Sunday, April 18, 2010

Congress To Archive Every Tweet Ever Posted Publicly

The Library of Congress is to archive every single public tweet ever made.

Twitter says since they started in 2006, billions of tweets have been created and 55m are sent every day.

The digital archive will include tweets from President Obama on the day he was elected as well as the first tweet from co-founder Jack Dorsey.

"I think it shows the tweets are an interesting part of the historical record," said Alex MacGillivray, Twitter's general counsel.

"This project however is not about us, it is about our users and the fact they use the service to chronicle these amazing events. President Obama actually tweeted after he was elected. That is a big deal and it's something he did.

"It is not something we imagined when we were forming the service," MacGillivray said.

In a Library of Congress blogpost entitled "How Tweet It Is", Matt Raymond underlined the reason why these tweets deserved a home alongside better known historic documents like the Declaration of Independence.

"I'm no PhD, but it boggles my mind to think what we might be able to learn about ourselves and the world around us from this wealth of data."

Twitter's MacGillivray agreed.

"We have just had one of our Supreme Court justices announce his retirement and knowing what people are saying around that will be important.

"As a historian you will be able to look back at that and understand what people felt. The same with the healthcare legislation that recently passed. You can look back and say what where people talking about and have those views changed over time? We think that will be really useful."

The microblogging service came into prominence during a number of high profile events including the Iranian elections last year, the Mumbai bombing, the Haiti earthquake and the downing of a passenger aircraft in the Hudson River.

Alongside the Library of Congress announcement, Google revealed how it is going to make the Twitter archive searchable for users.

The search giant unveiled a replay feature that lets users search tweets posted at any given point in time right down to the minute.

Anyone wanting to know what people tweeted about on say the Haiti earthquake or the Oscars can type into the search box, select "show options" on the result page and then click "updates".

A timeline will appear above the results allowing you to zoom in on tweets by the hour or minute.

"This will be the first time the user will have the ability to go back in time and see the conversation about a particular topic," said Dylan Casey, Google's product manager.

"We think this is pretty significant because up until now the discussion has been about what is happening now and with today's replay button people will be able to go back and see what people were actually talking about around big events."

For the moment the replay feature will only cover the last two months of tweets. Google said later in the summer it hopes to cover the entire archive all the way back to March 2006.

On the Web:

Google Blog

The Library of Congress; Wall Street Journal; Twitter.

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