Commons:Structured data/Sloan Grant

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The Wikimedia Foundation applied for a grant to fund an acceleration of the Structured Data on Commons project from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation in Fall 2016. We were notified that we would be receiving the grant of $3,015,000 USD in December 2016; we will be receiving that money over the course of three years.[1] The grant proposed a workplan as is outlined at Commons:Structured data/Overview.

This page provides basic answers about the grant itself, and the scope of the project. Further information about the software development, will be shared from the Structured data portal on Commons.

What is the project?[edit]

The grant funds a project building on the work of the Wikidata team that has demonstrated how Wikibase, the core software behind Wikidata, and structured data could be applied to Commons. With this additional grant money we can build a full team of engineers and designers to both integrate Wikibase software into Wikimedia Commons, which will allow structured metadata to be applied to Commons’ media, as well as designing UX for these new features, and facilitate integration of WMF and community built tools into this new software structure.

Structured data on Commons should unblock a number of long-asked for features for Wikimedia Commons from the Wikimedia community, allowing other teams at the Foundation to work on features like:

  • Better media search and discovery based on image metadata and available for Non-English users.
  • Multilingual strategies for dealing with descriptions and categories for Media files
  • Improved machine readable metadata making it easier for reusing and embedding content externally, including providing better copyright statements and attribution to creators in that process.
  • Updates to existing tools and utilities to help Wikimedia volunteers contribute, manage, and leverage structured data

We wrote the grant to include staffing for close collaboration with the Commons community to make sure that software features meet existing community workflow needs, while making Commons a more robust platform for other contributor communities. For more information on community engagement, see the section below on community involvement.

We have also budgeted time for engaging with GLAM and other organizations which regularly partner with the Wikimedia Community on sharing digital media. The growth of GLAM-Wiki as a movement partnership model has demonstrated several things: a) many pieces of the best free and open educational media have already been shared by heritage and educational organizations; b) that sharing that content on Wikimedia Commons brings greater collaboration, public visibility and scale of impact to expertly curated digital content and c) that the needs of these partnerships stretch the tools and infrastructure of the Wikimedia community, especially on Commons.

By designing the features of structured data on Commons to be readily compatible with the best practices within the GLAM and other partnership communities, our movement can offer a better platform for partner contribution and reuse. Moreover, designing with these audiences in mind alongside the needs of our volunteer community not only improves the opportunity for partnerships, but ensures that our volunteer community’s broader effort to collect and share educational and heritage media will be interoperable with other major distributors of heritage and educational media.

Further information for project can be found at Commons:Structured data/Overview.

Why did we seek external funding?[edit]

Structured Data on Commons has been on the development roadmap for the Wikidata team since 2014. With this grant we can now accelerate this work, building on the changes in the Wikidata/Wikibase software in the last couple years. The Wikidata team demonstrated a very early prototype of structured multimedia data.

When WMF was approached by the Sloan Foundation to apply for funding that could enhance broad reuse of our content, we proposed accelerating the already started work on Structured Commons into a quicker three-year time frame. The funding will cover the cost of some work that is already in WMF’s 2016-17 annual plan, provide additional budget for early work on the project, and allow us to integrate a broader range of goals and features for Commons development into annual plans for the next several years. WMF’s fundraising team generally does not seek funding for projects outside of WMF’s annual plan. However, this was a unique opportunity where a funder approached us with the interest in accelerating the work on this existing project.

The Sloan Foundation is a long-time supporter of the Wikimedia Foundation, making very generous contributions in 2008, 2011, and 2014. The Sloan Foundation also helped fund the 2016 WikiCite event, which explored the application of structured data to Wikipedia’s citations. Based in New York, Sloan was founded in 1934 by Alfred P. Sloan Jr., who was then-President and CEO of General Motors. The foundation makes grants primarily for research and education in science, technology, economic performance and the quality of American life. Some staff and community members may know Doron Weber, Sloan’s Vice President of Programs, who has attended WMF meetings in the past, including Wikimania in 2015 and 2016.

Who is working on the project?[edit]

We are currently in the process of assembling a team to work on the project. Initially, the Wikimedia Foundation GLAM-Wiki strategist, Alex Stinson ( User:Astinson (WMF)), in consultation with WMF and Wikidata teams, will be leading community communications and relations as the team grows. Eventually that community communications and engagement role will be filled by a Community Liaison at the Wikimedia Foundation, hired as part of the grant.

In the application to the Sloan Foundation, we estimated as many as seven (one at WMDE, and six at WMF) new positions filled through the grant funding. These new staff, distributed across community engagement, development, design, and product and project management roles, will work alongside staff filling existing roles at both WMF and within WMDE’s Wikidata team, who will have a portion of their time paid for through the grant. We are still finalizing details around the composition of this staff but our highest priority position is a Program Manager who will help co-ordinate and facilitate the project across the teams and organizations.

We will also be using the first few months of the grant period to create a more precise set of milestones and goals within the estimated timeline provided for the grant. Additionally, as part of the grant, the Sloan Foundation selected a three-person external technical advisory group who will help review and advise on the technical plans for the project.

Why is GLAM-Wiki a major component of this project?[edit]

The Wikimedia movement’s wikis offer a major portal for educational and heritage material, with Wikipedia frequently acting as a first stop for the public when learning and researching. Increasingly heritage organizations are sharing their digital media through linked, open software platforms, which closely associate metadata with digital objects, and then feeding them into non-profit aggregators, like DPLA and Europeana, to help the public find these collections. GLAMs want the visibility and contextual knowledge that Wikipedia and Commons projects can bring to their collections, but often our platforms don’t meet their needs.

Even when GLAM organizations, STEM organizations, and other sharers of educational and heritage material do not have capacity to host or provide utilities for reuse on their own digital platforms, they are not consistently choosing Wikimedia Commons as a site to upload their content. Instead these organizations choose platforms like Flickr or commercial-vendor-controlled digital platforms. In part, this is because Commons does not provide the kinds of robust data structures and APIs needed for monitoring changes to the data, so that the institutions can benefit from our community’s improvements to that data.

Structured Commons expands Commons with features that are central to cultural heritage and media sharing software, but does so with the focus towards openness and collaboration which make our projects, like Wikidata, widely useful for GLAM communities. By consulting cultural heritage organizations, especially those who have been strong partners with us in the past or want to partner with us more, like Europeana and DPLA, we can make sure that Structured Commons becomes a better platform for encouraging partner collaboration in the future and grows our impact on public knowledge.

For more information about how GLAMs work with Commons and digitized content, see the portal on Outreach

How can the Commons community and other communities be involved?[edit]

Like the development of Wikidata, the software features for Structured Commons can only create impact when the team deeply collaborates with the Commons community. After all, the large, multilingual, and collaborative community which curates Common’s media is what makes it a valuable platform for our projects and the broader public. We will be using the mw:Technical Collaboration Guideline and working closely with the Wikidata team to make sure that we apply the community engagement and participation strategies that has made their work so successful.

We have designed the funding and timeline for this project to allow regular consultation and research with the Commons community. We want to make sure that the changes from this technical project empower and enable existing Commons community processes, encourage new community processes which increase sharing on Commons, and empower more volunteers from more languages and Wikimedia projects to contribute to Commons.

We will plan to begin communications using the following communication channels:

  • Feature changes created by the project team will be designed and implemented in close collaboration with the community. We suggest watching the talk page at Commons talk:Structured_data for notification about conversations.
  • Regular updates will be issued using the community newsletter list: which you can enroll in on Meta
  • The development process will be readily visible on Phabricator, and we invite participation on:

As the project staff is filled, we will update these channels on how the team will provide further updates and communications. These channels may change if we find we need other communications strategies. We will be regularly updating Commons Village Pump and community mailing lists as we reach various development milestones, and when we are ready for community input.

What did the grant application look like?[edit]

We submitted the following:

Not included in these documents because of sensitive/incomplete information:

  • Granular budget, because it includes salary information
  • A detailed draft for a 3-year staffing plan, submitted alongside the architecture plan and questions response, because it is still under revision pending the assembly of the team


  1. We delayed announcing the Grant until January 9, 2017, to allow for the busy holiday season.