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The Wikimedia Foundation may be better known for a vast crowdsourced online encyclopedia called Wikipedia, but the not-for-profit also operates a repository of free-to-use media assets — including photos, audio clips, and videos — called Wikimedia Commons, the content of which is used to illustrate other Wikimedia projects, including Wikipedia.

As with other Wikimedia Foundation projects, Wikimedia Commons is funded through donations, and the organization has now received a chunky $3 million grant from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, a philanthropic body set up in 1934 by the former president and CEO of General Motors.

But why a grant specifically for Wikimedia Commons? Well, as things stand, the 35 million media assets hosted on Commons are described by “casual notation,” as the company puts it, making it difficult to search within the vast resource. With $3 million in the coffers, however, the Wikimedia Foundation says it will embark on a three-year mission to link assets on Wikimedia Commons with Wikidata, the organization’s crowdsourced knowledge base.

The upshot of this endeavor is that photos, videos, and all the rest will be much easier to find and that, crucially, the repository will be “machine-readable.” This opens up a wealth of opportunities to automate the process of integrating content into third-party services, such as apps and services operated by museums, galleries, and libraries. It will also make it easier for third parties to donate content to Wikimedia Commons by automatically including existing metadata, bypassing the need to manually label media.

Example from Wikimedia Commons: Public transport during winter 2014 in Bucharest, capital of Romania.  

It’s encouraging that bodies such as the Wikimedia Foundation are receiving support at a time when internet censorship is a growing concern for many. Fellow not-for-profit organization the Internet Archive has been engaging in a number of initiatives lately to ensure online information is preserved for posterity. Last January, it launched the Political TV Ad Archive to help journalists fact-check claims made during political campaigning. And it recently revealed plans to build a replica database in Canada in response to concerns over censorship under the impending Trump presidency. Last week, it also announced the Trump Archive, a compendium of everything Donald Trump has said on video in recent years.

“At a time when the world wide web, like the rest of the world, is beset by increasing polarization, commercialization, and narrowing, Wikipedia continues to serve as a shining, global counter-example of open collaborative knowledge sharing and consensus building presented in a reliable context with a neutral point of view, free of fake news and false information, that emphasizes how we can come together to build the sum of all human knowledge,” said Doron Weber, vice president and program director at the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. “We all need Wikipedia, its sister projects, its technology, and its values, now more than ever.”

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