Those 140-character messages so many of us send out on Twitter aren’t as ephemeral as we might have thought – in fact, they’ll be saved for posterity and will become a tool for research and the kind of time travel historians do. This week, the Library of Congress announced (via its blog and Twitter) that it will be digitally archiving every public tweet sent out on Twitter since the service’s inception in March 2006. (See the announcement here: http://blogs.loc.gov/loc/2010/04/how-tweet-it-is-library-acquires-entire-twitter-archive/ .)
According to Librarian of Congress James H. Billington, "The Twitter digital archive has extraordinary potential for research into our contemporary way of life. This information provides detailed evidence about how technology based social networks form and evolve over time. The collection also documents a remarkable range of social trends." (Read more at http://www.loc.gov/today/pr/2010/10-081.html .)
The folks at Twitter blogged about their reasons for sharing the archive (http://blog.twitter.com/2010/04/tweet-preservation.html). Interestingly, there will be a six-month delay before public tweets are available for “internal library use, for non-commercial research, public display by the library itself, and preservation.”
That’s not the only new way that tweets are becoming research tools. Twitter also announced that Google has created a new way to revisit tweets related to historic events. Google Replay “lets you relive a real time search from specific moments in time.” According to Twitter, “Google Replay currently only goes back a few months but eventually it will reach back to the very first Tweets ever created. If you want to understand the popular contemporaneous reaction to the health care bill, you can virtually time travel and replay the Tweets.”
The mind reels at the possibilities for researchers and writers of all stripes, nevermind the equally tempting opportunities for pranksters. I’m curious to know where your reaction is on the spectrum from “Wow, what an amazing social research tool!” to “Just because we can, doesn’t necessarily mean we should.” What do you think?