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Thursday, April 15, 2010

Tweeting the Library of Congress

The Library of Congress is quite proud of their acquisition of the full Twitter archives. When I first saw this headline in my email inbox, I thought it was either an article from The Onion or a late April Fool's joke.
Twitter Donates Entire Tweet Archive to Library of Congress

“The Twitter digital archive has extraordinary potential for research into our contemporary way of life,” said Librarian of Congress James H. Billington. “This information provides detailed evidence about how technology based social networks form and evolve over time. The collection also documents a remarkable range of social trends. Anyone who wants to understand how an ever-broadening public is using social media to engage in an ongoing debate regarding social and cultural issues will have need of this material.”

Billington added: “The Library looks at this as an opportunity to add new kinds of information without subtracting from our responsibility to manage our overall collection. Working with the Twitter archive will also help the Library extend its capability to provide stewardship for very large sets of born-digital materials.”

In making the donation, Greg Pass, Twitter’s vice president of engineering, said: “We are pleased and proud to make this collection available for the benefit of the American people. I am very grateful that Dr. Billington and the Library recognize the value of this information. It is something new, but it tells an amazing story that needs to be remembered.”
Think of all the dumb tweets that will now be preserved for posterity - all the people who tweeted that they were taking a shower or having a ham sandwich for lunch. Now it will be available for those eager researchers at the Library of Congress. And those researchers are indeed excited.
“I think Twitter will be one of the most informative resources available on modern day culture, including economic, social and political trends, as well as consumer behavior and social trends,” said Margot Gerritsen, a professor with Stanford University’s Department of Energy Resources Engineering and head of the Center of Excellence for Computational Approaches to Digital Stewardship, a partnership with the Library of Congress.
Let's just agree that, while some tweets may be of historical interest, it does not augur well for future historians if they're going to be poring over the tweets of adolescent girls talking about dreamy hunks on TV or the daily eating and exercise routines of countless tweeters on Twitter. Somehow, this just doesn't seem comparable in historical significance such as "man-on-the-street" interviews after Pearl Harbor or 9/11 which the Library seems to think are comparable to scoring the Twitter archive.


Jim said...

Have to disagree with you here. While there is a lot of inane banter on Twitter, there's the fact that Twitter is now central to large scale social movements, whether it's the TEA parties or the Iranian protests. So, in terms of value, I'd give the whole Twitter archive more points that the items you mentioned.

Now, that said, I'd hate to be a grad student tasked with sifting through those feeds, looking for the flecks of gold in a stream of verbal diarrhea. But, that gold does exist.

Timothy Lee said...

I can only imagine some future genealogist yelling "I found grandma! She's eating a ham sandwhich while grandpa is in the shower!"

Perhaps someone with actual writing skills will be able to use the tweets to enliven family histories which are typically very dry recitations of dates and places.

Does anyone even teach the McCrory method of writing anymore?

tfhr said...

And don't forget about all those Tiger Woods twits!