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Library Of Congress Acquires Every Tweet Ever

by @ 3:18 pm on April 14, 2010. Filed under Internet, Technology, Twitter

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The Library of Congress announced today that it had reached an agreement with Twitter to acquire the entire Twitter database:

Have you ever sent out a “tweet” on the popular Twitter social media service? Congratulations: Your 140 characters or less will now be housed in the Library of Congress.

That’s right. Every public tweet, ever, since Twitter’s inception in March 2006, will be archived digitally at the Library of Congress. That’s a LOT of tweets, by the way: Twitter processes more than 50 million tweets every day, with the total numbering in the billions.

(…)

Just a few examples of important tweets in the past few years include the first-ever tweet from Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey (http://twitter.com/jack/status/20), President Obama’s tweet about winning the 2008 election (http://twitter.com/barackobama/status/992176676), and a set of two tweets from a photojournalist who was arrested in Egypt and then freed because of a series of events set into motion by his use of Twitter (http://twitter.com/jamesbuck/status/786571964) and (http://twitter.com/jamesbuck/status/787167620).

Of course, it also includes two-plus years worth of my standing morning tweet, which usually is something like “Awake. Need coffee,” along with late night tweets that I’m sure would rather be forgotten by the people who sent them. Now, they’re preserved for posterity.

When I first heard this announcement, I was more than a little, well, surprised. What possible use could the Library of Congress have for the often inane 140 character statements of 105 million people ?

One science librarian makes an excellent point that this is a good first step toward preserving digital forms of communication for the future:

Needless to say, this is a pretty incredible announcement. It’s great that a major public institution can step forward and do the kind of digital preservation job that only that kind of institution would be capable of

It would be really great if their next step could be a similar archiving project for, say, Blogger or WordPress blogs. Or perhaps other big national libraries around the world could each pick a site and dedicate themselves to preserving their content for future generations.

More and more of our culture is being recorded digitally. If we don’t find a way to preserve it, it will disappear forever.

5 Responses to “Library Of Congress Acquires Every Tweet Ever”

  1. Good Lord, they will have to build an utterly “Useless Tweets” wind for my crap. YAY! Tax money to the rescue!!!

  2. “wind” equals WING. Dang it.

  3. Joe Callan says:

    I said the same thing about the inanity (Hooray, future generations will be better able to comprehend the importance of Justin Bieber to modern society!) but then I shifted when I thought about the inanity of some newspapers and magazine articles.

    Then I remembered that it may not always be the content of the tweets that future researchers learn from, but also the behavior and interactions between users.

    What we talk about isn’t the only thing that’s important. How we disseminate it to each other and how the novelty of that dissemination affects the flow of information in general are questions that are just as important, especially when there’s a base-level change in the medium over which that information travels.

    And realistically, we can gain insight into those communicative details whether we study the proliferation of tweets about something of broad geopolitical significance (the Iranian Election Protests) or tweets about something silly and meaningless (last night’s episode of ‘Glee’).

    I think it’s an exciting move.

  4. Matt says:

    Hmm, interesting, does twitter own the copyright to your tweets?

  5. [...] Doug Mataconis at Below The Beltway: Of course, it also includes two-plus years worth of my standing morning tweet, which usually is something like “Awake. Need coffee,” along with late night tweets that I’m sure would rather be forgotten by the people who sent them. Now, they’re preserved for posterity. [...]

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