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Library of Congress: We’re archiving every tweet ever made

By Nate Anderson 

Source: http://arstechnica.com/tech-policy/news/2010/04/library-of-congress-were-archiving-every-tweet-ever-made.ars

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Get ready for fame, tweeters of the world: the Library of Congress is archiving for posterity every public tweet made since the service went live back in 2006. Every. Single. Tweet.

The LOC announced the news, appropriately enough, on Twitter. Twitter isn’t just about being pretentious and notifying the world about the contents of your lunch (though it’s about those things too).

Matt Raymond, one the Library’s official bloggers, notes that "important tweets in the past few years include the first-ever tweet from Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey, President Obama’s tweet about winning the 2008 election, 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."

But even those billions of other tweets and retweets, the ones about how you just got back from the worlds’ most epic jog or how you’re sick at home with the crocodile flu or how your crappy Internet connection just went down again and you can’t take it any more—those matter too.

There’s been a turn toward historicism in academic circles over the last few decades, a turn that emphasizes not just official histories and novels but the diaries of women who never wrote for publication, or the oral histories of soldiers from the Civil War, or the letters written by a sawmill owner. The idea is to better understand the context of a time and place, to understand the way that all kinds of people thought and lived, and to get away from an older scholarship that privileged the productions of (usually) elite males.

The LoC’s Twitter archive will provide a similar service, offering a social history of hipsters, geeks, nerds, and whatever Ashton Kutcher is. As Twitter continues its march into the mainstream, the service really will offer a real-time, unvarnished look at what’s on people’s minds.

Digital technologies pose a problem for the Library and other archival institutions, though. By making data so easy to generate and then record, they push archives to think hard about their missions and adapt to new technical challenges. While archiving the entire Web and all its changes is simply impossible, the Library of Congress has collected a curated, limited subset of Web content "since it began harvesting congressional and presidential campaign websites in 2000." Today, it has 167TB of Web data.

Raymond sums up the Library’s goal: "In other words, if you’re looking for a place where important historical and other information in digital form should be preserved for the long haul, we’re it!"

People seem to agree that this is big news; as Raymond noted when I contacted him for details, "I’m already getting flooded. This is already our biggest re-tweeted tweet ever!"

So if you don’t want history to remember that burrito you had for dinner last night (and its aftermath), tweet carefully—now it’s for posterity.

 

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