How does the Met use data as an asset to create and capture value?
Open Access Initiative
In early 2017, the Met made 406,000 digital images of its collection in the public domain available under the Creative Commons CC0 1.0 license . Essentially, this meant that the Met waived all rights to the images under copyright law, allowing anyone to use the images as they saw fit.
While it may sound counterintuitive that making the images freely available would help the Met capture any value, tangible benefits have arisen as the result of the Open Access Initiative.
The Met benefited from a significant increase in unpaid online marketing. Following the release of the images, there was a 5x increase in the use of the Met’s images featured in Wikipedia images. While there is no obligation give the Met attribution under the CC0 1.0 license, doing so is expected according the Wikipedia’s norms.
In addition, the Open Access Initiative has led to the increased user engagement in unexpected ways. By democratizing access to high quality images of its collection, the Met empowered the public to build upon the works of history’s most celebrated artists. For example, graphic designer Jen Lewis started Face-Swap The Met, a tongue-in-cheek twitter feed of digital collages in which faces were substituted for one another in famous paintings.
Another example is Artwork of the Day, which uses artificial intelligence to showcase a daily artwork that is relevant to a person’s environment by using location, weather, news and historical data as model inputs .
Thus, by opening the digital library of its public collection, the Met was able to capture the imagination of the internet, generate organic traffic to its website, and thereby ensure that its brand remains relevant in the minds of the digital-native millennials and Gen Z.
However, we would be remiss not to consider the self-cannibalization impact of the Open Access Initiative. Will people, now with access to the digital library, refrain from visiting the Met? In all likelihood, the answer is no. Often, seeing the original works in person awakens a sense of awe and reverence, a markedly different experience than seeing the digital versions. If anything, the digital library might inspire people to visit the museum to see the works for themselves.
The Met App
The Met launched the public beta version of its visitor map in March 2016. As part of its long term roadmap, the Met is building a Locations API. This API will serve as the central interface that links the digital library with the visitor map on the Met App. The grand vision, as explained by Loic Tallon, Chief Digital Officer, is to link the API with Google or Apple maps. In doing so, the Met will be able to dynamically curate visitors’ experiences as they walk through the museum.
While the Met has been silent on the data collection aspect of this project, it would not take a stretch of the imagination to see the benefits of collecting time series data of the visitors’ geospatial coordinates during their visits. With such data, the Met will be able to achieve the holy grail of customer research – knowing exactly how their customers interact with the products, or in this case, the exhibits. The Met would be able rank exhibits by popularity, analyze customer preferences against user meta data and perhaps even change the layout of the museum to optimize around visitors’ walking patterns.
Challenges and opportunities
By far the most obvious challenge in using data for the Met is collecting it. The Met has been meticulous in cataloging its works, turning them into high fidelity data assets. However, such work is tedious and relies on the manual effort of its staff.
In an effort to find a more scalable method of cataloging its backlog of over 1.3 million objects, the Met hosted a data science competition on Kaggle.com . Currently, staff subject matter experts add data labels such as artist, title and period to each digitalized work. However, these annotations contain a lot of noise because different labels may have similar meanings. By harnessing the power of open source and data science, the Met hopes to be able to find an elegant standard for annotating its digital library.
 2019. Metmuseum.Org. https://www.metmuseum.org/blogs/digital-underground/2017/six-months-of-open-access-plus-google-bigquery.
 2019. Metmuseum.Org. https://www.metmuseum.org/about-the-met/policies-and-documents/open-access/met-microsoft-mit.
 “Imet Collection 2019 – FGVC6 | Kaggle”. 2019. Kaggle.Com. https://www.kaggle.com/c/imet-2019-fgvc6.