The Goal of the Project, Data and Method
Every day a lot of photos are posted on social media networks, many of which are those of city locations, companies and organizations of a city. With these pictures visitors create a visual representation of a place which reflects their experience of visiting it, their practices, routes, and preferences. These visual data can be used for research.

The purpose of our project is to illustrate the possibilities of using big data for studying organizations and popular city spaces. Unlike other existing projects, our project is based on a case study of a single organization.

The location chosen for our purposes is the State Hermitage Museum, one of a few museums in Russia to receive extensive media coverage. The Hermitage is ranked the most visited art museum in Russia. Over 4 million visitors attended the Hermitage in 2016, and the number tends to grow each year. The Hermitage is located in the cultural and historical centre of St. Petersburg, which makes it accessible for tourists and city residents.
To create a sample, we made a list of the most popular hashtags that visitors use when they upload photos about the Hermitage. These hashtags are #hermitage, #hermitagemuseum, #hermitage_museum, #hermitagepalace, #эрмитаж, #эрмитаже, #эрмитажа, and #эрмитажспб. Using these hashtags as our filter helped us to include both Russian and international visitors in our sample.

To filter out all irrelevant photos and to make sure that we analysed only 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.

To create visualizations, we used open source image processing platform ImageJ, developed by Cultural Analytics Lab, and an open source data visualization framework RAW Graphs. Content analysis is based on a 10% subsample of the dataset.
Main Findings
Analyzing the photographs, we have observed similarities of angles, topics, and objects of the pictures. The visual language in which Instagram users talk about visiting the Museum is borrowed from the tourist photography. The purpose of such pictures is to transmit the message about one's presence in a certain locality and create a connection between the tourist and the city through photos with memorable objects.

The Hermitage visitors photograph not so much the art or decor of the Museum, but rather themselves using these as a background. They pose in the most recognizable places, such as the Jordan staircase, next to the "masterpieces" of the collection, in front of the Winter Palace. Despite the possibilities offered by Instagram, mobile photography in the museum follows the tradition of tourist photography oriented towards connecting the visitor and the place.

The pictures about visiting the Hermitage published on Instagram are materials for creating one's own visual identity and an attempt to connect oneself with "high" practices of cultural and art consumption. Publishing pictures implies discussion and judgment by others, including people personally unknown to the publisher. All this leads to the appearance of recognizable works of art and decor on Instagram, repetitiveness of topics and objects of photos.

The regularities found in pictures allow us to determine the most popular places and works of art, and trace several non-obvious practices of using museum spaces. The visitors value three components of a museum: its architecture and decor, the space around the museum, and its collection of artifacts. Thus, a modern museum attracts visitors not so much with the size of its collections, but rather with the possibilities that museum spaces offer. As with touristic appropriation of the city, a visit to a museum is accompanied by photographing as a special case of aesthetic visual consumption.

The Team
Alina Kontareva
Tomsk State University,, University of Oslo,
project coordinator, data analsysis, website
Nickolay Ryzhakov
software engineer,
data collection and management
Nikolay Rudenko
European University at St. Petersburg, data analysis
Maria Mashnina
The project was conducted within the framework of researching possibilities of using big data and visualization in arts and humanities research.
The data was collected in 2016 using Instagram API. In our research and designing the web page we used the data from the accounts that were openly accessible when the data was collected. If you have found your photo and do not want it to be on our web page, please contact us at

When using materials of this web page a link to the project website is mandatory.