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Monday Musing: Data Epiphanies

Category: Center for the Future Of Museums Blog

Today’s musing is sparked by an article in Forbes about a taxi company in Stockholm that devised a brilliant way to link the data generated by all its rides with other geospatial data to create “Taxi Trails”: an app that lets riders see the “hot spots” of the city. 

As the article comments, Taxi Trails turns the idea of a taxi ride from “going somewhere” to “doing something.” All by linking here-to-for unused data (the GPS logs from the taxi fleet) to map data about attractions in the city (including museums, I hope) and translating it to a heat map of who is hanging out where. The article observes that “Without the idea, the taxi “data,” if you can even call it data since wasn’t noticed or captured, is useless. Suddenly, the data that the product creates augments the product itself.”

As more museums implement indoor positioning systems to deliver location-specific interpretive text, we too are generating data that could “augment the product.” Visitors’ digital footprints, whether left on our websites or in our galleries, are raw material waiting to be transformed by what the article’s author, Will Burns, calls a “data epiphany.” He recommends steps organizations can take to encourage these epiphanies:

  1. Auditing the data the organization currently captures
  2. Assembling teams to play with this information, with the goal of uncovering useful data, and 
  3. Brainstorming ideas for how the data streams could interact in ways that produce additional insight and value  

 I bet that many museums would find that such an audit will uncover that they are capturing, or could capture, a lot more data than they knew they had. 

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