Find the least busy time to visit the museums, galleries and theatres of London.
When Should I Visit? finds the least busy time to visit the museums, galleries and theatres of London. It states the quietest day and provides a glanceable graph to judge the relative popularity of different days. The site is intended to show the data in the simplest possible way with no unnecessary detail.
When Should I Visit? was made in under 24 hours at Culture Hackday 2011 where it won the Empty Galleries award. The idea was inspired by a tweet from @beng asking when the best day to visit the Natural History Museum would be. I thought I'd automate the process instead.
The data used to calculate when museums are quiet is gathered from foursquare. Foursquare is designed to show popular trending places or where your friends are. I instead used it for antisocial purposes.
A small cron job checks the /herenow endpoint in the foursquare api a few times an hour. The number of people present is logged for each venue that is tracked. Once a week these checkins are aggregated and passed to the frontend web application hosted on Heroku. The graphs are generated in SVG using Raphael in the browser.
The advantage of using foursquare is that it is not tied to the institutions listed. New places can be added and removed, even non-cultural organisations. However foursquare users represent only a certain demographic of attendees. This may be considered a feature if you wish to avoid foursquare users. I hope to get hold of admissions data from some of the museums listed to verify how accurate When Should I Visit? is.
To make it more accurate in future I could also collect data from gowalla and facebook or allow self reporting from venues. Ideally attendance could be tracked by cameras mounted above museum entrances using computer vision to calculate number of people entering and exiting, such as the systems used in Apple stores. I could also account for attendance changes due to school term, time of year, weather and other factors. This would need more data and a new way of representing the best time to visit.
In the end, it's better to phone the museum and ask a human. They're already good at spotting patterns
See this app live at http://whenshouldivisit.iamdanw.com or read more about the other hacks from Culture Hackday.