- Museum of the History of Science - http://www.mhs.ox.ac.uk -

Real Visits & Virtual Visits

Autumn, 1999

THE Museum and its website have recently been cited in an important report published by the National Museum Directors’ Conference. In A Netful of Jewels: New Museums in the Learning Age, they are used to show how virtual visitor numbers can outstrip real ones, the respective annual figures quoted being 100,000 and 35,000. The figures are striking and it has been suggested by sceptics that the 3:1 ratio relates in some way to the Museum being closed.

In fact, translated into round numbers, the figures are an accurate reflection of recent average real and virtual visits. Before closure, the annual attendance figure was around 36,000, and when reported to the Conference, weekly virtual visits were in excess of 1,700. If anything, the latter figure is on the modest side, since only the first access from a single computer is counted. Thus no account is taken of return visits or of different people using the same computer. It is also a much more honest figure than the ‘hits’ often quoted on websites: these record every file that is accessed by a single visitor, which may amount to several hundred per visit.

Anyone alarmed at the thought that virtual visits are taking the place of real ones can be reassured that real visitor numbers have also risen markedly. The figures simply represent a huge overall increase in access: by about eight times since the launch of the website, if both real and virtual figures are combined.