The WordPress Openverse Project

Published in Community.

With the announcement that the release of WordPress version 5.9 is postponed to January 2022, hopefully we’ll have a relatively quiet holiday season. We have already been talking about some of the Full Site Editing features that will come with this version, but precisely in parallel and closely linked to Full Site Editing, the Openverse project is being developed with the idea of fully integrating it into WordPress. And that’s what we’ll be talking about today. Just in case you haven’t heard of it, I’ll start by telling you a little bit about its history that goes back 20 years ago.

CC Search Creation

The history of Openverse has its origin in copyright, which regulates how the products we humans create with a creative component (namely, books, academic research papers, music, and art) are used, who can copy them, and who can share them with whom. In 1998, in the United States, a law was passed that allowed the extension of 20 more years of “all rights reserved” on the copyright of any work. Thus, if until then any work retained copyright for 50 years after the death of its creator, these rights were extended to 70 years before said work could enter the public domain.

Eric Eldred and Lawrence Lessig, who believed that many works should be freely available on the Internet, failed in their attempt to invalidate this new law as unconstitutional. But in response to a growing community of bloggers creating, remixing, and sharing content, in 2001 they created, along with Hal Abelson and with the support of the Center for the Public Domain, Creative Commons (CC), a dedicated non-profit organization to promote the access and exchange of culture legally.

In 2002 the Creative Commons licenses were released. They’re a set of free public licenses that would allow creators to maintain their copyrights while sharing their works on more flexible terms than the default “all rights reserved”. One of them, CC0 (zero CC) is not just a license, but a public dedication tool that allows creators to waive their copyright and put their works in the global public domain. CC0 allows anyone who wants to reuse it to distribute, remix, adapt and build on that material in any medium or format, without conditions attached.

CC licenses have been and continue to be a great success. The proof is that today it is estimated that there are almost 2 billion works with a CC license, of which a large majority are images. And about 5 years ago, they set out to create CC Search, a search engine that searches nearly 300 million images from open APIs and the Common Crawl dataset by aggregating them into a single catalog.

Screenshot of CC Search website
Screenshot searching for WordPress images on CC Search web.

CC Search Joins WordPress.org

On April 27 of 2021, Matt Mullenweg announced that CC Search was joining WordPress.org. Here’s what he said:

The WordPress community has long advocated for a repository with GPL-compatible images, and it’s time to listen to that need. CC Search, a CC0 (Creative Commons Zero) image search engine, is joining the WordPress project with over 500 million openly licensed and public domain images discoverable from over 50 sources, audio and video soon to come.

I am a long-time supporter of Creative Commons and their influential work on open content licenses, and when we heard they were considering shutting down their CC Search engine we immediately started exploring ways we could keep it going. I am eager to give a new home to their open search product on WordPress.org in continued commitment to open source freedoms, and providing this community resource for decades to come. This is an important first step to provide a long-term, sustainable challenger to proprietary libraries like Unsplash.

Automattic has hired key members of the CC Search team and will sponsor their contributions as part of our Five for the Future commitment. I look forward to seeing the project grow and welcome them to the WordPress community! Will share in a few weeks when everything is live and running on the site.

CC Search to join WordPress.org by Matt

And as Matt said in an interview with Josepha Haden, one of the reasons why CC considered closing the search engine is that it was overused and many people had move to search for the images on alternative platforms that were more convenient. In addition, for some time there had been the vision that directly from the Media Library you could search for images with CC license, but the truth is that it is not such an easy functionality to integrate into WordPress. A large majority of websites with a service to access CC-licensed images include advertisements or pop-ups. Others, to limit competition, have added limitations on the use of their images. And so for example, Pexels, Pixabay or Unsplash limit their images to be included in WordPress.org themes.

The Openverse Project

To solve the problems above, Matt’s idea was to buy the CC search catalog and host it on WordPress.org. To make this integration more comfortably, Automattic hired the leaders of CC Search to continue with the project. The goal was to have a clean, open source, ad-free site that’s accessible via the Media Library. This new project is Openverse and includes all its open source code.

WordPress Openverse branding
WordPress Openverse branding.

Openverse is a word game that stands for Open and Universe. In that vein, it points to the essence of what Openverse aims: a space that gathers content and encourages its reuse. A space that boosts creativity by assembling components to form something meaningful.

WordPress.org

What is Openverse’s Vision for the Future?

Openverse is built on GitHub and is an open source search engine whose aim is to index and collect all Creative Commons licensed, open licensed, and public domain works. Openverse currently searches over 300 million images from open APIs and the Common Crawl dataset. It goes beyond the simple search to add the results across multiple public repositories into a single catalog and facilitates their reuse through features such as one-click meta-tag generation and attribution.

Openverse is designed as a project that serves, on the one hand, to access all kinds of media or works with a CC license and, on the other, that in the future you can also contribute by adding your own works with CC license. That is, from your own WordPress in the future you’ll be able to upload your ownCC0 license images, audios, or videos to your media library so that they are also part of the Openverse.

Although you’re expected to access it via the media library, they plan to make the Openverse available to other CMS such as Drupal or Joomla.

The Different Components of Openverse

Openverse is an independent WordPress project, but it’s already available on WordPress.org, at https://wordpress.org/openverse. You can find its code on GitHub, at Openverse. In the link, at the moment you won’t find any code, just the links to the different Openverse components, to the project management board on GitHub and additional information on how you can contribute to the project.

The first component being developed is the FrontEnd of the search engine, a public version of which is already available at wp.org/openverse.

Openverse the WordPress
WordPress Openverse.

Like any other search engine, when you write any term, it will show you the set of images that match that term. You will see that you can filter the images by license, the use you can make of them, the image type, file type, aspect ratio, size, and font.

Openverse Catalog contains the methods used to identify the more than 1.4 billion Creative Commons licensed works on the internet. The challenge is that these works are scattered across the web and their identification requires a combination of techniques.

Search results in Openverse
Search results in Openverse.

At the moment, Openverse can only search for images, although it’s expected to be able to also search for audios and videos in the future. In the Audio and Video tabs it shows you different links so that you can directly access other CC licensed information sources.

Video search on CC licensed Vímeo
Search for CC licensed videos on Vímeo.

The Openserve API repository contains the backend infrastructure, servers, and APIs. The data from this system is fed by the Catalog, and the FrontEnd is an example of an application that interacts with the API

You also have Openverse extensions for Chrome, Firefox, Opera, and Edge so that you can easily download the images and integrate them into your WordPress by adding the attribution in one single click. You can find the code for these extensions on GitHub, at Openverse Browser-extension.

Openverse browser extension
Openverse browser extension.

Once the Openverse extension is installed, you can intuitively search for images in the browser without having to change web pages.

Once the image and attribution have been downloaded, you can drag the image to the page or post you are editing and paste the attribution that you have copied into the image caption.

Summary

As you see, the Openverse is a very recent project and there is still a long way to go to achieve their goals: optimize the search engine; adapt it to search for all types of media, not just images; fully integrate it into the media library instead of being a browser extension; make it easier for you to share your own CC-licensed work within the project. The good news is that soon with Openverse, developers of themes, plugins, and websites will be able to easily use images under a CC license at any time.

Featured Image: “File: Picture in Picture (2244748453).jpg” by Ted Kerwin is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

One thought on “The WordPress Openverse Project

  1. Interesting project, though the name is a bit unoriginal and confusing (sounds like a derivative of Metaverse, the VR Facebook project). However, very cool that the Creative Commons image search is here. Could be a good alternative to Pexels or Unsplash.

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