Why this project is good for WordPress and the web – WordPress Tavern

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In today’s WP Briefing podcast episode, The Commons of Images, host Josepha Haden Chomphosy discussed the Openverse project with WordPress manager Matt Mullenweg. Automattic recently paid the nonprofit Creative Commons for its Creative Commons search engine. However, WordPress.org will host it and there will be a community managed team. Openverse will be the name of the new project when it launches.

A more official announcement from the Openverse project and team is expected shortly. However, now is a great time to start exploring what this means for WordPress and the web.

Over the past few years, theme authors have observed that their favorite image services offer problematic license and terms changes. The domino effect of services not wanting competitors to rely on their open source media collections has changed the landscape. Pexels, Pixabay, Unsplash, and others began to add limitations to how their images could be used. Such limitations meant that images from these services were not allowed in WordPress.org themes.

For theme makers, this meant that the pool of potential open-source images got smaller at a time when it should have been getting bigger.

“What is happening today is that there are stock photography sites, some of which were based on Creative Commons, but many have moved away from that,” Mullenweg said. “So they’re basically renewing their user contributions.”

This is not only a problem for the creators of the theme directory. The burning question of where to find free images without fuzzy license agreements crosses the specter of the WordPress community. Even users should feel safe dropping a decorative or featured image in their post without delving into legal jargon.

Creative Commons Search for beach photos.

The Web is full of content licensed under Creative Commons licenses. However, it is often difficult to find them. Mullenweg said the image, audio and video files are each “a little bit of an island” in his description of the problem. This discoverability problem is part of what the Openverse project intends to solve.

The sites which modified their conditions of use or their licenses did so after having become actors of the photo space. However, their growth was on the backs of the open-source world. They should have expected negative reactions. And, WordPress is the perfect type of community to create a truly free alternative.

Potentially revolutionary

The Openverse project can be a game-changer in two ways. The first is direct integration into the WordPress media library. The second is that it offers another avenue for people, even those who are not developers or designers, to contribute to open content on the Web.

The media library integrated into the platform must be overhauled. Uploading and adding images to a message is a relatively straightforward affair – if you have them on hand. Going to a photo site and picking an image is often the way to go when users need to find the perfect photo to plug into a post. However, this pulls users out of the WordPress experience, creating a block in the flow of content creation.

Openverse’s plan is to integrate its search function directly into the media library. This puts millions of media files in the hands of creators without ever leaving WordPress.

Some plugins already do this for various photo sites. Automattic’s Jetpack offers access to the Pexels collection.

View of the Pexels photo search media library via the Jetpack plugin.
Search for Pexels images via Jetpack.

Pexels has its own license similar to Pixababy and Unsplash. However, it distinguishes between CC0 (public domain) and the Pexels license on a photo-by-photo basis. Unfortunately, this license information is not displayed through the Jetpack integration. Hopefully, the eventual integration of Openverse and WordPress will be more robust, providing a clear view of what users get when they find an image they like.

There is still some stuff to copy from Jetpack’s Pexels integration. Automatic photo credits and alt text are welcome features that generally make the web better. Adding credit to the image caption is a nice nod to the creator, and the oft-forgotten alt text is needed for users with screen readers.

Screenshot of inserting an image via Jetpack's Pexels integration with pre-filled photo credits and alt text.
Image insertion with photo credits and alt text from Pexels.

One of the biggest takeaways from the podcast is what Openverse can be for the web. “We’re going to try to bring the WordPress philosophy to this space,” Mullenweg said.

He recognized that there is and always should be a market for professional media creators. There are many sites for people who want to offer commercial access to their images and more.

“But we just want to make an alternative, so those who want to donate their work to the world, just like the engineers, designers and translators of WordPress, give some of their work to the world, they can do it,” he said.

Openverse must become more than a media search engine. This has to be a project where the average Joe can upload a beautiful nature photo he took during the weekend barbecue. A place where Average Jane can share a video clip of the ocean waves hitting the shore from her trip to the beach. And a place where professionals can pass it on to the world.

My enthusiasm is mainly to have a trusted place for authors and theme designers to grab free media. I’m already imagining what that might mean for the next block template directory, a place that will need quality images without restrictions.

The project is also 100% open source. Developers can use the search engine and create their own. Competing content management solutions will also have access to the public API, offering open source media to their users.

Bringing the WordPress philosophy into the stock media space is a plan I can support.



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