Library of Congress to House Billions and Billions of Tweets

Next time you tweet, you may want to consider your role in history. The Library of Congress plans to archive all public posts from Twitter, dating back to the 2006 debut of the popular social networking service.

Details on tweet availability will be worked out within the next several months, according to Matt Raymond, director of communications for the Library of Congress. Although some posts will be accessible online at the Library’s Web site, you’ll need to travel to Washington, D.C., to access the bulk of the billions of tweets.

“There are discussions about our policies about researcher access to digital information, so we’re not precluding that at some point in the future there’ll be broader public access to it,” Raymond told TechNewsWorld. “These are the things we want to learn about, and we think Twitter is a great test case for us.”

A Place for Everything

Founded in 1800, the Library of Congress is the largest library in the world and the research arm of Congress. With the Library already archiving all books, pamphlets, maps, prints and music registered in the United States, it is now moving to capture digital records important to the nation’s history.

“Twitter approached our folks several months ago, and they said this is the kind of data that may be of use to a library with a collection like ours,” Raymond said. “We expressed interest in it; there were a number of discussions, then the gift agreement was signed, and we’re moving to make that actual acquisition.”

The Library will archive all posts marked as “public,” according to Raymond. Those posts marked “private” and that are direct exchanges between individuals will not be included in the collection.

“We are pleased and proud to make this collection available for the benefit of the American people, Greg Pass, Twitter’s vice president of engineering, said in a statement. “It is something new, but it tells an amazing story that needs to be remembered.”

Shaping History

Tweets have played a role in shaping historical events such as the election of President Barack Obama, the earthquake in Haiti, and protests in Iran.

“There’s no denying that there is at least a degree of historical value in the archive if you look at some of the world events of the last couple of years,” Raymond said.

Included in the collection, for example, are tweets by an Egyptian journalist, James Buck, who was able to get the word out about his capture.

“He tweeted about it. The whole world jumped on it from that, and he was released after that sequence of events was set into motion,” Raymond recalled.

New Kind of Card Catalog

So, how will researchers be able to comb through billions of tweets that are now part of the public record? Search methods will likely evolve over time.

“People are talking about developing new discovery tools to go through those billions without having to look at all of them individually,” said Raymond. “We think there are discoveries that are going to be made that we can’t even conceive of right now.”

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