Fotopedia is a photography-centric encyclopedia founded in 2009. It aims to provide a dynamically growing collection of high-quality photos on topics of general interest. Some examples of topics covered by Fotopedia:
- Barcelona (travel)
- FC Barcelona (sports, fans)
- Antoni Gaudí (Barcelona architect), but even
- Barcelona Metro (special interest).
The company stresses in interviews that it was founded by five ex-Apple employees with a user-interface background. This bit of name dropping is forgiveable as there is actually something clean and elegant in both their concept and their design.
Fotopedia is growing rapidly and currently has over half a million photos on 40,000 topics or articles. Its ease-of-use, track record, and its recent launch of a high-profile iPad/iPhone App suggest that it may well find its way into the short list of Web 2.0 household names. In fact, their planned series of free “coffee table books” for iPad/iPhone apps may be attractive enough to serve as a killer app for the iPad (which is partly a coffee table device).
As the name suggests, Fotopedia is a hybrid between
- Wikipedia – the concept of a community-driven encyclopedia.
Fotopedia incidentally extracts authoritative descriptive texts for its “articles” from Wikipedia.
- and photo sharing sites like Flickr or Picasa with massive amounts of user images.
Fotopedia, however, is only for “serious” pictures – there is no point in putting your party photos in Fotopedia.
And, again, Fotopedia can interface to Flickr to easily import hand selected “serious” photos when the photo has a suitable license.
Fotopedia stated that it aims to combine the permanence of Wikipedia (articles and photo sets remain available, but gradually improve), but with the ease-of-use of Flickr. So the challenge is to mobilize significant numbers of users, each with their own interests and expertise, while not deviating too much from the authority of Wikipedia. I will come back to content reliability later.
Importing from Flickr
Fotopedia supports easy imports of photos from Flickr into Fotopedia when the photo has appropriate sharing licence. Fotopedia software simplifies the process to a few mouse clicks if the keywords and article names match well:
- The registerd Fotopedia user has control over which images are imported. This acts as a quality filter. You don’t want a “Aunt Jane drunk on Times Square” photo in the encyclopedia for Times Square.
- A (registered) Fotopedia user is not limited to his own Flickr images. Any Flickr photo with appropriate sharing licence can be imported – without permission of the original photographer (although Fotopedia abides by the original sharing conditions).
- A user can attach an image to a specific Fotopedia article using knowledge that the Flickr keywords didn’t provide. You can attach a Flick “Eagle” photo to “White-bellied Sea Eagle” if you know your Australian birds well enough.
Fotopedia and Wikimedia Commons
As far as I know, there is no formal collaboration between Fotopedia and Wikipedia. In any case, Fotopedia is essentially a direct alternative to Wikipedia’s own Wikimedia Commons: both are collections of high quality images for articles covered by Wikipedia. I won’t call this competition, as both are trying to achieve similar goals and certainly Wikipedia is entirely non-commercial.
The overlap between the two may explain why there is no automation support yet for importing Wikimedia Commons images. That would make a lot of sense because those images are already quite well linked to Wikipedia and thus Fotopedia articles. And Wikimedia Commons images were uploaded with the intent to serve as (backup) encyclopedia illustrations.
We will have to wait and see how the relationship between Fotopedia and Wikimedia Commons develops. Given the quality standards of the latter, they probably need to see what level of quality developes in Fotopedia before they accept any kind of formal relationship.
When is it useful?
Use as .. illustrations for an encyclopedia
Fotopedia itself stresses the encyclopedia side and actually has guidelines and a ranking system that stress this:
Is this a great photo to illustrate Golden Gate Bridge?
Encyclopedic articles obviously benefit from well-selected or even custom diagrams. But Wikipedia’s articles already have illustrations as well as significant collections of browseable illustrations per topic. But the power of Fotopedia might be that it is easier to submit a few “nice” photos about an article than to write the actual article.
Use as .. “free” stock photography
The founder of Fotopedia, Jean-Marie Hullot, indicated that he got the idea while helping his children find photos for school reports. So you can see Fotopedia as a (largely) freely accessible source of images. It thus can serve as a free competitor to commercial stock photography sites like Gettyimages or Veer. These sites feature photos that can be easily licensed (at commercial rates) to anyone in search of a specific type of image for a specific purpose.
Many Fotopedia contributers (including myself) only impose mild licensing restrictions. For example, most of my own recent images to Fotopedia are (in the Creative Commons jargon) “by-nc-nd“: you have to say the image was made by me (via a link), can can use it freely for non-commercial use only, and you cannot create a derived work without the photographer’s permission. Similarly, I am actually using such licensing conditions from others so that I can provide the example images in this article.
Use as .. a site for photography enthusiasts
There are also signs that Fotopedia can be seen as another site for photo enthusiast (like Photo.net or Photosig). To some degree, the photographers will always compete to see who has the best photo of Westminster Abbey or even of a black cat. This is encouraged because Fotopedia appears to prefer “National Geographic” quality photos (when they can get them) over basic photos that are clear but not meant to be esthetic. Thus Fotopedia doesn’t encourage images of say an elephant next to a person, event though that can be effective to show the elephant’s size.
Fotopedia is, however, not ideal as a club site for photographers because
- photos in the actual encyclopedia part need to be linked to an article in Wikipedia
- images in Fotopedia are not allowed to have visible watermarks and can be readily downloaded (regardless of what licensing type your chose)
- photo sites typically have large numbers of “portraits”, “architecture”, “nature”, etc photos and are organized to get attention for the more recent ones as well as the best ones
Use as .. a giant travel book
And finally, some people see Fotopedia as a travel book. Many articles are directly linked to geographical locations (as in the collaboration with UNESCO for the iPad where photos, Wikipedia topics and Google maps are seamlessly integrated): you get attractive pictures of faraway places. This should cause companies like Lonely Planet or National Geographic to rethink their long-term strategies.
Although this offers a service similar to Google’s Panoramio (5 million images linked to Google Maps locations), Panoramio “just pins photos to the globe”: there is no machine readable information about what the photo is really about, and the geographical coordinates in Panoramio can be very inaccurate if the submitter was sloppy.
Use as .. a generator for coffee table books
Although Fotopedia’s link to Google maps adds significant extra value to the proposition “Fotopedia as an ever-growing travel book”, you could also create other combinations of Wikipedia topics that are visually interesting but where location plays a secondary role:
- an architecture encyclopedia: buildings, architects, architectural styles, cities, definitions
- clothing, street fashion, regional costumes, haute couture
- airplanes (or trains or ships or cars): planes, airports, airshows
- birds (etc): male and female pictures, natural habitat, images in different locations, feeding habits
- musicians: band members, concerts (until the band gets too famous and bans photography), fans
You could see the above as Web 2.0 counterparts for any existing photo book category: You can buy commercial photo books (say about “Andalusia“). Alternatively, you can make your own photo book (“Andalusia 2010“) based on your own material if you are sufficient motivated and skilled. But with Fotopedia you can collectively create an ever-changing online collective work (“Andalusia“). In fact, Fotopedia uses a “Project” concept (such as Mountains of the World) to bundle hundreds or even thousands of related topics.
Business models and copyrights
The Fotopedia service and support software is currently free. The company runs on venture capital (see their web site): unlike Google or Facebook or WordPress.com, there is only advertising in a corner of the Fotopedia site. This probably doesn’t cover the developers, computers and organizational staff yet.
Presumably the idea is to first become big and famous, and then work seriously on models that do generate serious income. The risk, however, is that the people who provide and review the images for free may see themselves as co-owners of the Fotopedia phenomenon (like Wikipedia): if you donate material to the public domain, you may not like it if someone else manages to earn money on this. This sensitivity probably requires a delicate balance between goodwill and keeping advertising unintrusive versus making the endeavor financially sustainable.
How photos are reviewed
Like Wikipedia, anyone can upload images to the site, anyone can link shareable images to existing encyclopedia topics and can help in the quality control. The option that you can link images that are by someone else to articles is interesting: you can thereby add information and structure, but can also create mis-information and chaos.
The Fotopedia model has the same mindset as the proven Wikipedia model, but works slightly differently. Registered users can vote (thumbs up/down) on the suitability of an image in the context of an encyclopedia article. Essentially the general public is asked to help by judging whether a photo of, say, the Colosseum in Rome
- is technically acceptable (e.g. correct exposure, reasonable resolution, sharp)
- adds value to any existing images. Today, there were 31 accepted or “Top” or approved images of the Colosseum. In addition there were 30 “Candidate” images that had been submitted, but were awaiting further endorsements.
- indeed shows the Colosseum (which can be hard to judge if you only see a small detail)
- is on-topic enough (what to do about a hypothetical “stray cat in the Colosseum” or “street performer in gladiator costume outside Colosseum”?)
- is it visually pleasing?
So registered users are thus responsible for promoting “candidate” images to or “top” images. This incidentally requires 5 endorsements (including the original poster). A thumbs down vote cancels a thumbs-up vote and can ultimately lead to demoting “top” images back to “candidate” images. Users can explicitly reporting bigger issue (like “inappropriate content” or “this photo doesn’t match this article”).
The iPad and UNESCO connection
On August 14th 2010, Fotopedia and UNESCO jointly released an app called “Fotopedia Heritage” for iOS that allows you view Fotopedia images on an iPad in conjunction with (“mashup of”) Wikipedia and UNESCO information about the location, along with its exact (!) location in Google Maps. You can also view travel information. There is an extensive, but excellent interview with the Hullot about this app on YouTube.
You could see this app as a coffee table quality photo book about the 900 UNESCO Heritage site. The look and feel resembles browsing through a copy of National Geographic containing 900 locations or groups of locations illustrated with on average 25 pictures per location. But obviously all this is very interactive compared to a printed magazine, and the set of pictures you find can vary from day-to-day.
Although the app allows you to upload new material from the iPad, more features are available using a web browser or Fotopedia’s “client” software (from PCs running Windows or Macs running OS X).
Note that the database of UNESCO locations, as used in the app, is not quite at the level as the official data: some well known sites (Luxor, Yosemite) have internal locations. For others, the UNESCO data shows subsites but some of these subsites are missing – typically because either no photo’s are available or because there is no corresponding article in the English version of Wikipedia. Example: the Monestary of St. Simeon at Aswan is not covered, even though it is on UNESCO’s list as component 088-009, because nobody created a Wikipedia page for it yet.
In the near future Fotopedia plans to launch a series of app-like products similar to Fotopedia Heritage. These will be electronic coffee table books on interesting cities (like Lisbon), architecture, or special topics like mountains or orchids. These are currently being prepared as “projects” whereby Fotopedia sets up the table of content and a target for the number of required pictures.
How you can help
Obviously, you can help Fotopedia in general and the UNESCO Heritage app in particular by adding any high-quality material you might be willing to share.
You can help me by signing up at Fotopedia, and checking out my photos there: especially photos linked to more obscure topics could use some votes. Feel free to issue a thumbs-down where appropriate. Fotopedia surprisingly suggest using your social networks to campaign for votes and even provides a button to simplify generating an e-mail for this.