Social Mapping: Why Museums Should Care

Museums are data rich environments. It seems obvious, but we don’t often think of them in that way.

As a result of being data rich environments, they were key inspiration for Whitepoint – our framework for more easily and cost effectively managing smart tour content.

The entrance to a museum exhibition.

Screenshot from Whitepoint tour app showing the entrance to a museum exhibition. Note the Whitepoint data point that has been plotted to introduce the exhibition.

And, while working on developing the Whitepoint smart tour framework, we realized that the emerging field of social mapping was the best match for how expectations of technology were evolving for data rich environments like museums.

A Social Mapping Example

Waze is one of the higher profile examples of a social mapping app. As a source for crowdsourced traffic information – whether or not you’ve heard of it – you have very likely used it or its technology. Google purchased Waze in 2013 and began integrating its technology with Google Maps.

But, what does a traffic app have to do with museums?  Museums – being the data rich environments that they are – can benefit in a big way from developments in social mapping and where aspects of this technology are heading.

Developing a custom social mapping app is of course beyond the capability of most museum organizations right now. But there are four simple aspects – or qualities – that social mapping technology tends to have. And, these four items read like a checklist for museums looking for ideas on how to boost promotion efforts for their institution or make exhibitions more engaging.


So, What Are the Four Aspects of Social Mapping Technology?

Simply put, social mapping technology tends to have these qualities or characteristics:
  • Social – A social component that goes beyond just having a Twitter or Facebook account. Content encourages others to engage and “belong.”
  • Discovery – Discovery capability that enables linkages between individual interests and subject matter.
  • Navigation – As technology matures, we’ll likely find that mobile technologies will increasingly help people navigate smaller spaces – not just the larger spaces we see on maps now.
  • Mapping – The meaning of mapping here goes beyond the traditionally map-based meaning of the word. In the very near future, we’ll likely find that mapping things as data points – not just places – becomes routine.Consider the implications of data points that are not only easy to locate, but social-enabled.

With museums being the data rich environments that they are, they have a unique advantage in benefitting from social mapping. Beginning to think in these terms now may translate into many more, and happier, museum patrons in the future.

This article is based on highlights from a talk prepared for Museums and the Web ASIA 2013. You can view the supporting Whitepoint slideshow here:



Matthew White

Matthew White blogs on all things related to virtual tours, mobile touring, and tour apps as well as how they relate to web design, SEO, and content marketing. There is also of course helpful information on using Whitepoint - the framework for smarter virtual touring and mobile-friendly tours.

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