It was appropriate that the Library of Congress twitterfeed (@librarycongress) broke the news last week that the LOC would be acquiring the full archive of Twitter, receiving billions of public tweets from the 2006 inception of the service to the present.
“The Twitter digital archive has extraordinary potential for research into our contemporary way of life,” said Librarian of Congress James H. Billington in a press release. “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. Anyone who wants to understand how an ever-broadening public is using social media to engage in an ongoing debate regarding social and cultural issues will have need of this material.”
The importance of the acquisition was questioned by some, however, with a robust discussion over at GovLoop kicked off by member Harlan Wax who asked the broad question “really, to what end?” in terms of why tax dollars should be spent on archiving the Twitter content.
Twitter also blogged about their donation to the LOC (yes, access was donated, not purchased by the LOC):
Over the years, tweets have become part of significant global events around the world—from historic elections to devastating disasters.
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 non-commercial research, public display by the library itself, and preservation.
The open exchange of information can have a positive global impact. This is something we firmly believe and it has driven many of our decisions regarding openness.
Obviously they are tooting their own horn, but I think there are some good points about why this content is appropriate for the LOC to archive, if for no other reason that we are preserving a snapshot of what communications was like in the decade. There are also a number of messages/tweets that arguably hold historic value, some examples of which are mentioned in the LOC’s blog post “How Tweet it Is” (and I’ve pointed out others in the past).
A couple of questions come to mind, however, as I was reading news about the LOC’s effort. First, I will point out that once again we have Twitter working with and featuring a government agency on their official sites, yet they haven’t taken the time to add a “verified” icon to the @LibraryCongress Twitter account (see Twitter promotes case study on how government uses its network for another example of this that was later fixed). As someone who runs a directory of government Twitter accounts, I’d really like to see greater emphasis on verifying these accounts in a more official manner (heck, if it’s too big of a job for the ~130 or so Twitter employees, I bet I could convince my firm, Deloitte’s public sector, to help out with a process or pro bono project to streamline verification of government accounts).
Second, I wonder if there will there be any agencies looking to the LOC archive as a means to meet records retention policies? If the federal government is preserving all tweets, is that sufficient for an agency, or will individual agencies still want to develop a more robust method to archive their own Twitter interactions?