WordPress is the most popular Content Management System (CMS) out there. It powers 43% of all websites. With so much of the web running through WordPress, exciting new projects like Openverse have the potential to transform the look and feel of websites and how we source the media they contain. 

So, what is Openverse? How does it work? And what could it mean for your business’s website? Find the answer as you read on. 

READ: WordPress 5.9 Update: Get to Know the New Features

What is Openverse? 

Openverse is a searchable catalogue of free to use media with over 600 million images and audio files. The search engine is an open-source project built on GitHub to collect and index all open licences and public domain media for reuse. 

The project was started by Creative Commons, a non-profit organisation that aims to improve the access and exchange of culture in the legal sharing of online content.  

In 2002 they released Creative Commons licences, an alternative to “all rights reserved” where creators can share their work on flexible terms while still maintaining copyrights. One of these licenses, CC0, went a step further, making it easy for creators to waive their copyright, allowing anyone to reuse their work however they choose. 

Creative Commons now licence over 2 billion works – from photos, images, audio, and videos to literary works, scientific research, open education, and more. 

In the mid-2010s, Creative Commons set out to build CC search, a tool capable of searching hundreds of millions of CC0 images, compiling results into a single catalogue. However, with high hosting costs, Creative Commons was considering shutting down the search engine. 

WordPress Openverse Catalogue

What is the WordPress Openverse Project All About?

This is where WordPress came in. On April 27th, 2021, Matt Mullenweg, the CEO of Automattic (parent company of WordPress), announced CC search is joining the WordPress project. WordPress’s “Five for the Future” commitment then sponsored CC Search with Automattic hiring its crucial members. 

The project rebranded as Openverse (a combination of “open” and “universe”) and began building the catalogue, API, and front-end application, as well as developing ways of integrating the search engine into WordPress. The goal is to create an open-source site without advertising accessible via the media library. 

The first version of Openverse went live late in the year 2021. Mullenweg officially introduced it during WordPress’s State of the World 2021 keynote address on December 14th. During his talk, Mullenweg discussed Openverse becoming more than just a way to access media. Instead, allowing users to contribute to the catalogue of CC0 media.  

WordPress plans to build Openverse into the admin and allow users to choose from Creative Commons licences when uploading new media, hopefully having their work become part of the Openverse catalogue. 

Since joining WordPress, Openverse has developed multiple new features such as: 

  • Moving from only supporting images to audio as well. This includes samples, songs, and podcasts from sources such as Jamendo, FreeSounds, and Wikimedia Commons. 
  • A new interface designed to improve usability. Users can now filter images and audio files based on various options, including licence and source. 
  • Openverse now being available in 12 languages with partial translations for many more.
  • Images can be sourced from two new locations: the WordPress Photo Directory and Stocksnap. 

WordPress Photo Directory

The WordPress Photo Directory is a new tool for sourcing images and submitting work to Openverse. It removes the need for uploaders to use an external submission tool such as Flickr or Wikimedia Commons. 

Any user with a wordpress.org account can submit photos. These photos will be categorised and tagged for searching through the Openverse search engine. All images in the directory are in the public domain with a CC0 licence. 

While a separate project, the WordPress Photo Directory is becoming a great source of images for Openverse. 

WordPress Photo Directory

WordPress Openverse Project: What Does This Mean for Your WordPress Website?

In the past, if you wanted to incorporate external media into your business’s website, you had two options: 

  1. Ignore any licensing considerations and search the web for the images (i.e., Google images) you want. This is not ethical and leads you open to legal recourse, as you are taking what are often copyrighted pictures and using them without consent or credit.
  2. Search for open licence images using sites such as Pexels, Pixabay, or Unsplash with proprietary libraries. However, these sites have been adding limitations to the use of their images and generally contain paid advertisements or frustrating pop-ups. 

While there are plenty of free-to-use media, the problem is discoverability. Openverse aims to become the third option – an open-source, sustainable alternative for finding free to use media.  

Although it’s a new project which is still under development, WordPress plans to simplify how future users incorporate media into their websites. Instead of sourcing images externally, users will be able to source and upload free to use media from new Openverse tools integrated into the media library. 

While integration is not yet available, the Openverse front end is complete, and the site is up and running. There are also Openverse browser extensions for Chrome, Firefox, Opera, and Edge that allow you to download images and integrate them into WordPress easily. Openverse also has big plans to expand to other media types. 

Leverage this update for your online success

Finding free media to use is usually a frustrating experience when designing a website. By developing new projects like Openverse, WordPress continues to showcase why they are the number one CMS available. 

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