Research:A brief history of Wikimedia Commons/Timeline of Commons

Timeline of events and publications


events before 2004

  • Other sites: w:Internet Archive, w:Project Gutenberg, and the early online encyclopedias in Mako's paper. Long-running discussions about copyrights (and patents?). These pre-histories led to the design of WM:Commons which lasted.
  • Jan 2002 version of en.wp main page -- not sure what to check for here but it is available
  • was there an online discussion about images being duplicated across Wikimedia sites, and costs and benefits of unifying that storage, categorization, search, etc.?


  • Feb 2004: deep copyright discussion by JamesDay; other refs by User:Jamesday;
  • Erik Moller's proposal for Commons, March 2004
  • Golden Nica Awards 2004 -- for Wikipedia overall
  • Sept 2004 launch of the Commons Site as we now see it.
  • [1] - first Quarto, which includes an interview with Ward Cunningham. Dense references to Creative Commons suggest that CC actually was created with WIkipedia specifically in mind, starting at least as early as 2004. Can we show or reject that hypothesis explicitly? that would be an important historical effect of WM and perhaps WM Commons.

























Wikimedia Foundation reports


All Wikimedia projects in all languages share a single repository of multimedia content which can be used freely for any purpose: Wikimedia Commons. Launched in September 2004, by June 2008 Wikimedia Commons contained more than 2.5 million photos, illustrations, sounds, and video files. Important milestones reached in the fiscal year include:

  • September 2007: The first version of a cross-platform embedded video and audio player is enabled on all Wikimedia sites. It supports the playback of video and audio in the Ogg Theora and Ogg Vorbis formats, which are both open standards.
  • October 2007: Wikimedia Commons reaches a milestone of 1,000 “featured” pictures, photographs and illustrations. “Featured” is a designation applied by the volunteer community to work that is considered extremely high quality.
  • October 2007: The two millionth file is uploaded.
  • January 2008: Broadway Tower, Cotswolds, England is voted 2007 Picture of the Year by the Wikimedia community.
  • June 2008: An experimental new feature allows any installation of MediaWiki on the planet to access media on Wikimedia Commons as if they were locally ploaded, including all metadata.

Tropenmuseum: reclaiming history


The Tropenmuseum in Amsterdam has numerous exhibits, objects, and images from the former Dutch colonies of Indonesia and Surinam. As part of an unprecedented collaboration with the Dutch Wikimedia chapter, the museum is uploading copies of some of their historical images to Wikimedia Commons.

Wikimedians are organizing and cataloging the images, and also improving their quality. Longtime Wikimedian Durova has been undertaking the meticulous job of retouching photos, removing scratches, and restoring the images to the highest quality possible.

The Indonesian Wikimedia chapter plans to translate the annotations on cultural artifacts and images into local languages. This will allow the Indonesian public to participate in reclaiming a part of its past that until now has only been accessible half a world away in Amsterdam.

  • The GlobalUsage extension, which shows where in the Wikimedia universe multimedia files from Wikimedia Commons are used, was re-activated. This led to the development of new community scripts and hacks to make use of that data for statistical purposes.

Multimedia Usability Project


A simplified and streamlined new upload interface design and user flow was proposed for discussion by Guillaume Paumier, product manager of the multi-media usability project. The next step is to prototype the new design and refine the user flow.

Neil Kandalgaonkar, software developer for the multimedia usability project, completed his relocation to San Francisco.

The call for proposals for the first multimedia usability study has started. The plan is to conduct the study with ten study participants in March 2010.,_March_2010/CfP

A project update was posted to the WMF blog by Naoko Komura. The story of successful multimedia assets donated from Galleries, Libraries,Museums and Archives, made possible by chapters and volunteers, and how these assets are integrated into Wikimedia projects, was told in a blog post by Erik Moeller.

Multimedia Usability Project


Development of the new upload interface continued and the prototype was staged in a lab environment. The two types of user flow are staged, 1) “my own work” and 2) “found on Internet.” The user flow which requires author's permission will be staged later time. Once the prototype is finalized, it will be used for the usability study and be opened up for the community for feedback.

Assets uploaded but missing mandatory information, such as author or copyright status, require flags or some protection, so that assets are not distributed without permission from authors or without confirming the appropriate copyright status. A feature for incomplete uploads that supports graceful handling of this interim status is under active discussion.[3]

The usability study was postponed from March 30 and 31 to early May, in order to incorporate feedback and avoid conflicting schedule with conferences in the second half of April. Ten study participants were recruited and screened for the usability study through the banner on Wikipedia and Wikimedia Commons. The usability study will be conducted in partnership with gotomedia.

  • Official rollout of MediaWiki's new look and feel begins with Wikimedia Commons.

Usability and Features


The official rollout of the user experience improvements developed by the Wikimedia Usability Initiative began with the deployment to Wikimedia Commons. (This was not the first production deployment: English Wikinews was the earliest adopter, starting in October 2009). This deployment helped surface additional issues both related to various browser/platform problems as well as language-specific issues. Blog update:

The Commons tech community supported making gadget and user scripts compatible prior to the switch, which helped tremendously. The overall reaction was positive:

Preparation continued for a first usability study to assess the media uploading interface, as well as development work on the new upload wizard.

At the Berlin meeting, the team met Maria Schiewe, an accessibility expert and board member of Wikimedia Germany, and learned how to make the site accessible to people with challenges with vision and hearing. A Wikimedia Accessibility Initiative was kicked off by Maria Schiewe, Samuel Klein, and DannyB to improve the accessibility of Wikimedia projects, and in order to incorporate the accessibility support into the user experience work going forward:

Engineering presentations by Trevor Parscal and Neil Kandalgaonkar can be found at:

From Data & Trends: The following changes were made for the August 2010 report card:

  • The content section now summarizes each project (Wikipedia, Wikimedia Commons, etc.) as a line, as opposed to the more granular project/language view (English Wikipedia, German Wikipedia, etc.). The default view shows a normalized growth line for each project, indicating that Wikimedia Commons is currently our fastest growing project in terms of content.
  • The "active editors" section now no longer counts Wikimedia Commons contributors, due to the significant number of users who are active on a primary project like Wikipedia and who use Wikimedia Commons as a support project. This leads to a slightly reduced total count. Generally, the "active editors" count has always double-counted users who are active on more than one project in a given month -- this is expected to be fixed later this year.

From the BoT meeting:

  • Controversial content: The board was joined by consultants Robert Harris and Dory Carr-Harris. Robert and Dory's observations and recommendations can be read here: 2010_Wikimedia_Study_of_Controversial_Content. To move the work forward, the Board appointed a working group led by Jan-Bart (as group chair), Phoebe and Kat, to work with Robert and Dory to figure out next steps, which will include communications with the Wikimedia community as well as specific discussions with the Commons community and development of a draft specific for the proposed new feature.

(What was the controversy?)

  • Technology: Critical improvements were made to fundraising infrastructure in preparation for the 2010 fundraising campaign. The features team geared up for a deployment of the new upload wizard for Wikimedia Commons, and continued testing the Article Feedback tool (which enables readers to assign star ratings to articles) on a subset of Wikipedia articles. We've also been aggresively testing new versions of both the ResourceLoader (which will reduce page load times) and Pending Changes in preparation for production deployments this quarter.
Screenshot of the new media upload wizard uploading multiple files

Personal Image Filter


Following the 2010 Wikimedia Study of Controversial Content, UI Brandon Harris created mock-ups of a personal image/media filter in partnership with the product strategy team, including initial UI design recommendations. They will be presented to the Board of Trustees controversial content workgroup for further iscussion.

Media Upload Wizard


The Upload Wizard is a significantly improved media uploading tool for Wikimedia Commons. Neil Kandalgaonkar and Ryan Kaldari continued to fix bugs, test functionality, and generally prepared the software for wider usage. Try it here:

Research Committee Activity


The expert participation survey closed on April 15, 2011. The first results will be presented as part of a collaboration with CERN (focusing on wiki participation by physicists) and at Wikimania this summer. A workshop proposal lead by Mayo Fuster Morell on the future of Wikipedia research [2] was submitted to the Open Knowledge Conference 2011 [3]. Daniel Mietchen started a discussion on the mass upload to Commons of scientific images from OA publishers [4].


10M media upload


Wikimedia Commons hit a major milestone with 10 million media uploads, which received some coverage in tech/free culture blog spaces.

UploadWizard goes default


The UploadWizard, a step-by-step tool to facilitate the upload of files to Wikimedia Commons, was enabled as the default upload system on May 9. Initial feedback shows a majority of users consider it an improvement over the "old" upload form. More than 40,000 files have been uploaded with the Upload Wizard since its beta deployment in December 2010. Read the related blog post.

Cultural Partnerships


In association with WM-NYC and the NY Public Library, Fellow Liam Wyatt convened GLAMcamp NYC, a cross-disciplinary unconference dedicated to improving relationships with cultural institutions. Across the three days, approximately 30 Wikimedians attended from eight countries as well as 50 culture sector professionals attending a free workshop. Outcomes included improvements to Commons mass upload systems, and documentation of past successful projects. More information here.

  • UploadWizard — Ian Baker worked on the TitleBlacklist API, as well as bug fixes for UploadStash. Jan Gerber added XHR FormData support to UploadWizard, and chunk uploads. Jeroen De Dauw's code to support customized campaigns was deployed to Wikimedia Commons. Neil reviewed Jeroen's and Jan's code, and generally prepared the code for deployment.
  • UploadWizard — A number of bugs were fixed, notably related to the Wiki Loves Monuments campaign and the deployment of protocol-relative URLs to Wikimedia Commons. Work was also done on multi-file selection, AJAX uploading and custom licenses.
  • We continued to work on the Open Access initiative, led by Daniel Mietchen. We submitted a response to an EU consultation on Open Access on behalf of WMF. [1] Daniel Mietchen and Dario Taraborelli attended COASP '11 [2] and worked with the Open Access publisher community on a strategy to increase the visibility of OA contents on Wikipedia and Wikimedia Commons. We released a tool (the Wikipedia Cite-o-Meter) to measure citations and media used from scholarly journals across Wikimedia projects. [3]
  • RCom member Mayo Fuster Morell organized the Global Forum on Building Digital Commons and Collaborative Communities, a 2-day event held in Barcelona on October 29-30 [9]. RCom members Milos Rancic and Dario Taraborelli as well as WMF analyst Erik Zachte participated in the event.
  • Currently in discussion with the National Library of Tunisia in order to release their historic content of digitized books, postcards, journals, etc. to Commons or Wikisource.

US Cultural Partnerships

  • ABC becomes the first Aussie broadcaster to donate footage to Wikipedia and Wikimedia Commons (March 26, 2012)
  • Creative Commons on ABC announcement

August, 2012

Screenshot of the Wiki Loves Monuments app

WLM app enables 1st mobile contributions to Wikimedia


In preparation for September's "Wiki Loves Monuments", the worldwide contest to contribute freely licensed photos of cultural heritage sites to Wikimedia Commons, the mobile team released the new Wiki Loves Monuments app for Android. Users can find nearby monuments, or search for them on a list. One can take photos from within the app and directly upload them to Wikimedia Commons. This is the first time that a mobile contribution mechanism is officially supported. Others ways of contributing to Wikimedia projects using mobile devices are being considered, too.

September, 2012


A new version of the Wiki Loves Monuments App was released, that allows users to use it in combination with a separate camera. Over 3,000 pictures have now been uploaded from mobile devices. In collaboration with the Product team, the Mobile team will next analyze data from the competition, to better understand how to proceed with a dedicated Commons upload tool. The team has received positive feedback about the app, which has been a big hit with new Commons users from early data analysis.

January, 2013


This month, the mobile web team also finished work on the watchlist feature, and focused their efforts on photo uploads by first adding basic uploading functionality: uploading images to Wikimedia Commons. A workflow was put in place to allow users to add a thumbnail of an image they just uploaded to the appropriate article on their local Wikipedia or sister project. These features are currently live on the Beta mobile site and are set to be released to the full mobile site in February.

Uploading photos was also the focus of the newly created "Apps team", who started to develop iOS and Android versions of an app to upload photos to Commons. The two basic apps can already upload, share and show the user's contributions.

March, 2013


Mobile uploads launch for apps and the mobile web


On the mobile version of Wikipedia, smartphone users can now easily upload a lead image to Wikipedia articles that lack one. Also in March, the Mobile team released a dedicated app for Wikimedia Commons, allowing media uploads from Android and iOS devices.

April, 2013


Wikimedia Commons app announced for iOS and Android


The Wikimedia Commons mobile app was officially announced in April, allowing quick and easy image uploads directly from mobile devices. It is available for both iOS and Android devices. Mobile users who don't have the app installed can still upload images from the mobile web version of all Wikimedia projects.

To create a more focused uploading workflow, and let mobile uploaders discover more articles to illustrate, a Nearby view was added to the beta site, showing users a list of articles near them and highlighting the ones that need images. This feature is expected to be activated on the full mobile web site next month.

August, 2013


In August, the Mobile Apps team released a new version of the Commons photo uploader app for iOS and Android. The interface of the iOS version was improved, while the Android version received incremental updates, such as better support for upload campaigns (like Wiki Loves Monuments). The team also started making plans for the next generation of the Wikipedia reader app, which will be more closely integrated with the mobile web site, to ensure that new features are always available through a web view, even where there isn't specific native support.

October, 2013


Many changes were made to the iOS Commons app in October. Users can now select the license among the most common ones, and swipe to delete categories on yet-to-be-uploaded images. A number of visual and interface improvements have been made, notably for iOS 7 compatibility. Icon consistency has been improved throughout the app. The app now also has better internationalization support, as well as better landscape and iPad support.

June, 2014


US National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) & Wikimedia

"US National Archives to upload all holdings to Wikimedia Commons"
Gigjets (30 June, 2014) [6]
Tech Crunch (30 June, 2014) [7]

Fall, 2015


The cross-wiki upload tool to Commons is now used for approximately 1000 files by 527 users each day; this includes roughly doubling the number of uploads by first-time uploaders to Commons.

Summary timeline

  • history of Main page on en.wp dated Jan 2002
  • 2004: big copyright conversations ; Commons launches (Sept) ; Wikimedia are winning awards already ; Project Sourceberg (?)--an ancestor?
  • 2005: Signpost starts (Feb) ; a million files? on Commons ; .ogg files ; bots uploading files to Commons ; CC-by-SA and GFDL discussed and used ; Wikimania Media Competition
  • Summary counts of Signpost articles by year referring to "commons": 2005: 33 ; 2006: 46 ; 2007: 162 ; 2008: 116 ; 2009: 134 ; 2010: 114 ; 2011: 142 ; 2012: 108; 2013: 100; 2014: 81 ; 2015: 81; 2016: 25 so far, to May 15ish. Total 1142, some of which refer to Creative Commons not Wikimedia Commons.

Agenda, abstractions, possible conclusions

  • key authors/sources: From Signpost: Michael Snow, Gamaliel . . .
  • predecessors: Oyez project. , FreeMusic (at MIT), Gutenberg project
  • co-evolved with: Creative Commons, perhaps especially Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike license (cc-by-sa), wp sites
  • Contrast to: stories of iterative cumulative tinkering (microcomputer, airplane, automobile). This isn’t a research project. This is a development project that works starting early.
  • Q: What resources/costs did it require to launch and continue?