Creative Commons unveils a new photo search engine with filters, lists & social sharing

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Finding free and legal images to accompany your web content has never been difficult, thanks to Creative Commons. The nonprofit organization offers copyright licenses that creators can use to share their work more broadly, while putting them in control of where and how their work can be used, how it should be attributed and more. Now the organization is making it easier to access this content with a new search engine, CC Search, launched into beta this morning.

Larger image search engines, like those from Google and Flickr, have for years offered tools to filter for CC-licensed images, but Creative Commons’ own search tool continues to have a sizable audience of its own. The organization says that nearly 60,000 users search its site every month. But it believed it needed to do better, in terms of making the commons more accessible.

“There is no ‘front door’ to the commons, and the tools people need to curate, share, and remix works aren’t yet available,” writes Ryan Merkley, Creative Commons CEO on the organization’s blog. “We want to make the commons more usable, and this is our next step in that direction.”

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While Creative Commons licenses can be used across a variety of media, including video, audio, music and much more, the search engine for now only focuses on images given that they comprise half of the total commons.

The engine pulls in photos from Flickr, 500px, Rijksmuseum, the New York Public Library and the Metropolitan Museum of Art as its initial sources. The latter was added to just today, to coincide with the launch, and brings 200,000 more images to the service.

In total, there are roughly 9,477,000 images available at the time of launch, though the exact figures will vary at times.

In addition to having a more modern look-and-feel, the new CC Search lets you narrow searches by license type, title, creator, tags, collection and type of institution. It also includes social features, letting you make and share lists of favorite images, as well as add tags and favorites to individual items. Plus, you can save your searches for quick access in the future.

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The engine also makes it easier to apply the necessary attribution, when available, by offering  pre-formatted copy you can click to copy and paste.

As a beta, the organization says it’s looking to now gain feedback from users about the new product, which it will use to help guide the next steps, including things like forthcoming features, what media types to support next and which repositories should be added. Creative Commons says it’s already focused on bringing to future CC Search releases the full content of the Europeana collection, a selected subset from DPLA and a larger subset of the Flickr Commons.

Other additions in the works include more tools to customize shared lists, a way to search from your own curated material, the ability for trusted users to push metadata (e.g. tags) back to the larger collection and more advanced search tools, like search by color, drill down into tags and search public lists.

Being able to more easily search the commons has been a focus over the years for smaller services, too, which long ago launched their own dedicated CC search tools, like Compfight or Openphoto, for example. But it makes sense to have an advanced search feature that lives on Creative Commons’ website as well — and one that, in time, will expand beyond just images.

“This is a significant moment for CC, as we’ve always wanted to be able to do more to help people find and use the commons and make connections with each other as they create new things,” noted Merkley, in the announcement.

The beta search engine is available at ccsearch.creativecommons.org.