The free list of free New York museums:

Last Wednesday, in my haste to get it over with before I forgot about it after a weekend at NICAR, I threw up a hand-compiled chart of New York museums and other cultural attractions, focused primarily on when they were open and free. This was in response to a NY reddit user who asked just the right question to hit my “hey-maybe-*I*-can-do-something” buttons:

Does something like this exist? A chart? It seems like every museum has a day or two that it isn’t open and then one day that it’s open late (ideal for me) but they’re all different. Today, for example, I thought “I’d like to go to a museum but it’s going to be 5 soon and I have no idea if any are open late.” If somebody has an idea how this could be most logically put together, I wouldn’t mind doing it. I just can’t even imagine what form this would take other than some dry list or spreadsheet.

Well, I’m not much of a designer but I like making stuff that uses simple color bars and graphics to represent data, ever since my boss made me attend a Edward Tufte lecture. I also am a big fan of the special nights that museums have; a friend took me to the MOMA on one of the Target Free Fridays and I became a member afterward; I can’t count the times I’ve been since or the number of friends I’ve brought in, at the $5 member discount rate. Considering my tendency to sit around at home, I may have never gone without that first free night.

I got interview requests from writers at the Village Voice and the WSJ the day the map went up, so hopefully this chart gets out to the people who need one more reminder to check out all that’s great in this city.

The site’s a pretty lame technical feat; I looked at list of museums from Wikipedia and Yelp and then hit up each website to fill out a spreadsheet, which I converted to a webpage that’s way too big of a file for being mostly simple HTML. I guess I could’ve run a scraper on each site, but I wanted to acquaint myself with each place so I could get inspired to check out some new places. The info-gathering was by far the most painful and time-consuming aspect of this (my humble explanation for why it would take 7 days to make a sloppy HTML page with a Google map on top). It reminded me of the many restaurants that make you click through bouncy Flash graphics just to find their business hours. In defense of the museums though, their site-design M.O. is probably to wow people enough with images so that they won’t mind digging through to find the pertinent visitor and admission info. Still, it’s kind of annoying for those of us who just want to get down to some art-seeing business.

Now that I’ve got the basic info down, along with a lot of the museums’ social media links, the next step will be to…well, make this a real site from a framework rather than a Ruby script that reads from a Google spreadsheet. Then, to make a newsfeed of exhibits and events and put everything in a standard hcard format. I’ll probably tackify the site up with photos I’ve taken, too. As someone who needs Google to find what direction I’m walking in, I’m always kind of reluctant to do what the Great Indexers, including Wikipedia contributors, have already done. But then again, those broad informational frameworks don’t always show you enough specific details up front (such as the existence of free hours) to encourage you to go beyond the first search results. And since working on the Dollars for Docs project, I’ve learned there’s always a way to make already-easily available information much more useful.

Check out here.

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