There’s a story in each 140 character tweet we send out. Collect 400 million of them each day, and you have the story of a country. The Library of Congress certainly thinks so, as it sets about archiving the millions of tweets sent by Americans each day. The Library of Congress is the oldest federal cultural institution in the United States and the de facto guardian of the ‘American memory’, covering the nation’s cultural contributions for more than two centuries. In April 2010, Twitter signed a deal with the LOC giving it access to tweets dating back to the beginning of tweeting. Now they are continually archiving the data.
That’s where the challenge for the Library lies. Though it maintains archives of millions of books and even massive digital collection, keeping pace with the 200 million users and half-a-billion tweets per day is an overwhelming task.
Gayle Osterberg, director of communications at the library says,
“An element of our mission at the Library of Congress is to collect the story of America, and to acquire collections that will have research value.”
An example is the tweet sent out by President Barack Obama after his historic November 2008 election victory which read, “We just made history. All of this happened because you gave your time, talent and passion. All of this happened because of you. Thanks.”
The work is being done by Gnip, a social media aggregation company which has made more than 133,000 gigabytes of storage space available. The intent is to allow researchers easy access to search and cite the data. But ironically, technology is not up to scratch yet. Presently, a search among the first four years of tweets, from 2006 to 2010, could take about 24 hours.
If you have privacy concerns, please note that deleted tweets and accounts locked as private will not be among those archived by the Library of Congress.
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