Finding images to use on blogs

A picture of a red butterfly resting on a leaf.

I recently transferred stewardship of the Leicester Sabres PR machine1 to a new council, and as part of the process had to explain how to construct blog posts on WordPress. The new PR rep asked some questions about how to find images to use on a website, and what the rules were about using images. I explained that she would have to either find images that were in the public domain or licenced with Creative Commons2. It is not legal to simply use an image and credit the copyright holder; you must have their explicit permission before using any image! She balked a little at the news, and so I briefly explained some of my tricks for finding suitable images. Since I figure they might help my fellow bloggers, I humbly present them here!

Take your own photographs

Simply create your own images, either by photographing things that you want to write about or by drawing the images you want to use. In one way, this is the simplest solution: you created the image, so you definitely know you can use it. In another, it’s the hardest: you need to be able to create the image. You can’t just take a photograph of a piece of artwork, since that’s making a copy of the artwork and therefore copyright infringement. It has to be original!3

A stylised photograph of a butterfly landing on a yellow and red flower.

Flickr

This is usually my first port of call. Visit Flickr, and simply enter what it is you’re looking for in the search box on the front page. Then, click ‘Advanced Search’, scroll to the bottom and tick the box that says ‘Only search within Creative Commons-licensed content’. The result of your search will give you images that you can use on your site. Flickr is a huge website with a lot of talented photographers putting images up completely for free, so this is a great way to do things.

deviantART

A drawing of a blue butterfly.

Like Flickr, deviantART lets creators tell their visitors that images are under Creative Commons licences. Unlike Flickr, DeviantArt lacks any sort of way to search based on this. As a result, Google is our friend; simply perform a Google search for what it is you’re looking for, with site:deviantart.com "creative commons" tacked on (if you’re lazy, click here). Doublecheck the copyright status of the image by opening the ‘details’ tab below the picture; if it has a Creative Commons licence, you’re good to go!

Alternatively, you can search via DeviantArt and then click ‘Resources & Stock Images’. The description of the image http://www.mindanews.com/buy-imitrex/ will generally have the terms under which you may use it. This is another useful way to find images you can use on the site.

Wikimedia Commons

A photograph of a butterfly on someone's fingertip.

Wikimedia Commons is a collection of media, including images, which are free for you to use either because they are licenced by their creators under Creative Commons or because they are in the public domain. Simply head over to the website, enter the thing you’re looking for, and look through the pictures to find one that you like. Below the photograph will be information about the copyright status of the photograph explaining how you can use it.

Other sources

If you’ve explored the above sources thoroughly and you don’t know where else to turn, there is a setting in the Advanced Search on Google Images which can find permissible images. I’m a bit hesitant to use it, though, because I don’t fully understand how they tell if a photograph is available for use; it’s worth a try, but make sure to read the webpage that Google finds before using the images!

Another potential source for images is organisations like NASA, which tend to make their images free to download and use as people see fit. This is provided that a specific credit is used, depending on the institutions and agencies involved in creating a given image. Other organisations involved in scientific research disseminate images, so if you know of one, look to see whether you can use their images. For instance, EFDA, the organisation responsible for JET and ITER, lets you use their images for “non-commercial, scientific, news and educational purposes provided that you acknowledge EFDA as the source”.

Hopefully this blog post will give people the tools they need to illustrate their blog posts whilst staying within the law. I hope you find it useful!


  1. It’s not a very big machine, if I’m honest. Mostly a Facebook group and a website. 
  2. If you haven’t encountered them before, this is a good explanation of the different Creative Commons licences and what they let you do
  3. A legal grey area arises if you take a photograph that happens to include a piece of copyrighted artwork, but which isn’t simply a copy. Or making screenshots of software, since they include the developer’s art assets. Do these count as making a copy and are they therefore against the rules? I haven’t found the answer to either of these problems — if you know the answers, please do comment below (preferably citing your sources!). 

Google Drive: the new document syncing service

As anyone who has been paying attention will know, Google released Google Drive today, which is their new competitor to other services. I already use Dropbox with a fervent evangelism, and I also have an account on Box, so I figured I’d take a brief look at what Google Drive is.

The first thing that it’s important to note is that Google Drive replaces Google Docs. That is to say, if you had any documents in Docs, they’re now in your Drive, and going to the old Google Docs URL will redirect you to the new Drive URL. I use Google Docs to edit fanzine articles with España Sheriff1 — when either of us has written an article, we upload it so that the other can go through and make suggestions. The everyone-can-edit model suits this workflow extremely well, and so I now have a number of fanzine articles saved in Google Drive (as well as a bunch of work from my undergraduate degree).

All told, there are several pieces of work in there, and I am not keen to cede the rights to those to Google. This means that the Google Terms of Service make me slightly nervous:

When you upload or otherwise submit content to our Services, you give Google (and those we work with) a worldwide license to use, host, store, reproduce, modify, create derivative works (such as those resulting from translations, adaptations or other changes we make so that your content works better with our Services), communicate, publish, publicly perform, publicly display and distribute such content. The rights you grant in this license are for the limited purpose of operating, promoting, and improving our Services, and to develop new ones. This license continues even if you stop using our Services (for example, for a business listing you have added to Google Maps). Some Services may offer you ways to access and remove content that has been provided to that Service. Also, in some of our Services, there are terms or settings that narrow the scope of our use of the content submitted in those Services. Make sure you have the necessary rights to grant us this license for any content that you submit to our Services.

Is this anything to worry about? It’s certainly been noticed online, but is it anything to worry about? Well, firstly, it’s important to note that Google do not take ownership of your files — they just give themselves a licence to do things with your files. This is an important distinction, as it means that the copyright still resides with you. The other important thing to note is that this licence is granted even after you stop using the product, but this appears to be in order to allow Google to continue displaying information in other services, rather than specifically relevant to Google Drive.

This brings me to the main point: This Terms of Service document is not specific to Google Drive, but is applicable to every Google service. Unless the segment of Google you’re using has more restrictive terms that supersede the ones outlined in this blog post, they already apply to you. This means, for instance, that these terms already applied to the documents I had in Google Docs. Or, indeed, to any email I have received since 2004, thanks to my Gmail account.

A similar outcry happened around a year ago, when it became clear that many picture sharing services owned any images that were uploaded to their servers, and Dropbox itself was implicated in a similar brouhaha when they updated their TOS in 2011. One of the things that arose from that (as well as a huge reaction from their users) was a blog post outlining why Dropbox needed the things outlined in their TOS. A lot of the permissions granted are there just so that you can have the experience you expect, and the same is almost certainly true of Google.

Google need to update their Terms of Service, just like Dropbox did, to make it clear that the information uploaded to their servers is not going to be used for anything outside of users’ expectations. I’m hopeful that the blog posts and news articles being written on this subject will expedite that process, and that the TOS will be made clearer very soon.2 I don’t intend to completely ignore Google Drive, but I would feel much more comfortable using the service if this issue was explicitly addressed by the company.


  1. Coincidentally, her latest blog post is about deleting files from Google Docs and moving them to Dropbox. 
  2. Separate TOS documents for Google Drive and Gmail would seem like a sensible idea! 

Location location location

This evening, I went out for a meal and then some drinks with a variety of friends. Four different people have birthdays at this time of the month, and we were celebrating that. As part of this experience, we went to a restaurant and then two different bars — those bars were Hakamou and Pirates Bar Leicester1. I came away from the evening with some thoughts about the bars and wanted to write them up somewhere.

Hannah and I at Hakamou.
Hannah and I at Hakamou.

My first thought was Yelp, a website that allows people to rate and review places to eat and drink. I used Yelp to help inform my dining choices whilst holidaying on the west coast of the USA with my parents. What makes it so useful is the ease by which you can search for a certain type of restaurant and then see which of the restaurants available has the best ratings (as decided by the Yelp community). However, Yelp hasn’t really taken off in Britain properly — of the nine British venues I’ve reviewed, only one has attracted reviews from anyone else (two others, more than a year apart).2 I wrote a review for Hakamou anyway, but I have no idea whether anyone will find it useful, or whether they’ll even read it!

Where does this leave me? Well, I’ve also put the same review on Google.3 This is because the owners at Hakamou had taken the (very sensible) step of creating a verified listing for the business. Not only that, but Google was able to use my location preferences to work out I wanted to know about their Leicester branch, and not the bar in Northampton. On top of all that, Google realises that people may want to write a review for your venue, and provides a handy ‘write a review’ link under the search result. If there are already reviews for the venue available, it’ll provide a link to those, too, and you can go and peruse them at your leisure.

Hakamou's search result on Google.
Hakamou's search result on Google.

Google’s solution has one advantage over Yelp: its simplicity. Yelp requires you to answer a series of questions, on things like whether there’s a beer garden, what alcohol is available and whether children are welcome, whereas Google just wants a rating (1-5 stars) and a short review. It even removes paragraphs for you. Of course, this advantageous and concise approach to the problem is also Google’s disadvantage, since Yelp gives the user much more detail about the venue in question and also provides a higher level of analysis.

There is, of course, a third option that may not be as obvious: Foursquare. I use Foursquare a lot when I’m abroad or on holiday, since it helps remind me where I was and when. Given how terrible my memory is, that’s a significant feature to be able to offer! Foursquare isn’t really optimised for reviewing or in-depth analysis in the same way as Yelp is, but for short tips and one-line recommendations, it’s a very powerful tool. When using the service in far-away lands, the recommendations it gives can be incredible and really turn your evening around.

The company is clearly beginning to realise that it is this that is the real killer application for the network — the gamification aspect to the service is much less useful, if still a pretty fun way to operate a loyalty scheme. This is backed up by a couple of recent developments: Firstly, the radar feature in the new Foursquare apps on mobile devices. I personally don’t fancy having my GPS on permanently in order to take advantage of this, but it looks like a very good idea that would help you explore a city very efficiently. In fact, TechCrunch published an article not so long ago in which the company talks about helping people to discover and explore new things in such a way.

Location-based services, whether they’re based around networking or just providing information, are something incredibly useful. Unfortunately, in the United Kingdom they currently seem to be very much in their infancy, which is a huge shame. Screw flying cars — the thing that excites me most about the future is restaurant recommendations!4


  1. It’s a pirate-themed bar in Leicester. The name they’ve selected for the bar is not only completely unimaginative but also missing an apostrophe, which is almost as many criticisms as there are words in the name. Also, you’ll note that the link goes to Facebook, rather than a proper website; this is because they don’t have one. It’s 2012. Websites are easy. Keep up, please, people! 
  2. Chimichanga, in Peterborough, if you’re curious! 
  3. I’m still not sure what this feature is actually called. On my iPhone, when I search on Google for something, it seems to be called Google Places. However, the URL is maps.google.co.uk, which would seem to suggest it’s a feature within Google Maps — but saying I wrote a review on Google Maps would sound strange. Anyone? 
  4. Actually, that honour goes to FaceTime/iMessage, but restaurant recommendations are still fairly excellent. 

Footnotify and a site redesign

Recently I found a really cool Chrome extension called Footnotify, which takes footnotes (as you see them on Daring Fireball or Wikipedia) and renders them as a hovering box when you click them. If you are a regular reader of either site (or, indeed, a plethora of others) you too might find it handy.

The extension’s elegance and ease of use made me want to put footnotes on my website, too, and so I started fiddling with various footnote extensions for WordPress. Eventually, I got a little disillusioned, since none of them were working quite how I wanted — as a result I sought out PHP Markdown Extra, which includes footnotes and also a host of other neat ways to write online. It’s based on the syntax developed by John Gruber, who runs Daring Fireball, and so the footnotes it generates are guaranteed to work with Footnotify, right?

Wrong. The WordPress theme I was using completely screwed footnotes up, and so I went hunting for a new one. I had been using The Unstandard, which is the theme I’ve successfully implemented and used over on the Leicester Sabres website. It’s a very good theme that’s very visually powerful — for the Sabres, that means that we draw people into the site and get them reading. However, I don’t really do my website for the hits, and so I’m unsure that the very visual theme was suitable. I ended up looking for a new, simple, one-column theme1 and eventually found Blaskan, which is now in use on the site.

As a result, I’ve installed a new plugin ([Markdown Extra]) and installed a new theme (Blaskan). However, they aren’t the only changes, since Blaskan also has good support for smartphones and as a result I no longer need the plugin that enabled the mobile view I previously employed. Good news all round!

There’s one small problem — for some reason, Footnotify doesn’t work properly on the individual blog entries. If you click a footnote on the main homepage it’ll work fine, but on the page for this post, it’s broken. I installed the JavaScript that enables it on a website, in case having it on the site rather than as a Chrome extension was helpful, but that hasn’t changed anything; I’ve gotten in touch with the author and hopefully this will eventually be resolved.

Edited to add: Initially, I had a problem with Footnotify. It would work fine on the homepage, but on the entries’ pages themselves, it didn’t work correctly. After sending a missive to Michel Fortin, I was able to identify it as an issue with a plugin on my website. Something was causing the relative footnote links generated by [Markdown Extra] to become absolute links, and thus breaking the Footnotify plugin. After some trial-and-error, it turns out that it was an issue with Joost de Valk’s Google Analytics for WordPress plugin. I visited de Valk’s website, where I read:

For plugin support, please use the appropriate support forums on WordPress.org. Plugin support emails will be immediately discarded. The only reason the option in the contact form below is there, is so I can more easily filter away those emails for those who don’t bother to read this text.

As such, I couldn’t be bothered to notify him of the bug in his plugin, and am instead using a plugin called Google Analytics which is much simpler to configure and works perfectly for what I need it to do. And now, footnotes work how they should — hurray!


  1. The eagle-eyed amongst you will have noticed that this theme is not one-column, since it has a sidebar. You’re entirely correct to notice that, but Blaskan can be configured to be one-column and so appears in several lists of such themes. 

Google Chrome and download management

This marks the first blog entry on this website that isn’t related to fan writing, but is more about technology and my experiences with it. I want to write about my struggles with technology here, partly for my own benefit (so that, if I come across a problem again down the line, I can just look on my blog for the answer!), partly to solicit help from others, but mostly because I sincerely hope it might be interesting. Let me know what you think!

I have recently been looking at switching my default browser from Mozilla Firefox to Google Chrome. I am a Mac user, and I have two Macs – a MacBook from 2007 and an iMac from 2010, both running Mac OS X 10.7 (Lion). For some reason, on my MacBook, Firefox 5 was horrendously unstable and would regularly crash (Firefox 6 is better, but I’ve still seen the SBBOD way more than I should), and so I began to use Chrome as a solution until Firefox was updated to work properly with my MacBook. As a result, Chrome now occupies the position of default browser; Firefox no longer even resides on the Dock!

There is something making me hesitant, when it comes doing the same with Chrome on my iMac, however. I’ve been using Firefox for a long time (since before Firefox 1.0, in fact) and, before Firefox, I was a Mozilla Suite user. But the brand loyalty isn’t the problem – Chrome has impressed me enough with its adoption of Mac-like UI features to convince me to switch. It was updated with support for Lion’s full-screen mode quickly after Lion’s release, which is a Godsend on my MacBook’s 13″ screen. On my 21″ screen, as well, the fact it maximises to the content displayed (as any other Mac app would) rather than the window (which is what Firefox insists on doing) is a really nice feature. I would dearly like to take the plunge and move to Chrome, so what’s stopping me?

Well, in a word, add-ons. I have many add-ons for my Firefox browser. I have a plugin that brings Safari’s PDF reader interface over to Firefox. I have a plugin for an app called 1Password, which allows me to access all my login data for every website I visit. I have the FlashGot and NoScript plugins, which allow me, respectively, to use the download manager of my choice and block Tynt (the only reason I have NoScript). I also use the Camelizer, which allows me to see graphs of Amazon products’ pricing over time at the click of a toolbar button. And Easy YouTube Video Downloader adds download links to all YouTube videos, allowing me to easily archive content I like.

So, what does Chrome offer? Well, the 1Password team offer Chrome support, so that’s that sorted. The Camelizer isn’t available for Chrome, but their website does the same job, so that’s something I can live without. As Freddie points out in the comments, the Camelizer is available on Chrome, and the UI is actually improved over Firefox. NoScript isn’t available; but Tynt now allow you to opt out of their service from your browser, which is a little less elegant but achieves exactly the same task. Easy YouTube Video Downloader is an available Chrome extension, and I now have it installed. And Chrome has its own PDF reading feature, so I don’t need to hack in the Safari functionality as I do in Firefox.

What does this leave? FlashGot. There’s no FlashGot equivalent for Google Chrome. I currently use FlashGot to feed downloads to Speed Download from Yazsoft. Speed Download is supposed to be able to work with Google Chrome, without FlashGot. However, this involves totally uninstalling the app (using the company’s provided uninstaller) and then reinstalling it, which I dutifully did. Not only did that not fix the problem, it actually introduced a new one – the preference file on my Mac which told Speed Download it had been paid for was removed by the uninstaller, and because I purchased it in a MacHeist bundle, I could not reregister (the developer isn’t keen on those users that didn’t pay very much for his software, which does rather beg the question why he made it available in the bundle in the first place). Cue a trawl through Time Machine to find and restore the appropriate system files to their pre-uninstallation state (for the curious, if you restore com.yazsoft.SpeedDownload.plist both to /Library/Preferences and to ~/Library/Preferences, the app should be satisfied you bought it).

So, FlashGot is unavailable and Speed Download appears to be very tempramental in its support for Chrome. What does that leave me with? Well, I remembered using Leech (from ManyTricks) once upon a time, at which point I promptly Googled it. Turns out that changes in Lion and WebKit mean that, not only does it not support Chrome, but it doesn’t even support Safari any more. And, a perusal of the Speed Download forums revealed that they’re having exactly the same issue – both download managers are only compatible with Firefox at this point (through FlashGot).

So where does this leave me? Well, it means it’s almost impossible to switch to Chrome, from my perspective. I rely on my download manager, and without it I’m unlikely to switch on my desktop computer. But then, I had a stroke of inspiration – if I just put the Speed Download icon on my Dock, I can just drag links to it. This is my current solution to the lack of integration, but some download sites work in such away that this is not a perfect fix to the problem. Yazsoft say they are working on a major new release of Speed Download to get around the problems that Safari 5.1 has introduced for their app. Maybe that will mean that they introduce proper Chrome functionality, rather than the existing solution which seems only to work for a lucky few.

For now, I will be using Chrome, on a trial basis, on my iMac. If I can get by with dragging downloads to the Dock, and the lack of proper integration proves not to be too annoying, then I’ll stick with the browser and hope that Speed Download 6 features better Chrome support. It’s actually rather exciting; it’s been so long since I switched browser that it’s quite nice to have a change!