2023-07-06 Project Proposal: Providing and maintaining an Openverse image dataset#


The Openverse maintainer team has decided to pause this project for the time being. See our public update on it here. This proposal may be picked back up when the discussion reopens in the future.

Author: @zackkrida


Project summary#

This project aims to publish and regularly update a dataset or datasets of Openverse’s media metadata. This project will provide access to the data currently served by our API, but which is difficult to access in full and requires significant time, money, and compute resources to maintain.


For this project, understanding “why?” we would do this is of paramount importance. There are several key philosophical and technical advantages to sharing this dataset with the public.

Open Access + Scraping Prevention#

Openverse is and always has been, since its days as “CC Search”, informed by principles of the open access movement. Openverse strives to remove all all financial, technical, and legal barriers to accessing the works of the global commons.

Due to technical and logistical limitations, we have previously been unable to accessibly provide access to the full Openverse dataset. Today, users need to invest significant time and money into scraping the Openverse API in order to access this data. These financial and technical barriers to our users are deeply inequitable. Additionally, this scraping disrupts Openverse access and stability for all users. It also requires significant maintainer effort to identify, mitigate, and block scraping traffic.

By sharing this data as a full dataset on HuggingFace, we can remove these barriers and allow folks to access the data provided by Openverse.org and the Openverse API without restriction.

Contributions Back to Openverse#

Easily accessed Openverse datasets will facilitate easier generation of machine labels, translations, and other supplemental data which can be used to improve the experience of Openverse.org and the API. This data is typically generated as part of the data preprocessing stage of model training.

Presence on HuggingFace in particular will enable community members to analyze the dataset and create supplemental datasets; to train models with the dataset; and to use the dataset with all of HuggingFace’s tooling: the Datasets library in particular.

It is worth noting that this year we identified many projects to work on which rely on bulk analysis of Openverse’s data. These projects could be replaced by, or made easier by the publication of the datasets. This could work in a few ways. A community member, training a model using the Openverse dataset, generates metadata that we want and planned to generate ourselves. Then, the HuggingFace platform presents an alternative to other SaaS (software as a service) products we intended to use to generate machine labels, detect sensitive content, and so on. Instead of those offerings we use models hosted on the HuggingFace hub. The Datasets library allows for easy loading of the Openverse dataset in any data pipelines we write. HuggingFace also offers the ability to deploy production-ready API endpoints for transformation models hosted on their hub. This feature is called Inference Endpoints.


The metadata for openly-licensed media, used by Openverse to power the API and frontend, is a community utility and should be available to all users, distinctly from Openverse itself. By publishing this dataset, we ensure access to this data is fast, accessible, and resilient. With published datasets, this access remains even if Openverse is inaccessible, under attack, or experiencing any other unforeseen disruptions.


This project encompasses all of our 2023 “lighthouse goals”, but “Community Development” is perhaps the broadest and most relevant. Others touched on here, or impacted through potential downstream changes, are “Result Relevancy”, “Quantifying our Work”, “Search Experience”, “Content Safety”, and “Data inertia”.


This project requires coordination with HuggingFace to release the dataset on their platform, bypassing their typical restrictions for Dataset size.

We will also need to figure out the technical requirements for producing the raw dataset, which will be done in this project’s implementation plan. Additionally in that plan we will:

  • Determine if we host a single dataset for all media types, or separate datasets for different media types.

  • Develop a plan for updating the datasets regularly

  • Refine how we will provide access to our initial, raw dataset for upload to HuggingFace. This refers to the initial, raw dump from Openverse, not the actual dataset which will be provided to users. These details are somewhat trivial as the data can be parsed and transformed prior to distribution.

    • Delivery mechanism, likely a requester pays S3 bucket

    • File format, likely parquet files

We will also need to coordinate the launch of these efforts and associated outreach. See more about that in the marketing section.


This project can be considered a success when the dataset is published. Ideally, we will also observe meaningful usage of the dataset. Some ways we might measure this include:

  • Metrics built into HuggingFace

    • Models trained with the Dataset are listed

    • Downloads last month

    • Likes

  • Our dataset trending on HuggingFace

  • Additionally, we may also see increased interest in our repositories

  • Any positive engagement with our marketing efforts for the project

Participants and stakeholders#

  • Openverse maintainers - Responsible for creating the initial raw data dump, maintaining the Openverse account and Dataset on HuggingFace. We also need to make sure maintainers are protected from liability related the dataset, for example: from distributing PDM works, works acquired by institutions without consent or input from their cultures of origin, or copyrighted works incorrectly marked as CC licensed.

  • CC Licensors with works in Openverse - It is critical that we respect their intentions and properly communicate the usage conditions for different license attributes (NC, ND, SA, and so on) in our Dataset documentation. We also need to spread awareness of the opt-in/out mechanism Spawning AI which is integrated with HuggingFace.

  • HuggingFace - A key partner responsible for the initial dataset upload, providing advice, and potential marketing collaboration

  • Creative Commons - Stewards of the Commons and CC Licenses, advisors, and another partner in marketing promotion

  • Aaron Gokaslan & MosaicML - A researcher working on supplementary datasets and providing technical advice


This project will likely require provisioning some new resources in AWS:

  • A dedicated bucket, perhaps a “Requester pays” bucket, for storing the backups

  • New scripts to generate backup artifacts


This project doesn’t directly raise any accessibility concerns. However, we should be mindful of any changes we would like to make on Openverse.org relating to copy edits about this initiative.

We should also be mindful of any accessibility issues with HuggingFace’s user interface, which we could share with them in an advisory capacity.


This release will be a big achievement and we should do quite a bit to promote it:

  • Reach out to past requesters of the dataset and share the HuggingFace link

  • Social channel cross-promotion between the WordPress Marketing team, HuggingFace, and/or Creative Commons

  • Post to more tech-minded communities like HackerNews, certain Reddit communities, etc.

Additionally, our documentation will need to be updated extensively to inform users about the Dataset. The API docs, our developer handbook, our docs site, and potentially Openverse.org should all be update to reflect these changes.

Required implementation plans#

  • Initial Data Dump Creation - A plan describing how to produce and provide access to the raw data dumps which will be used to create the Dataset(s). Additionally, this plan should address the marketing and documentation of the initial data dump. Essentially, all facets of the project relating to the initial release.

    • This is the first, largest, and most important plan.

  • Dataset Maintenance - A plan describing how we will regularly release updates to the Dataset(s).

We will also want a plan for how we intend to use the HuggingFace platform to complete our other projects for the year, but that might fall outside the scope of this project.