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Library of Congress to Archive Twitter

April 28, 2010 by
Filed under: Uncategorized 

Library of Congress to Archive Twitter

Emily Whitaker, William and Mary Intern

The Library of Congress recently announced that Twitter will join the ranks of historical documents in its archives.  You may be asking yourself, “Why do Tweets deserve a spot next to historic newspaper articles, letters, and photographs?”  When the Library made its announcement on April 14th, they explained the importance of Twitter as social media that captures all aspects of today’s culture.

Twitter is a social networking site that has over 105 million users worldwide.  Each of these users can “tweet” about anything through short messages that are 140 characters or less.  This feature has been used by ordinary people, celebrities, politicians, and organizations to share everything from the mundane details of daily life to the occurrence of important historical events.   For example, in summer of 2009 when angry Iranians protested the reelection of President Ahmadinejad, the rest of the world got details of the chaotic scene largely through information provided by Iranian’s tweets. And during President Obama’s State of the Union Address on February 25th, Congressmen and Senators tweeted away- many of them giving snarky comments on the President’s speech and the behavior of their colleagues.  Celebrities, too, have been using Twitter to do everything from making important public announcements about their careers to simply informing their fans what they are eating.  Thus, with 50 million Tweets a day, Twitter captures almost every element of our culture and gives us a firsthand account of history as it unfolds.

As 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, said,  ”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.”

In addition, archiving Twitter will be important for showing future generations how the role of online social networking in our world has grown and evolved over time.  Librarian of Congress James H. Billington stated, “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.”

As a Washington Post reporter pointed out,  Twitter also provides important insight into our economy and consumer behavior.  Companies and businesses use Twitter to promote products, reporters publish their articles, and musicians Tweet about their newest songs.  The Library of Congress is taking on an enormous task of sifting through the millions of Tweets that are posted every day.  This task is going to become even more daunting as the Twitter phenomenon continues to grow, with 300,000 new users added per day. Thanks to the hard work of the LOC, in years to come, people will now have a way to look back at our politics, media culture, and social lives.

To see more about what the Library of Congress has to say about archiving Twitter, read its press release. Or read this article from the technology magazine, Wired. And then tweet to tell us what you think.

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