On April 14, 2010, Twitter Incorporated entered into a new partnership with the U.S. Library of Congress, one that would allow the LoC access to the entire archive of public tweets — beginning with Twitter’s inception in 2006 to the present and beyond.
“Over the years, tweets have become part of significant global events around the world — from historical elections to devastating disasters,” emphasized Twitter Inc. in a blog post announcing the collaboration.
For the LoC, "the Twitter digital archive has extraordinary potential for research into our contemporary way of life," according to 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.”
On the heels of the project, Google launched an online application to allow individuals to relive a specific time period by researching the entire Twitter archive.
Here are a few examples, courtesy of the LoC blog post:
- First “tweet’ ever from Twitter Inc. co-founder Jack Dorsey (@jack)
- President Obama’s tweet about winning the 2008 election
- Tweets (a,b) from a photojournalist who was arrested in Egypt & then freed following a set of events set in motion by his use of Twitter
Recording What We Do Today for Researchers Tomorrow
This initiative is worth paying attention to because it has established one of the few if not the only public resources of its kind, delving into contemporary social networks with an eye towards transcribing modern culture, including economic, social and political trends, and not just consumer behaviour.
A book published in its second edition three months after the announcement reminds us of another reason to pay attention. Jonathan Rose’s landmark The Intellectual Life of the British Working Classes offers the world a glimpse into the culture of ordinary people from the preindustrial era to the twentieth century by drawing on public records, as well as published and unpublished memoirs. Looking into library registers and social surveys, Rose’s study uncovers which books people read, how they educated themselves, and what they knew. The result gives us a substantially different outlook on the world because it is seen through the eyes of ordinary people.
Will the Twitter Inc.—Library of Congress preservation project more easily save our stories and perspectives on the world alongside the statuesque figures of history? Will researchers of tomorrow see the world as we see it based on the tweets we are leaving behind?
In 140 characters: It's hard to say.