Beta-testing the Konomark Project

Konomark is my project with CIS. In this post, I’m reporting the results of the first phase of my beta test.

Konomark aims to encourage the sharing of copyrighted works on the internet in an informal, person-to-person way. The konomark is a standardized symbol that signifies your willingness to receive gratis permission requests. Here’s an example:

This photo is konomarked ("Most Rights Sharable"). If you would like to use this image without paying anything, e-mail me and ask. I'm generally willing to share.

As you can see, konomark is not a license. It’s an invitation. The konomark simply invites people to ask you for permission. There’s no surrender of copyright entitlements, and there’s no commitment to share – once someone asks, you decide for yourself whether or not to give permission. (“Kono” is Hawaiian for “invite,” and the pineapple in the project's logo is a symbol of hospitality.)

To see how well konomark might work, I beta tested it over the past couple of years by posting thousands of photos to Flickr, konomarking them, and waiting to see if anyone would take me up on my invitation to ask to reuse images for free.

It worked very well.

To date, I’ve received more than 100 requests. The requestors have included bloggers, proprietors of small businesses, graphic designers, website developers, book authors, university students, a small-city newspaper, and the producers of an independent film. I gave all of them permission to use the photos for free. I’ve only asked for compensation twice: Once when a Discovery Channel show asked to use an interior shot of an airport as a backdrop, and another time when OK! magazine asked to use a photo of a skyscraper. I thought it was fair for those entities to pay a fee, and in both cases they were completely amenable.

Getting konomark requests is fun. You never know with whom you will end up corresponding. I’ve gotten requests from five continents. (I’m still waiting for Australia and Antarctica.) And it's interesting to see what photos people have found useful and how those photos get used.

To amass the photos for the beta test, I set to work with my Canon EOS Digital Rebel XT, an “entry level” SLR camera that my wife and I bought to capture our fast-moving two-year-old who was becoming a blur for our older point-and-shoot camera. Once I decided to accumulate photos for konomark, I began snapping pictures of buildings, vehicles, objects, etc. My goal was to accumulate photos that might be useful to others. The collection I’ve amassed largely reflects my personal interests and my travel itinerary over the last few years. I have more than a hundred photos each relating to law, science, sports, media/entertainment, computers/tech and economics. And nearly half of the photos are of university campuses.

By early 2010, I was able to get over 3,500 images on Flickr. I’ve steadily increased that total, and I now have over 11,000 images on the account.

My data indicates that I yield between seven and nine requests per year per 1,000 photos. I expect other people’s results would vary, of course, as skill level, photo subject, and tastes differ. But the test does show that at least some people will accept an invitation to ask for permission.

With more than 100 users of konomark on the recipient side, it's now time to move to the second stage of the beta test: having people try out konomark on the inviter side. I’ll post more about that soon, but if you have a Flickr account, konomarking is easy: Just tag your photos with “konomark”!

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