Museums in perspective: share and discuss daily data about museums and their audiences.
It is common practice among museums to publish quarterly or annual reports that include the museum attendance figures, online visits and more recently information about their social network activities. These figures are generally accepted as indicators of the effectiveness of museums activities both online and offline. While this information can give some hints about how organizations have evolved throughout the years, it is often hard to understand what these values mean without contextualizing them with information from other organizations. For example, what does it mean to have tens of thousands of followers on Twitter? Do the changes on annual attendance numbers reflect a global trend or a new local policy? Some of these questions can be better understood once figures from different cultural organizations are analyzed comparatively.
This paper introduces an online tool that collects information about more than 3000 museums and galleries. The published information includes annual attendance numbers, exhibition attendance numbers, online visits, as well as information about popularity and engagement on social networks. The information that is automatically collected or contributed by organizations can be visualized as interactive graphs and displayed comparatively with information from other organizations. The online tool introduced in this paper is accompanied by an online platform where museum professionals can discuss topics related to the published information, such as, issues and limitations of comparative studies and adequate online and offline strategies.
The information that is now being collected on a daily basis has been previously published in a scattered manner for several years. The Art Newspaper yearly publishes the attendance numbers of the most visited museums and exhibitions world wide. More recently Culture24 has published a report that analyses both website visitors and social network in terms of popularity and engagement of several organizations. Sean Redmond has created an automated data collection tool that daily reports the popularity on Facebook and Twitter of thousands of museums and galleries. At the Walker Art Center a tool has been developed that automatically aggregates and shares information from google analytics of several museums. These initiatives were important precedents that led to the development of an online tool where all this information is cohesively presented and contextualized.
Rather than just introducing an online tool, this paper also presents new insights encountered while developing the tool and comparing data. By listening to the communication channels of more than 3000 museums and galleries, it is possible to infer information specific to the sector. For example, it is possible to answer questions such as: what are the current trends in the sector being discussed on twitter? Which content published by a museum has been most shared online? We hope that by answering these and other questions, organizations will be able to understand better their online and offline presence and finally be able to concentrate on their specific goals rather than on numbers.