The purpose of our project is to study museum attendance using Instagram data and computational methods. #Museum analyzes 82,000 Instagram photos, published by visitors of the State Hermitage Museum.

What do visitors notice in the museum? Which artifacts and interiors are the most popular? How do visitors navigate the museum?
The hashtags are #hermitage, #hermitagemuseum, #hermitage_museum, #hermitagepalace, #эрмитаж, #эрмитаже, #эрмитажа, and #эрмитажспб.
Our project is based on a case study of a single organization: the State Hermitage Museum, one of the few museums in Russia to receive extensive media coverage. The Hermitage is ranked the most visited art museum in Russia. Over 4 million people visited the Hermitage in 2017, and the number tends to grow each year. The Hermitage is located in the cultural and historical center of St. Petersburg, which makes it accessible to tourists and city residents. The Winter Palace building, where the Hermitage collection is displayed, is a vivid example of baroque architectural style. Established in the mid-18th century by the architect Bartolomeo Rastrelli, this palace remained the official residence of Russian emperors until the Revolution in 1917.

To create a sample, we made a list of the most popular hashtags that visitors use when they upload photos of the Hermitage. To filter out irrelevant photos and to make sure that we only analyzed content generated about the museum, we limited our dataset to images for which geolocation data was available and that were posted within 15 km of the Hermitage. The sample we visualized and analyzed consists of 82,000 photos posted between September, 2011 and March, 2016.

The data was harvested in 2016 and we have only used data from public accounts where photos were accessible at the moment of data gathering. If you have found your photo and do not want it to be on our web page, please contact us.
Visualizations of the photographs
We have classified 82,000 pictures according to their predominant colors. To create visualizations, we used the open source image processing platform ImageJ, developed by Cultural Analytics Lab. The software automatically measures the parameters of each unit in the sample and plots it along a scale of values. It then creates representations of a dataset based on hue, brightness, and saturation. These visualizations show several color waves, each of which illustrates the variety in both what visitors notice and what the Hermitage has to offer in these colors, particularly.
Most of the photos turned out to be either yellow and red or gray and green. More than a half of the pictures (58%) were published without any filters.
Yellow and red:
These photos include works of art, visitors posing in front of art pieces, or the museum's décor that have gilding, red velvet, or wood.
Gray and green:
These pictures are predominantly of the Winter Palace's facade, the Palace Square, Atlas statues on Millionnaya street, and the Hanging Garden of the Small Hermitage during summer. The green staircase of the General Staff Building is incredibly popular.
These pictures are largely of the Palace Square, mostly in good weather.
Purple and red:
These pictures can be divided into two groups. The first is pictures of halls where red is the predominant color of the decor: The Battle Gallery of the Winter Palace, Peter the Great Memorial (Small Throne) Hall, and The Small Italian Skylight Room in the New Hermitage. The second group of pictures comprises temporary exhibitions and modern art.
Black-and-white images:
These photos capture statues, empty hallways and staircases, and sometimes selfies. Black-and-white filters are used to achieve an "antique" feel to the picture and "designer" Instagram aesthetics.
Content Analysis
Content of the photographs
To understand the main objects of interest in the museum, we categorized pictures based on their content. Analysis revealed the most popular sites to be the museum's historic building, the museum's art collection, and the urban space around the museum.
Most images taken outside the museum are either of the Winter Palace or the Palace Square. People posing for the camera constitutes 18.2% of all the photos. Selfies appeared to be less popular than we expected (8%). Works of art—paintings and sculptures—is the third most popular category (16%).

Photos of other visitors constitute 7.6% of all photographs. This category includes long queues waiting to enter the museum, museum attendants at work, tourist groups navigating the museum halls, children, and adults gathered around the most famous artifacts.

Visiting the Hermitage is a collective activity. People come here with dates, friends, family, and organized high school student groups. The museum is popular among the grown-up audience and kids appear only in 1.4% of pictures.
The Visitors
Selfie, "a tourist look," and other ways of posing
The most popular way of taking pictures is intentionally posing for the camera. These pictures follow the tourist photo tradition, where a person is photographed in front of a city sight. In contrast to the museum, which offers limited opportunities for interaction and strict rules for behavior, Palace Square allows for a wider range of activities. Palace Square is always full of people who walk, pose for photographs, and climb on each other's shoulders; ride bicycles and skate; play musical instruments; drink coffee; sit or even lie on the pavement in the summertime; and make snow sculptures in winter.
Instagram adds a new genre to posing, the selfie. The Hermitage visitors are quite ingenious and take selfies using mirrors, ceilings, and works of art. For most visitors, the museum visit starts with the Jordan Staircase, as it is the first "palace" interior, which has a profound effect on visitors. The Jordan Staircase is one of the most popular places for posing for photos and taking selfies.
In some cases, visitors take a photo while standing with their backs turned to the camera. In doing so, Instagram photographers focus our attention on the visual aesthetics created between a person and the museum space. These photos highlight the similarities between a work of art and the person standing next to it or color combinations between visitors' clothes and interior elements. We categorize these pictures as a variation of the "tourist posing" photo tradition.
One can find "alternative selfies" as well: photos of shoes, entry tickets, Hermitage maps, or coffee cups in front of the museum. Goods and brands in these photos indicate consumption practices of the Hermitage visitors and the role of the museum in the city's economy.
The Art
The museum collections photographed by visitors
The Hermitage art collection contains millions of artifacts, including the largest painting collection in the world and furniture and interior elements of the Romanov dynasty. When it comes to art, visitors have varying tastes. Many like making collages comprising several objects they liked most. Most visitors are interested in the permanent museum exhibition; photos of temporary exhibitions are not often published on Instagram, with the exemption of a retrospective exhibition of Zaha Hadid's works in 2015.
The visitors pay equal attention to sculpture, which is three-dimensional, and paintings, which are two-dimensional. The most popular sculptures turned out to be a group of mounted knights from the Knights' Hall, "Psyche Revived by Cupid's Kiss" by Antonio Canova, and "Peacock Clock."
The top three paintings displayed in the Hermitage are the "Madonna Litta", Kazimir Malevich's "Black Square", and "Dance" and "Music" by Henri Matisse.
"Dance" and "Music" turned out to be the most interacted with artworks and one of the most popular portrait and selfie backgrounds.
Art museums prohibit visitors from directly interacting with art pieces. But some visitors violate these restrictions and manage to interact with exhibited objects. People interact with sculptures the most: visitors hold their hands, hug, and sometimes even kiss them. The Atlantes statues on Millionnaya street are one of preferred places for taking shots, which is not surprising, as visitors are allowed to touch them.
The Décor
The décor of the Winter Palace as an integral part of the museum
The museum building and its décor are important elements of the museum's exhibitions. The visitors "take visual stock" of the Winter Palace and recreate its interior in detail on Instagram.
Instagram images demonstrate the most popular places of the Hermitage and the routes via which visitors explore the museum spaces. The most popular sites are the Small Throne Room, The Library of Nicholas II, the Hanging Garden of the Small Hermitage, and Raphael's Loggias. The General Staff Building houses contemporary art exhibitions. As with the Main Museum Complex, its staircase of matted green glass is the first impressive interior viewers notice.
Typically, visitors take similar routes while navigating the museum. This similarity helps explain why the same objects, photographed from the same angles, tend to appear on Instagram pictures.
The Museum and the City
The museum as urban public space
The most popular object outside the museum walls is the Winter Palace—or, more precisely, its facade and its elements. On Instagram, we can see the Winter Palace on collages combining several St. Petersburg attractions, which means that the museum is included in the list of the most popular tourist destinations in the city.
The General Staff Building stands out for its archway, its architectural elements, and the Mendeleev clock. The most popular angle is a picture from inside the archway overlooking the Alexander Column and the Winter Palace.
The Hermitage visitors tend to upload photos while in the historical center of St.Petersburg. They continue their day with a walk along Nevsky Prospect, a visit to St.Isaac's Cathedral and the Peter and Paul Fortress, and a boat trip along the Neva River.
The Results
Visualizations of user-generated content revealed the confluence of the museum's art collection, the urban space around the museum, and the museum's historic building. All of these elements combined constitute the experience of "visiting the Hermitage," thus turning this experience into something much more complex than the mere observation of an art collection.

Many photos taken outside the museum or during public celebrations in the nearby city space are also tagged "Hermitage" and are associated with the museum. This illustrates porous boundaries between the museum and the city, emphasizing the role of the Hermitage as an urban space.
Why do the visitors post similar pictures on Instagram?
Color coherence, photos of the same artifacts, and patterns in the visualizations indicate that visitors take similar routes while touring the museum space.
We assume that for most of the Hermitage visitors, a museum experience is congruent with a tourist experience, which frames what visitors share on social media. The purpose of a tourist taking pictures is to create a connection between the tourist and the city through photos with memorable objects. The Hermitage visitors wish to preserve memories of their visit to the museum as a part of their tourist and sightseeing experience in Saint Petersburg. For that reason, visitors pose in the most recognizable places, such as the Jordan staircase, in front of the Winter Palace, and take selfies or pose next to "masterpieces" in the collection.
Visitors take selfies and photograph their shoes, tickets, and museum maps in their hands. We categorize these images as a variation of a "tourist posing," which aims to send a message about the visitor's connection with the place.

Additionally, in posting one's visit to the Hermitage on Instagram, individuals attempt to represent their visual identity and connect with "high" practices of cultural and art consumption. By posting well-known artifacts, visitors direct attention to the visual and cultural background they share with their Instagram followers. All this leads to the repetitiveness of topics and objects in Instagram Hermitage photos.
Why do the visitors touch the artifacts?
The State Hermitage Museum is a museum of art and culture. It offers limited opportunities for visitors to interact with the artifacts. Most of the objects on display are fenced off and do not allow for close access. Photo-taking, then, is the only legitimate form of interaction. This explains the significant amount of visual content generated in the museum.

In addition to zooming in on artifacts and documenting them, visitors invent new ways of interacting with art. They "complement" the composition of paintings, react to portraits' gestures, and mimic the poses of statues. Sometimes these interactions go beyond the museum rules and we see how visitors touch museum exhibits. In doing so tourists connect with the museum space. For the same reasons, tourists touch the city's monuments.
What does this approach bring to the study of museum attendance?
In this project, we explored the capacity of Internet data and cultural analytics to understand visitor' experience in the museum. We find this approach useful in our exploratory phase of research, as it enables us to grasp the complexity of the research topic. When applied to visitor preferences and experience, this approach helps us manage large quantities of visual data that are challenging to analyze using qualitative techniques.
Researchers and museum practitioners who wish to reproduce this research design and apply computational methods to the study of museum attendance will need a deep understanding of a certain museum to interpret the data produced by its visitors. The use of large data sets might result in observations that are too general to be useful, complicating the analysis. To avoid a stereotypical reading of museums, we focused on one specific location and could thus deconstruct the experience of social media users who generate content in one place. As a result, we can correlate colors with meanings in a dataset and interpret visualizations.
The Team
Alina Kontareva
project coordinator, researcher
Centre for the Policy Analysis and Studies of Technology (PAST-C), Tomsk State University; TIK - Centre for Technology, Innovation and Culture, University of Oslo
Nickolay Ryzhakov
software engineer,
data collection and data management
Nikolay Rudenko
researcher, European University at St. Petersburg
Maria Mashnina
Website support
Further Reading
E-mail: theothermuseum@gmail.com

#Museum is a non-commercial project. We have no conflict of interest to declare. You need our permission to reproduce the visual content of this website. Please contact us.