Library of Congress tests Web 2.0 photo archive

The Library of Congress has turned to the popular online picture-sharing community of Flickr for help with tagging the library's voluminous photo archives.

A pilot project named The Commons will open galleries from older news and wire services to online comments from the public. Officials are hoping people can help the library gather more relevant facts and data about the images and build a richer archive.

That goal is accomplished primarily through metatags, or one-word descriptions of categories. Some examples of tags include “working,” “WWII” and “strength” attached to a 1943 photo of a woman working as a riveter at a Nashville, Tenn., aircraft plant.

Site visitors can also comment on photos or highlight areas to see more details. One image of an Army pilot has tags identifying the equipment hanging off the man’s uniform. Comments include details about the plane engine looming above the pilot’s head in the background.

Many tags might not be quite as useful, partly due to the informal nature of the system. One witty annotator tagged a photo depicting a group of student pilots clothed in matching white jumpsuits with a joking reference to the somewhat similarly uniformed new-wave group Devo.

And some annotators simply leave comments about how much they enjoy being able to view thousands of the library’s archival photos.

“From the library’s perspective, this pilot project is a statement about the power of the Web and user communities to help people better acquire information, knowledge and, most importantly, wisdom,” said Matt Raymond, the library’s communications director, in a blog posting heralding the launch of The Commons.

Developed by Canadian company Ludicorp as part of a massive online game, Flickr has evolved into one of the most popular picture-sharing sites in the world. It hosts more than 2 billion images.

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