Library Of Congress To Store Your Inane Twitter Chatter For All Eternity

from the hey-grandma-you-seemed-drunk-a-lot-in-2007 dept

The United States Library of Congress is getting plenty of attention for announcing that they’re planning to digitally archive every single tweet ever made since Twitter’s inception in March of 2006 (the first ever tweet is here if you’re interested). Twitter now processes something like 50 million tweets every day, or about 600 tweets per second. While relatively easy to store due to that 140-character limit (the LOC already stores roughly 167 terabytes of online content for your grandkids to peruse), the vast majority of it will be people talking about the Twilight films, shampoo choices or weekend plans. Obviously offering easy access to the pertinent (to you) and historical bits of data is going to be important.

The LOC blog post is utterly devoid of any real information on that subject, though an accompanying Twitter blog entry indicates that only after six months will Tweets qualify for inclusion into the Library (so start deleting your offensive and incoherent tweets now), and direct or private tweets won’t be archived. Google seems to be helping on the accessibility angle by announcing a replay system, allowing people to examine snapshots in Twitter time (for instance take a look at this snapshot of the 2010 Winter Olympics). Given that history can often be written with a heavy focus on the elite, the Library of Congress focuses on the fact that this everyday chatter about events could provide very useful context for historians:

"Expect to see an emphasis on the scholarly and research implications of the acquisition. I’m no Ph.D., but it boggles my mind to think what we might be able to learn about ourselves and the world around us from this wealth of data. And I’m certain we’ll learn things that none of us now can even possibly conceive."

All of this raises the question of whether or not permanence will impact the way people use Twitter. As it stands (whether they should or not), most people treat Twitter as an off-the-cuff conversation. And while most people who use the service for business act professionally, even many corporate representatives are a little more candid and conversational while using Twitter. Getting a glimpse of the real human beings behind the brand has helped many companies immeasurably in dealing with customer support and public perception. Does all of this change once the participants realize their customer promises, clever barbs and burrito recipes are going down on their permanent record?

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Comments on “Library Of Congress To Store Your Inane Twitter Chatter For All Eternity”

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30 Comments
PopeHilarius (profile) says:

All of this raises the question of whether or not permanence will impact the way people use Twitter.

I doubt it. People only rarely consider how their online actions will reflect on them in the future. I find it hard to believe your average Twitter user is going to think, “Hmmm. I was going to tweet about a movie I just saw, but it might end up in a sociologist’s thesis paper in fifty years. Better not.” Most everything online is archived in some way anyway, but people still post embarrassing youtube videos.

I think this is a great initiative though. Diaries and personal correspondence are often the best historical sources- generations from now when historians discuss this era, having access to all that Twitter banality will be a treasure trove of easily analyzed data.

scottbp (profile) says:

What is the copyright status of this LOC archive?

Firstly doesn’t this archive do essentially the same thing as the google book scanning project?
Secondly, if I publish my tweet from outside the US, what rights does the LOC have to archive it?

I actually have no problem with it but was just interested in what the legalities involved were

ChurchHatesTucker (profile) says:

Re: What is the copyright status of this LOC archive?

I’m for this, although it’s arguably functionality that Twitter should be providing itself. If you want an archive of your tweets currently, you have to use a service like backupmytweets.com

“Secondly, if I publish my tweet from outside the US, what rights does the LOC have to archive it?”

Because Twitter is in the US (and your tweets pass through there.)

Ima Fish (profile) says:

Library Of Congress To Store Your Inane Twitter Chatter For All Eternity

One mistake each generation makes is thinking that what’s currently going on is uninteresting and will never matter to future generations.

Have you ever seen the fantastic Ken Burns documentary about the Civil War he did for PBS? It used a lot of letters from average people writing about their average lives. But yet when put in context of the war, the letters were riveting.

Sure, I’d guess that 99% of what’s on Twitter is pointless. It’s also pretty clear that we’ll have no idea which tweets will be relevant to the future until the future arrives. So the only way ensure that those 1% of relevant tweets survive is by archiving them all.

As long as someone is willing to do that. I don’t see how anyone could have a problem with it.

Karl Bode (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Have you ever seen the fantastic Ken Burns documentary about the Civil War he did for PBS? It used a lot of letters from average people writing about their average lives. But yet when put in context of the war, the letters were riveting.

Interesting point, yes…the letters were astounding. People really took their time to write then…wonder if 140 characters of LOL, RT, WTF, etc. will have quite the same charm? ๐Ÿ™‚

Derek Kerton (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

Karl,

I think it will be better than the letters. Because the letters were just a snapshot of the time from an elite segment that could and did write. What were the rest of the people thinking, notably the slaves? That’s probably not captured well by the letters.

Furthermore, the letters are far fewer in number than tweets. I would liken this as analogous to digital photo resolution. If the letters could provide a VGA picture of the times, the vast volume of tweets could provide a 20 Megapixel picture.

Continuing my ‘photo of the past analogy’, “most people treat Twitter as an off-the-cuff conversation” and that is why the ‘composition’ of the twitter photo will be much more honest. The civil war letters provide a ‘posed portrait’, where the tweets provide a candid snapshot.

Also, it is already easy for analytic tools to mine the twitter data and come up with truly important trending information. It is easy to filter out the “having coffee, LOL”, but zoom in on “warrantless wiretapping OKed”. If today’s tools can do it, you can bet tomorrow’s tools will slice and dice the data like a slap chopper.

IF twitter continues as an important medium, this would be a great resource for historians, and for the public in keeping historians honest. IF – let’s not forget that social networks come and go, and communication tools too. A database of smoke signals would be damned interesting, but it would only cover a finite period of time.

Karl Bode (profile) says:

Re: Re:

I’m surprised no one has posted a misguided concern about privacy yet.

I feel like if everything you already say is being tracked (behavioral advertising, clickstream sales) and the NSA is gobbling all traffic up directly through companies like AT&T anyway — somebody worried about tweet storage violating privacy might be missing the bigger picture. ๐Ÿ™‚

CopyrightCops says:

“The United States Library of Congress is getting plenty of attention for announcing that they’re planning to digitally archive every single tweet ever made since Twitter’s inception in March of 2006 (the first ever tweet is here if you’re interested).”

(Megaphone)

Copyright violation! (Sirens) Copyright Violation!!! You must pay the authors of those tweets before you can copy and archive them.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

Another relevant question would be the issue of fair use. A single tweet might be fair use but what about 100 tweets from the same person or 100 tweets from different people? Couldn’t this be considered copying a substantial portion of a tweeter’s work or the work put forth on twitter to the extent of exceeding fair use conditions?

Terry Hart (profile) says:

legalities

Saw some questions or comments concerning the legalities of this and thought I’d share what I’ve learned

1) According to the terms of use, Twitter operates under the assumption that the user owns the copyright and is granting Twitter a nonexclusive right to reproduce and distribute that content over its system.

2) There is no copyright infringement here. Technically, anything published in the US has to be deposited with the LOC within 3 months, though I’m not sure I’ve ever seen that law enforced in any way. That’s all this is, although the deposit is coming from the LOC’s initiative rather than the creator’s.

3) Twitter can help the LOC do this too, its TOS provides that

You agree that this license includes the right for Twitter to make such Content available to other companies, organizations or individuals who partner with Twitter for the syndication, broadcast, distribution or publication of such Content on other media and services, subject to our terms and conditions for such Content use

Ralph says:

No Privacy concerns?

It might be a bit different if the LOC was archiving from now onwards. We originally didn’t think anything we said was going to end up in congress. What about all those drunk regretable tweets. Or people who joined, didn’t like it then quit. How many of you would jump to hand over every text message you’ve ever sent? Yes I understand most twitterers are public but the message is meant to be read once then it gets lost in the torrent of all the tweets that come next. Nobody thought it was ever going to be a searchable database. I hate Facebook, and am glad they get pounced on for every privacy screw up they make. How come nobody seems to mind what the LOC is planning with Twitter?

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