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How the UK’s top Museums are Using Wifi Tracking of Visitors’ Mobile Phones

wifi tracking national gallery london

Gizmodo UK has approached three of the UK’s most popular museums and found out how they are monitoring visitor behaviour using free wifi tracking of mobile phones.

Using Freedom of Information Requests, Gizmodo UK approached the National Gallery, Natural History Museums in London and the National Railway Museum in York (part of the Science Museum Group) to find out how wifi tracking software has been used.  The resulting article is a fascinating look at the information that can be gleaned from this new technology.

Even if visitors do not connect to a wifi network, as long as the wifi on their mobile is switched on wifi beacons can be used to detect their devices.  Wifi tracking software will analyse the strength of signal detected from beacons around the museum, and the data generated can be used to estimate location and provide heat maps showing visitor distribution.

Another layer of sophistication has been deployed at the National Gallery where the heat maps generated can distinguish between visitors passing through galleries and those stopping to look at a particular painting.  (In case you’re wondering after the Central Hall, Venice 1530-1600 was the most popular location.)

The Railway Museum’s analytics go even further and reveal the time spent by visitors in the museum, the route followed and distinguishes between new and repeat visitors.

Free wifi was introduced to the National Gallery in 2014 as part of the Super Connected Cities Wifi scheme funded and supported by the Mayor of London and the Department for Culture, Media and Sport.  At the time the Gallery’s Director of Public Engagement, Dr Susan Foister, said, “We are proud to introduce Wi-Fi to the Gallery, heralding new plans to enhance the experience of our visitors and to engage a broader audience. We know that when people feel inspired they often like to share the moment, so along with the free Wi-Fi service we are now welcoming visitor photography: from now on people will be able to share their experience of the Gallery and its paintings with friends and family through social media.”

Wifi tracking technology is in its infancy and there are thorny issues around privacy but the potential for attractions to hone their visitor flow and develop guest engagement are clear.

Image: National Gallery London

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Rachel Reed

Rachel Read

Rachel is Finance Director. She has a degree in engineering from Cambridge University and qualified as a Chartered Accountant at Deloittes in London. She worked in finance in industry for twenty years. She oversees our news and also manages our events.

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