Twitter Makes It Into the Historical Record

Are you on Twitter? That tweet you sent this morning about what your cat ate for breakfast is now part of history. The Library of Congress announced today—first via its Twitter feed—that it will archive all public tweets posted since Twitter went live in March 2006.

“That’s a LOT of tweets, by the way: Twitter processes more than 50 million tweets every day, with the total numbering in the billions,” a news release from the library points out. Pity the future historians who might spend their careers sifting through billions of our 140-character blurts about weather, irritating co-workers, and the antics of pop stars.

But one man’s Twitter flotsam is another man’s cultual and historical gold, and Twitter has already made its mark as a way to spread word of signicant events. “Expect to see an emphasis on the scholarly and research implications of the acquisition,” the library said. “Just a few examples of important tweets in the past few years include the first-ever tweet from Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey, President Obama’s tweet about winning the 2008 election, and a set of two tweets from a photojournalist who was arrested in Egypt and then freed because of a series of events set into motion by his use of Twitter.”

On its blog, Twitter posted a statement that included some pertinent details:

It is our pleasure to donate access to the entire archive of public tweets to the Library of Congress for preservation and research. It’s very exciting that tweets are becoming part of history. It should be noted that there are some specifics regarding this arrangement. Only after a six-month delay can the Tweets … be used for internal library use, for noncommercial research, public display by the library itself, and preservation.

Also today, Google announced that it has come up with a way to tap into Twitter as historical record. Google Replay makes it possible for users to “zoom to any point in time and ‘replay’ what people were saying publicly about a topic on Twitter”:

With the advent of blogs and microblogs, there’s a constant online conversation about breaking news, people and places–some famous and some local. Tweets and other short-form updates create a history of commentary that can provide valuable insights into what’s happened and how people have reacted. We want to give you a way to search across this information and make it useful.

(And, yes, some Wired Campus bloggers are on Twitter: @jryoung, @marcparry, and @JenHoward.)

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