Twitter was going to archive all past and future tweets with the Library of Congress. I'm a big fan of Twitter.I'm quite active chattering from my personal account, and we use it in our business as a Web archiving firm. After the announcement I was asked what it meant to the world of digital archivists. My initial response was positive, and over time has become even more so. I was on vacation when the news came through that
Guest author Pete Grillo is the founder of Iterasi, a Web archiving company serving businesses and government agencies. Pete previously founded WeSync.com which was acquired by Palm in 2001, and co-founded ProTools, acquired by Network General in 1995. He is @petegrillo on Twitter.
Don't Miss ReadWriteWeb's Previous Analysis of the Twitter Archive
First, my hat is off to the folks at Twitter. They deserve credit for coming up with such an innovative and visionary approach. To those who say Twitter is full of insignificant mumblings or that it's great the company can free up its own storage at the expense of the taxpayer, I say this, respectfully: Get a clue. Millions use the medium to curate the news of worldwide elections, pop culture, natural disasters, terrorist attacks, and human interest stories - it should be clear that Twitter is living up to its tagline as "the pulse of the planet."
Bottom line: Archiving is the act of collecting data in raw form so that it can be manipulated in a variety of ways in the future. I believe that archiving Twitter, and certainly other moves to follow, will significantly change the way history is made available to future generations. Two huge wins come to mind:
Wide-open content: Twitter is first but others will follow. I would love to see the photos on Flickr follow this same path. How much of the last 6-plus years of the world's history is in picture form on Flickr?
Wide-open history: People all across the world, starting immediately and continuing on forever, will toil over this rich pool of data. It is safe to expect tools will emerge to mine this data and these tools will be available to more than authors and researchers.
It occurs to me that this level of detail - often the mundane interspersed with the magical, the dredges of the workday intermingled with short snippets encapsulating world events - that this information, when looked back at in some distant future, is a snapshot of the thoughts of millions - and therefore is our worlds' history.
Certainly one can argue that the users of Twitter are not a representative cross section of society, and that there are dangers in only seeing events through the eyes of any subset of culture - let alone the worldwide, tech-savvy intelligentsia. But Twitter is evolving and it will continue to represent a broader audience. If you doubt that, look where it was one year ago.
It is my hope that from this archived data future generations will move from textbook packaging of history in one monolithic form to a model where students can interrogate history as if it were standing there in the classroom taking questions. This is the fundamental tenant that is core to every archivist's heart: the belief that data has valuable and that today we can't imagine all the ways someone will want to analyze this data in the future. All we know, in our heart of hearts, is that once gone, it is gone for good.
And yes, what I am saying is that each tiny 140 character morsel is history in the making, right before our very eyes. And now we are going to hang on to it forever. Bravo!