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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