Ghostsigns Worldwide

This wiki is intended to develop a brief and source expertise capable of assisting with creating a collaborative global resource documenting hand painted advertising across the world. Please read through and, if you have something to add, do so. If you are reading this and have some or all of the technical capability to build something, however simple, please do so/get in touch.

The intention is for this to be an evolving document so please feel free to make additions, edit existing content and open new pages. Above you can see a discussion tab which is best to use if you want to make comments about the topics covered without changing the content. You can also subscribe to page-specific or site-wide changes and updates via an RSS feed using the 'Notify Me' tab above.

Sam (

The context

In the UK good progress has been made to capture, in photographic form, many examples of hand painted advertising. The results can be viewed here on The History of Advertising Trust web galleries. The underlying platfoorm used for this is Gallery.

The work on this archive has been limited by the process of requiring signed forms to enter new pictures into the collection (versus utilising existing creative commons status). It is also an increasingly large workload for a very small team. This way of working isn’t sustainable and probably not appropriate for expanding the concept of an online archive to bring a global reach.

There is a need to adopt an approach utilising features found on services like Flickr, Wikipedia and Google Maps to encourage wider participation and collaboration in order to expand the archive’s potential for global reach.

The brief:

To design and build a collaborative online resource documenting photos, locations and background research about hand painted advertising across the world.


These are some of the initial features that would be core to the development of such a resource.


Ideally sourced in a simple manner from Flickr (even better, a Flickr group such as Ghostsigns). These photos would need to be available under a creative commons licence and attributed to the photographers accordingly. I see that the new version of Flickr allows html to be taken giving an output as below which is good as it links through to the photographer's original when clicked on. The drawback is it doesn't explicitly give the phootographer's name. To utilise Flickr in this way will require access to their API.
India Tyres - The Finest Tyres Made


Text based addresses but also geotagging (possibly derived from Flickr, where available). The ability for visitors/contributors to add location details/geotag signs that don’t already have this information would be useful. This application, Suggestify appears to offer this kind of functionality for suggesting geotags for photo of other users on Flickr.

Global map

Based on the geotags it would be fantastic if the entire collection could be plotted on a global map allowing users to pinpoint where they live and quickly find the signs closest to them. Thumbnail images visible on the map would be even better than simple pins. Something like this but with Ghostsigns plotted rather than scenic photos.
external image Ghostsigns.jpg
Here's **something quick and dirty** (and below) created with my own photos using iMapFlickr which allows users to create maps of their own photo sets but not directly from user groups which is what would be required for this project.


This could be in a Wikipedia style format allowing additional notes and comments to be added to existing content by anyone. The most basic level is identifying the companies advertised before moving into things such as what is known about those companies, who painted the signs, when they were produced and any other background contextual information. Links to existing research of this kind online would also be useful (e.g. this and this). A lot of this currently happens in the comments area of photos on Flickr but a more definitive space where people can add and edit in a Wiki-type manner would be ideal.


The ability to either tag directly or pull through tags from Flickr would be beneficial. This would, for example, allow users the ability to quickly find all the signs tagged with Nestle. There could be other tags such as 'Palimpsest' for signs painted over signs or 'Roofads' for signs painted onto roofs. These tags would allow users to cut through the collection against their specific areas of interest.

I've mocked up an example of what a page for a particular sign could look like here.

Here is an attempt to sketch the key inputs and outputs that the platform would need:



These are just some initial thoughts about problems that might arise in order to stimulate thought and discussion of these.


It would be interesting to consider which underlying platform/approach would be best (the current archive uses Gallery). Is it Flickr because of the photo content, a Wiki because of the collaborative capability or Google Maps because of the geotagging and ability to map multiple locations globally? There is also the question of to what extent the thing should be data driven i.e. having a database sitting behind the scenes operating on Wiki-type basis which powers a Google maps/Flickr-type front end for viewing/searching/browsing.

Multiple photos

Many signs have multiple photos of the same location. This could result in multiple records which would need to be merged/consolidated in some way. Finding an easy way for users to do this would be beneficial but without losing any of the information about each original record.
Even more powerful would be some mechanism where a collection of photos related to a record in the collection and that the 'Headline' photo was selected on some consensus arrived at among the community about which is best i.e. via some form of ranking system.

Consolidating geotags

Related to the issue of multiple photos is multiple geotags. How can these be merged or ranked in order of accuracy?


How can the eventual output be hosted at low/zero cost?

Ease of use

How can it be made as easy as possible to use? There are probably two components to this: 1. Allowing people to contribute by simply dropping their photos into the Flickr group or tagging them with some code. 2. Allowing data to be added to images such as background research, geographical information, links to other content.