Fun with IIIF

In this blog post, I’ll describe a recent prototyping project we (Jim O’Donnell: front-end developer; Sam Blickhan: Project Manager) carried out with our colleagues at the British Library (Mia Ridge, who I’m also collaborating with on the Collective Wisdom project) to explore IIIF compatibility for the Zooniverse Project Builder. You can read Mia’s complimentary blog post here.

History & context

While Zooniverse supports projects working with a number of different data formats (aka ‘subjects’), including video and audio, far and beyond the most frequently used data are images. Images are easy enough to drag and drop into our simple uploader (a feature of the Project Builder for adding data to your project) to create groups of subjects, or subject sets. If you want to upload your subjects with their associated metadata, however, things become slightly more complex. A subject manifest is a data table that allows you to list image file names alongside associated metadata. By including a manifest with your images to upload, the metadata will remain associated with those images within the Zooniverse platform. 

So, what happens if you already have a manifest? Can you upload any type of manifest into Zooniverse? What if you’re working with a specific set of standards? 

IIIF (pronounced “triple eye eff”) stands for International Image Interoperability Framework. It is a set of standards for image and A/V delivery across the web, from servers to different web environments. It supports viewing of images as well as interaction, and uses manifests as a major structural component. 

If you’re new to IIIF, that’s okay! To understand the work we did, you’ll need three IIIF definitions, all reproduced here from

Manifest: the prime unit in IIIF which lists all the information that makes up a IIIF object. It communicates how to display your digital objects, and what information to display about them, including structure, to varying degrees of complexity as determined by the implementer. (For example, if the object is a book of illustrations, where each illustrated page is a canvas, and there is one specific order to the arrangement of those pages).

Canvas: the frame of reference for the display of your content, both spatial and temporal (just like a painting canvas for two-dimensional materials, or with an added time dimension for a/v content).

Annotation: a standard way to associate different types of content to whatever is on your canvas (such as a translation of a line or the name of a person in a photograph. In the IIIF model, images and other presentation content are also technically annotations onto a canvas). For more detail, see the Web Annotation Data Model.

What we did

For this effort, we worked with Mia and her colleagues at the British Library on an exploratory project to see if we could create a proof of concept for Zooniverse image upload and data export which was IIIF compatible. If successful, these two prototypes could then form the basis for an expanded effort. We used the British Library In The Spotlight Zooniverse project as a testing ground.

Data upload

First, we wanted to figure out a way to create a Zooniverse subject set from a IIIF manifest. We figured the easiest approach would be to use the manifest URL, so Jim built a tool that imports IIIF manifests via a URL pasted into the Project Builder (see image below).

This is an experimental feature, so it won’t show up in your Zooniverse project builder ‘Subject Sets’ page by default. If you want to try it out, you can preview the feature by adding subject-sets/iiif?env=production to your project builder URL. For example, if your project number is #xxx, you’d use the URL

To create a new subject set, you simply copy/paste the IIIF manifest URL into the box at the top of the image and click ‘Fetch Manifest’. The Zooniverse uploader will present a list of metadata fields from the manifest. The tick box column at the far right allows you to flag certain fields as ‘Hidden’, meaning they won’t be shown to volunteers in your project’s classification interface. Once you’ve marked everything you want to be ‘Hidden’, you click ‘Create a subject set’ to generate the new subject set from the IIIF manifest. 

Export to manifest with IIIF annotations

In the second phase of this experiment, we explored how to export Zooniverse project results as IIIF annotations. This was trickier, because the Zooniverse classification model requires multiple classifications from different volunteers, which are then typically aggregated together after being downloaded from the platform.

To export Zooniverse results as IIIF annotations, therefore, we needed to include a step that runs the appropriate in-house offline aggregation code, then convert the data to the appropriate IIIF annotation format. Because the aggregation step is necessary to produce a single annotation per task, this step is project- and workflow-specific (whereas the IIIF Manifest URL upload works for all project types). For this effort, we tested annotation publishing on the In The Spotlight Transcribe Dates workflow, which uses a simple free-text entry task. The other In The Spotlight workflow has a slight more complex task structure (rectangle marking task + text entry sub-task), which we’re hoping to be able to add to the technical documentation soon.

IIIF Technical Coordinator Glen Robson created a demo for viewing the In The Spotlight annotations in Mirador, which you can explore here: 

Full details and technical documentation are available at

Next steps & ways to get involved

Now, we need your feedback! The next steps for this work will include identifying community needs and interest – would you use these tools for your Zooniverse project? What features look useful (or less so)? Your feedback will help us determine our next steps. Mostly, we want to know who our potential audiences are, what task types they would most want to use, and what sort of comfort level they have, particularly when it comes to running the annotations code (from “This is great!” to “I don’t even know where to start!”). There are a lot of possible routes we could take from here, and we want to make sure our future work is in service of our project building community.

Try out the In The Spotlight project and help create real data for testing ingest processes.

Get in touch!

Finally, a massive “Thank you!” to the British Library for funding this experiment, and to Glen Robson and Josh Hadro at IIIF for their feedback on various stages of this experiment.

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