Think tweets are ephemeral? Think again.

Library of Congress digitally archives every tweet

The Library of Congress, the repository of our nation’s cultural and literary heritage, is home to such treasures as a Gutenberg Bible, the Declaration of Independence and Lincoln’s second inaugural address.

And now, it’s home to my first tweet. Here it is, in all its 55-character splendor: “Eating a delightful chicken salad and surfing the ’Net at my desk.”

In case you haven’t heard, the Library of Congress is digitally archiving every public tweet since Twitter went online in March 2006. I’ve always wanted to have my writing in the Library of Congress. And now, it is—every tweet I’ve tweeted on Twitter since I wrote a story about it for GCN in March 2007.

Everybody’s tweets will be archived. All those tweets about another evening wasted watching “Dancing With the Stars.” Or the ones about favorite trending topic singer Justin Bieber, now forever part of our archival storehouse of history. Or the tweets about how you’re on your way to Starbucks for the second latte of the day—all saved for future generations to search, research, ponder and question.

The Library of Congress has been collecting materials from the Web since 2000, said Matt Raymond, director of communications for the LOC. That’s more than 167 terabytes of Web-based information, even before the LOC archives Twitter. Twitter serves up more than 50 million tweets a day, with the total since March 2006 numbering in the billions. So that’s going to be quite a lot of bytes when all is archived.

The goal of the Twitter archive actually tends more toward “scholarly and research implications,” said Raymond, in his blog. He cited examples of tweets that have historical importance, such as President Obama’s tweet about winning the 2008 election or photojournalist James Bucks' tweet of his arrest in Egypt.

Some have commented on how this is another example of government intruding into our private lives. I’m not so much worried about the privacy implications of the LOC digitizing all our tweets. I still try to subscribe to my mom’s rule of never writing anything you wouldn’t want to see on the front page of the New York Times. Hey, you posted it on the Internet, so it’s not exactly top secret, right?

And I have to admit, my heart swells a little when I think that my 140-character or less works are going to be stored in our nation’s greatest library. This is truly democracy in action, when everybody—both Justin Bieber fans and haters—can be tweeted into history.

About the Author

Trudy Walsh is a senior writer for GCN.

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Reader Comments

Fri, Apr 16, 2010 John Schrader Virginia

I'm not convinced that if we knew every thought of every person over the last hundred years we would increase our understanding of history and the context on which it rides. Saving every "Tweet" seems a remarkable waste. As a primary research source, it is an incredibly untrustworthy source. Look at the "comment" above to see that there is little to commend these unatributed blips to add to history. And how many of us have hit send and wished we hadn't? The argument needs to be how do we put a lifecycle on other words, when the usefulness of the data is gone, can it just die? Do we need to record everything? What is the purpose, what do we enable, do we now just save data (using the term loosely when considering tweets) because we can? The repercussions are great as we've seen with many young people taking down their Facebook pages filled with the frivolity of youth that is a boat anchor in adulthood (that picture from Spring Break anyone?). Saving data for its own sake is just not a good move. Lastly, you can't make a judgement of mass mood from Tweets, only the mood of those who tweet. r/jfs

Fri, Apr 16, 2010

I did not realize that President Obama's agenda was in effect in 2006 when these ‘lists’ were originally created and digitized. Remember another group that makes ‘lists’. It’s the American populous and they use these lists to help buy groceries.

Thu, Apr 15, 2010 Kate Tea Party USA!

This is a prime example of the Hussain Obama Socalist agenda front and center! Not only is it wasting OUR MONEY but he will go over the list and TARGET those who disagree with his socaliast agenda. Remember another group used to make lists. They were called Nazis. Join the Tea Party and eliminate wasteful government spending and the socalist agenda!

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