One of the uncertainties surrounding the microblogging phenomenon Twitter was what actually happens to all the tweets, i.e., submissions by users, which must be 140 characters or less, once they're sent off into cyberspace. Well, recently we learned, quite appropriately, from a tweet by @LibraryCongress: "Library to acquire ENTIRE Twitter archive—ALL public tweets, ever, since March 2006! Details to follow."
Yes, Twitter has donated "the entire archive of public tweets to the Library of Congress for preservation and research," which means the tweets now have a new nest—at least digitally.
The Library of Congress serves as a research arm of the federal lawmaking body and is the largest library in the world. It holds a copy of every book, print, map, sheet of music, and other document filed with the US Copyright Office. And now, it will also digitally archive the history of "tweeting."
Twitter users exchange more than 50 million tweets per day, which means the Library is now the proud owner of billions of these short, web-based messages. There are some restrictions on the donation, however, according to Chirp, Twitter's official blog: "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."
What does the Library of Congress hope to do with the tweets?
One of the Library of Congress's main priorities has always been to document and preserve the cultural history of the country, particularly regarding individual, eyewitness accounts from ordinary citizens. Its acquisition of the Twitter archive includes tweets referencing major historical events from President Obama's win and inauguration to natural disasters like the earthquake in Haiti.
The Library looks forward to using the tweets as primary source materials as it compiles research, information, and themed presentations for public consumption. Twitter believes this sort of "open exchange of information can have a positive global impact."
Librarian of Congress James H. Billington said the archive presents "extraordinary potential for research" into our daily lives in the 21st century. "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 archive will be stored digitally with the Library of Congress, but it will not be available online.
What does this mean for Twitter users?
If you post on Twitter, you should be aware of the possibility that your thoughts are being stored by the government and could even show up in a presentation someday. While some might consider this a unique honor to be a part of cultural history, others may view it as an invasion of privacy.
Those in the latter group might want to delete their Twitter accounts, but to the rest of you, especially to you Twitterholics out there, tweet on!