Mapping Flickr Commons

Update 6 Oct 2012 – I now have a web-based map up and running

Did you know that Flickr Commons, home to some of the finest images from many of the best public collections in the world, currently has 181,247 images of which 17,456 (9.6%) 218,514 images of which 27,343 (12.5%) are geotagged? (data updated 6 Oct 2012)

In a review I wrote about websites and services for displaying vintage images on maps (and in mobile apps for that matter) I mentioned that there was no such thing, as far as I was aware, for displaying Flickr Commons images.  Well, I felt I ought to fill that void, so I’ve spent a little time reminding myself how to write code, and learning a few new tricks along the way. Still very much work in progress, but the results so far are:

Flickr Commons on Google Earth

Flickr Commons on Google Earth

Flickr Commons on Google Earth

Google Earth is a very neat bit of software that allows you to explore the whole world in 3D.  It has lots of built in stuff you can display, but you can also add your own things, through a format known as kml.  So all that was needed was something that would use the excellent Flickr API and convert it into kml, and then a tool to just display what was in the current view and stop overloading everything with over 17,000 images at once.

How to view Commons images on Google Earth

First you’ll need to make sure you have Google Earth installed. Then you simply click on this link – – and make sure you open it in Google Earth.

Once it’s loaded you’ll get the latest 100 images from the area on view. Pan around and zoom in and out, then when you stop it will display the 100 images for that region – just give it a few seconds to fetch them. Try zooming (or ‘flying to’ as they call it) Paris, Sydney, London, New York …

Have a play and see what you think.  There are also a couple of ‘hidden’ features in my code that allow the more technically savvy to filter by keyword and by Flickr Commons member institution.  For example here are all the war images (just add ?q=war or whatever search term you wish), and here are all the images from the National Library of Ireland (add ?owner=47290943@N03, or the userid of one of the other 50+ Commons organisations you want – find them all in this xml)

Flickr Commons on Layar

Flickr Commons on Layar

Flickr Commons on Layar mobile augmented reality browser

Because 90% of the work was already done, I’ve created a version that displays Commons images in the Layar augmented reality mobile phone app. Wherever you find yourself you will be able to open up the app on your smartphone and browse around you for the nearest Flickr Commons images.

I’ve submitted it for approval to Layar, and all being equal it should be available publicly in the next few days. Update 19/12: the Flickr Commons Layer is now live – If you open the link on a compatible smartphone* it should take you straight to the layer, or prompt you to download the app if you don’t have it installed.  Any user with Layar already installed can also search for it within the public library which comprises thousands of layers worldwide.

*You’ll need a smartphone, and to install the Layar app, which is available for iPhone, Android, Symbian (Nokia) and Blackberry.

Flickr Commons web map

Map of Flickr Commons images

Web-based map of Flickr Commons images

Still work-in-progress, but I have now developed a web map using OpenLayers and OpenStreetMap which displays Flickr Commons images on a map in your web browser.

For posterity, here’s also an earlier prototype version based on Google Maps – see

It’s very straightforward to also display the kml for Google Earth in Google Maps, giving access via a standard web browser.  You just go to Google maps and paste in the address of the kml file – like this.

The user experience leaves a lot to be desired though, and I personally find it almost unusable as it jumps around a lot, and the info windows suddenly disappear.


These are very much ‘work in progress’ – if you spot any issues, or have any suggestions, then please leave a comment or drop a note to me.

If there are any developers with mapping experience reading this who’d like to lend a hand getting these into better shape then I’d love to hear from you!

This entry was posted in In focus and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *