categories, using the images on Wikipedia and elsewhere and even digitally correcting poorly exposed or old marked photographs (if they are interesting enough!)
Do I have to do this myself?
Example standard Commons upload wizard in the middle of taking
several images at once from my hard disk.
  • If you are uploading a manageable number of images (say less than 50), then the built-in upload features of Wikimedia Commons are excellent for loading a small batch of files from your hard disk, which you can then describe, categorize and suitably rename before committing to final publication. Try it out at and check the general help available. For very large numbers (say, more than 1,000) you may want to raise a request at COM:BATCH, even if you feel technically capable, as without a bit of planning and discussion you might find yourself spending many tedious hours correcting license details or categorization errors which you only noticed after the upload.
  • If you are in the middle ground (a couple of hundred images which you have on a Flickr stream) then check out Flickr Mass in the case study below, this avoids any retyping of the details and tags you have on Flickr and makes some pretty good guesses for you during the process.
Case study for Flickr Mass tool
Last weekend I spent an afternoon for the first time playing around with Flickr Mass. To use the tool you have to already have an account set up on Wikimedia Commons (or Wikipedia) and then register on the toolserver. After a bit of testing out the features I went on to upload around 250 of the photos that the London School of Economics Library has on their Flickr photo stream. These were perfect for uploading automatically as they are:
  • suitably licensed on a free license suitable for Wikimedia Commons (i.e. no non-commercial or no-derivatives restrictions)
  • have descriptive titles, full extended descriptions in the Flickr description box and include links back to the original source library digital catalogue
Set of photos (mostly of William Beverage) loaded to the new category of LSE Commons.
The process was intuitive and I could filter by title words, any Flickr tag or by words in the description. A handy feature was to run the tool as a simulation which shows you exactly what is going to happen before doing it for real and releasing images to Wikimedia Commons.

The images uploaded extremely well, I did not have to re-type any of the titles or descriptions as these were so nicely done on Flickr. I uploaded filtering on certain tag names (including "poster" and "portrait").

A key tip is that Flickr Mass will assume that image tags on Flickr make suitable categories and so will add them as categories if the words match an existing Wikimedia Commons category. I had to do a bit of tidying up on the images to remove surplus categories of "LSE" and in many cases "glasses" (where someone had tagged every portrait of people with glasses). Obviously if the Flickr stream is yours, it would be easy to tidy up the tags and add tags that have the same name as Wikimedia Commons categories that you would like to see added.

After uploading you may well find the gadgets HotCat and Cat-a-lot (you can find these under your Wikimedia Commons Preferences) quite useful as a time saver for re-categorizing images and changing where groups of images are located.

You can surf the final outcome my upload at In the end I spent most of a day due to a steep learning curve and the time taken afterwards fixing categories. If I were to do this again with a few hundred images I would guess that this would take realistically about an hour if the Flickr stream were already well organized and it would be much easier if I owned the Flickr stream and could re-organize the tags.

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