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.
At 8:36 a.m. on April 14, The Library’s Communications Director Matt Raymond tweeted the announcement of Twitter’s donation of its digital archive of public tweets: It read: “Library acquires ENTIRE Twitter archive. ALL public tweets, ever, since March 2006!”
Twitter processes more than 50 million tweets per day from people around the world. The Library will receive all public tweets—which number in the billions—from the 2006 inception of the service to the present.
“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.”
Twitter CEO Evan Williams announced the donation at Chirp, the Twitter Developer’s Conference, held April 14-15 in San Francisco. Twitter’s perspective on the donation is posted on its blog at http://blog.twitter.com/2010/04/tweet-preservation.html.
A few highlights of the donated material include the first-ever tweet from Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey (http://twitter.com/jack/status/20 ), President Obama’s tweet about winning the 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 .)
The announcement of Twitter’s gift came, coincidentally, on the same day the Library’s own Twitter feed (@librarycongress) crossed 50,000 followers.
“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 collaborative initiative with the Library of Congress.
For his part, Archivist of the United States David Ferriero congratulated the Library of Congress in his April 16, 2010, blog post (http://blogs.archives.gov/aotus/). The “Collector in Chief” said, “In the world of electronic records, this is a historic announcement. In my first blog post, I said ‘electronic records are now a fundamental part of our documentary record.’ The donation of billions of tweets to the Library of Congress is a profound example of the changing fabric of our records.”
He added, “Twitter is not for everyone. If you are anything like me, you don’t really care what someone had for breakfast. However, I do think that we need to recognize the potential power of the mundane details of our lives and what they might say about our culture.”
Man on the Tweet
The Library’s acquisition of the Twitter archive follows in the institution’s long tradition of gathering individuals’ firsthand accounts of history, such as “man on the street” interviews after Pearl Harbor; the September 11, 2001, Documentary Project; the Veterans History Project; and StoryCorps. While the Twitter archive will not be posted online, the Library envisions posting selected content around topics or themes, similar to existing Veterans History Project presentations.
The Library has been collecting materials from the web since it began harvesting congressional and presidential campaign websites in 2000. Today the Library holds more than 167 terabytes of web-based information, including legal blogs, websites of candidates for national office and websites of Members of Congress. In addition, the Library leads the congressionally mandated National Digital Information Infrastructure and Preservation Program www.digitalpreservation.gov, which is pursuing a national strategy to collect, preserve and make available significant digital content, especially information that is created in digital form only, for current and future generations.