Structured Data on Commons and GLAM: open questions and fresh challenges

Since 2019, files on Wikimedia Commons can be enhanced with multilingual and machine-readable structured data. This addition brings many benefits for cultural institutions or GLAMs (Galleries, Libraries, Archives and Museums) partnering with Wikimedians, as GLAMs also store data about their collections in very structured ways.

In the past year, I have worked together with GLAM staff and Wikimedia community members to ‘test’ this new technology, and explore its potential, in a series of pilot projects. What does Structured Data on Commons make possible? Which new questions and challenges appear?

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Connecting the work of three generations of decorative artists, with structured data

Philippe Wolfers: Civilization et barbarie, file box, 1897-98, collection King Baudouin Foundation and Royal Museums of Art and History. Photo KBF / Hugues Dubois, CC BY-SA 4.0

Since 2019, files on Wikimedia Commons can be enhanced with multilingual and machine-readable structured data. This addition brings many benefits for cultural institutions or GLAMs (Galleries, Libraries, Archives and Museums) partnering with Wikimedians, as GLAMs also store data about their collections in very structured ways.

In the past year, I have worked together with GLAM staff and Wikimedia community members to ‘test’ this new technology, and explore its potential, in a series of pilot projects. What does Structured Data on Commons make possible, and which new questions and challenges appear?

Continue reading “Connecting the work of three generations of decorative artists, with structured data”

Wrapping up version one: Structured Data on Commons

As the three-year grant period for building Structured Data on Commons (SDC) comes to a close with the end of 2019, I’d like to share some lists of the past two year’s worth of planning, discussion, building, testing, and releases the team has done with the Commons community.

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Data Roundtripping: a new frontier for GLAM-Wiki collaborations

Dancers around the may pole, Oxford, Ohio, 1926. Photo by Frank R. Snyder; Miami University Libraries—Digital collections, no known copyright restrictions

For more than 10 years now, cultural institutions around the world have partnered with Wikimedians to make their collections more visible and to encourage re-use via Wikimedia platforms. Collaborations of this kind, GLAM-Wiki projects (with Galleries, Libraries, Archives and Museums), often use Wikipedia and Wikimedia Commons as platforms. Images of cultural collections are uploaded to Wikimedia’s media repository Wikimedia Commons and are re-used as illustrations in Wikipedia articles.

For several years, a growing number of GLAM-Wiki partnerships also work with Wikidata, the free, multilingual knowledge base of the Wikimedia ecosystem. Cultural institutions and Wikimedians upload data about cultural collections to Wikidata: it provides an accessible way to publish collections data as Linked Open Data, and makes the collection data multilingual, re-usable and discoverable across the web. Since 2019, files on Wikimedia Commons can now also be described with multilingual structured data from Wikidata. This will make the (structured) data component of GLAM-Wiki collaborations even more prominent in the future.

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Lua support for Structured Data on Commons – pulling data into templates

As the first round of building structured data content for Wikimedia Commons comes to a close, support for the Lua programming language brings structured data front-and-center to file pages.

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How can Structured Data on Commons, Wikidata, and Wikisource walk hand in hand? A pilot project with Punjabi Qisse

Punjabi Qisse; Puran Bhagat, Sassi Punnu, Raja Mor Dhuj, Kehar Singh Maut and others. CC BY-SA 4.0 by Satdeep Gill
Selection of books to be digitized, described and transcribed as a part of the SDC pilot project. (ImageSatdeep GillCC BY-SA 4.0)
logo Wikisource
The Wikisource logo by Nicholas Moreau, CC BY-SA 3.0 Unported

I work as a part of the Community Programs (GLAM) team at the Wikimedia Foundation. As part of my work, I support Wikisource, a digital library of public domain and freely licensed texts, which is an important platform for GLAM projects and knowledge exchange in many Wikimedia communities. I have been writing case studies about Wikisource, documenting pain points around it, and prioritizing them with the communities.

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How we helped a small art museum to increase the impact of its collections, with Wikimedia projects and structured data

A blog post by Sandra Fauconnier, with contributions by Sam Donvil (PACKED) and Joris Van Donink (Jakob Smitsmuseum). This blog post describes a GLAM pilot project for Structured Data on Wikimedia Commons, executed by PACKED, and mentored by Sandra. We hope this will inform and inspire Wikimedians who want to learn about structured data, and/or (intend to) do similar GLAM-Wiki collaborations!

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Introducing ISA – a cool tool for adding structured data on Commons

The ISA tool being announced at WikiData Conference 2019 as the coolest multimedia tool of the year by Liam Wyatt (User:Wittylama). Photo: User:Sandra Fauconnier

ISA is a new tool that makes it very easy for anyone, including absolute beginners, to add structured data descriptions in the form of captions and so-called ‘Depicts’ statements to images on Wikimedia Commons. ISA is called a ‘micro-contributions’ tool: when you use ISA, you make many very small edits to Wikimedia Commons in a playful way. We intentionally designed ISA to be multilingual and mobile-first; it has been such a hit that it received a WikidataCon 2019 Award in the Multimedia category last October. And why this name? ‘Isa’ is the chiShona language word for ‘put’ or ‘place’, but it was also chosen because it is an acronym for Information Structured Acceleration or Information Structured Additions.

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Structured Data on Commons Part Five – Other Statements

With depicts statements available to make the most basic claims about files on Commons, it was time to make more fully-formed statements. The Structured Data on Commons development team developed and released the first level of support for types of statements other than depicts.

“Other statements” offer expanded data about a file. Wikidata properties such as creator (P170), location (P276), Commons quality assessment (P6731), license (P257), and more. For an example of depicts plus other statements, here’s a file that is an image of sugar cubes:

Dietmar Rabich / Wikimedia Commons / “Würfelzucker — 2018 — 3564” / CC BY-SA 4.0


This is the representation of the file in structured data, using depicts with qualifiers in combination with other statements:

Structured data for “Würfelzucker — 2018 — 3564”

This information is “machine-readable,” meaning that people can write software to interact with it, soon there will be the power to query the data, and a host of other potential uses. Lucas Werkmeister wrote a separate blog covering some of the possibilities of Structured Data on Commons. Importantly, all of this information is multilingual as well, as previously most data was restricted to English when used in templates and categories.

Taken as a whole, depicts and other statements, contributors to Wikimedia Commons can now begin to fully contribute structured data. The development team continues to work on support for different data beyond words, such as geocoordinates, time stamps, and other such types. Additional support for community tools such as Lua functionality is making progress as well. After this multi-year effort, the partners involved in the project can start the work of building a more accessible Commons at last.

Previously: Part Four – Depicts Statements


Structured Data on Commons Part Four – Depicts Statements

Now that the underlying software for Structured Data on Commons has been put in place, along with Captions helping to demonstrate the software worked, the development team was ready to release the first form of structured statements for Commons: depicts.

Depicts is a statement for representing the concepts or topics present or expressed in a media file. The depicts statement can be considered the most basic example for modeling information about a file.

Wikimedia Commons / CC-BY-SA 4.0 / GFDL

With support for depicts, people searching for specific media files on Commons can begin finding them in a structured, multilingual way. At the time of release, depicts statements can be searched using the keyword haswbstatement. For example, if you wanted to find all instances of depicts (P180) a house cat (Q146), in the search bar you can use: haswbstatement:P180=Q146 and it will return results in all languages.

After making sure basic depicts support was working, the development team added support for qualifiers. By using qualifiers for depicts, users are able to represent the file even further by refining, contextualizing, or expanding the simple statement. For example, the previous statement of depicts (P180) a house cat (Q146) can be refined to depicts (P180) a house cat (Q146) [color: gray (Q42519)] and will return only files with statements that match a gray cat. As with basic depicts, this functionality is multilingual and will find whatever languages are available.

Wikimedia Commons / CC-BY-SA 4.0 / GFDL

Now that Commons has the most basic modeling for data in a file in place, the development team turned to supporting other types of statements beyond depicts. These other types of statements will be covered in the next part.

Next: Structured Data on Commons Part Five – Other Statements

Previously: Part Three – Multilingual File Captions