The Library and Twitter: An FAQ

(UPDATE: Here’s a January 2013 status report on our work with the Twitter archives.)

Twitter’s gift (link is PDF) to the Library of Congress of its entire archive of public tweets, announced two weeks ago today, sure has stoked the public’s interest.  (Also included as addenda to the previous link were Twitter’s current and previous terms of service.)

I’ve been working in journalism and public relations for nearly 20 years, and of all the stories with which I was personally involved, this one has beaten the rest by a mile. Thousands of hits on Google News.  Countless blog posts from around the world.  Media interest from virtually every national newspaper and broadcast outlet (which continues even two weeks later), and numerous local outlets.  And websites as diverse as The Drudge Report, The Huffington Post, and even Perez Hilton.

And of course, a lively discussion, to say the least, within the Twitterverse itself.  On the day of the announcement, I set up a Twitterfall that looked more like Niagara than a trickle.  (A definite highlight of my life was having been retweeted by Alyssa Milano.)

Given all of that interest, we wanted to put out an FAQ.  Most if not all of these answers have been published on our site and elsewhere, but we thought they should be collected in a single place.  These may be updated as appropriate:

Why is it important to preserve the Twitter archive?

Twitter is part of the historical record of communication, news reporting, and social trends – all of which complement the Library’s existing cultural heritage collections.  It is a direct record of important events such as the 2008 U.S. presidential election or the “Green Revolution” in Iran.  It  also serves as a news feed with minute-by-minute headlines from major news sources such as Reuters, The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times.  At the same time, it is a platform for citizen journalism with many significant events being first reported by eyewitnesses.

The Library of Congress collections include items such as the very first telegram ever sent, by telegraph inventor Samuel F.B. Morse, oral histories from veterans and ordinary citizens, and many other firsthand accounts of history.  These collections and others have left behind glimpses of the lives of ordinary people, thereby enriching knowledge of the context of public events recorded in government documents and newspapers.  Individually tweets might seem insignificant, but viewed in the aggregate, they can be a resource for future generations to understand life in the 21st century.

The Library did not pay for the archive; rather, it was a gift from Twitter.

What is in the Archive?

Twitter has been a public and open communications platform since its beginning. Twitter is donating an archive of what it determines to be public.  Private account information and deleted tweets will not be part of the archive. Linked information such as pictures and websites is not part of the archive, and the Library has no plans to collect the linked sites. There will be at least a six-month window between the original date of a tweet and its date of availability for research use.

What does the Library plan to do with the archive?

First and foremost, the Library is interested in preserving access to the archive for the long term.  In addition to looking at preservation issues, the Library will be working with academic research communities to explore issues related to researcher access.  The Twitter collection will serve as a helpful case study as we develop policies for research use of our digital archives. Tools and processes for researcher access will be developed from interaction with researchers as well as from the Library’s ongoing experience with serving collections and protecting privacy and rights.

The Library is not Twitter and will not try to reproduce its functionality.  We are interested in offering collections of tweets that are complementary to some of the Library’s digital collections: for example, the National Elections Web Archive or the Supreme Court Nominations Web Archive. We will make an announcement when the collection is available for research use.

42 Comments

  1. Michael Critz
    April 28, 2010 at 2:29 pm

    It’s critical the future generations know what flavor burrito I had for lunch.

  2. Kristof
    April 28, 2010 at 2:37 pm

    I think this will be a great addition the the LOC. From a marketing perspective, curious to know if the Library initiated the archive request or if Twitter offered it without contact.

    Also, will the archive be publicly available to the public through your website?

  3. John
    April 28, 2010 at 3:16 pm

    When and where will this information become available to the public?

  4. Anton Lutov Vladimirovich
    April 28, 2010 at 4:46 pm

    Yes. Very significant.

  5. Jamie
    April 28, 2010 at 6:30 pm

    What about privacy? How will it be protected/

  6. @Ed
    April 28, 2010 at 11:29 pm

    Excellent clarification after the initial release, Matt. Well stated.

  7. George
    April 29, 2010 at 12:04 am

    Twitter is atwitter about your headline “a FAQ” vs. “an FAQ.”

    I guess if you pronounce it “Eff-Ay-Que” the “an” would work. :-)

  8. Cara Powers
    April 29, 2010 at 1:08 am

    I do not want my Direct Messages in the Archives. They should not count as public information.

  9. deborah weinstein
    April 29, 2010 at 1:13 am

    Judging by what I’ve seen on Twitter, I think this important news creates the perfect opportunity/need/incentive for PR Pros, professional communicators and everyone who care about their longterm reputation, to take a look at their own archive and hit delete on anything that might not be worth saving for all eternity. According to this great FAQ, there’s still time to clean up your Twitter act.

  10. Hugh M. McNally
    April 29, 2010 at 7:39 am

    “An FAQ”? Does the LoC really pronounce this “eff-ay-cue”?

  11. miguel
    April 29, 2010 at 7:50 am

    a plane pronounce of F.A.Q would be confusing ;-)

    Remember how useful Pompeia grafitti and other informal writings has been for History … imagine the deep of analysi for future researchers on our century sociologics …amazing!

  12. Korodzik
    April 29, 2010 at 10:29 am

    First of all, I recommend to everyone to read the excellent entry on Jason Scott’s blog regarding this whole hullabaloo: http://ascii.textfiles.com/archives/2538 (But be careful if you can’t handle an F-word or two.)

    @Michael Critz

    Because, as we all known, every single message on Twitter is about people’s lunches. /sarcasm.

    Twitter has many, many uses, regardless of your limited view of it.
    – Linguistic corpus (I already covered that.)
    – Public opinion. Twitter gives us a chance to see how the common man saw historical events unfolding around him. Yes, comments under articles in online editions of newspapers gave us a modicum of such a thing, but they are limited: moderated, small in number, usually confined to one view (depending on the political leanings of the newspaper’s readership).
    – I can also imagine people reading with interest through tweets of famous people (Obama, anyone?) Or their ancestors.
    – …As for these burritoes, there are people who could use the knowledge of what was eaten back in our day. Just sayin’

    @Jamie, @Cara Powers:

    I’m beginning to think that people like you are merely playing a trick on the LOC. Just what arcane combination of mind slip-ups is required to voice the ridiculous “concern” which has been quelled a couple of times already, nay, which should not have to be quelled at all? Any further attempts to answer you would be redundant and, by necessity, offensive.

  13. Amanda French
    April 29, 2010 at 2:24 pm

    I don’t think direct messages will be included, Cara — the FAQ says “private account information” won’t be there, and I’m sure that includes DMs.

    Michael, a future president is probably on Twitter right now. And believe me, there’s a lot more than burrito flavors on Twitter in my network, which (perhaps unlike your Twitter network) consists of very smart people with very smart things to say, even in >140 characters.

    Also, there has never been so much data about ordinary people and their lives as is in social media, including Twitter. The possible uses for social historians, linguists, sociologists, and all kinds of research is unimaginable and exciting.

    You might say it’s stupid to save people’s vacation photos, for instance, but here’s an example of why that’s a good idea. One researcher showed that people’s day-tripper pictures of themselves on fishing boats holding up the fish they caught showed that the fish got smaller and smaller over a period of fifty years. It’s part of a whole new field called “historical marine ecology”: http://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/seeing-is-believing.html

  14. Bryce Miller
    April 29, 2010 at 3:55 pm

    Now if you can also catalog and define the twitter hashtags so that we can see what is out there of interest.

  15. Sheila Thornton (EnigmaVariation)
    April 29, 2010 at 5:45 pm

    I agree with Michael Critz, it’s important and indeed a honour to be included and to pass on our achievements and historical moments such as President Obama’s milestones and wonderful achievements, and to pass that legacy on to future generations. Great Britain’s GE2010, Olympic Games, etc etc. Then of course the tragedy of war, loss of life through natural disasters and so on, we can all play a part in history.

  16. khieriyeh hamidpour
    April 30, 2010 at 11:46 pm

    hello my dear librarian I want to know would you use shelf list traditional catalog for your inventory or not. If you don’t use this form how you inventory your shelf books?

    your sincerely
    hamidpour

  17. vampiress
    May 5, 2010 at 10:25 am

    your FAQ just generates more questions.

    how do i opt out.
    my twitter is marked private, are my tweets going to suddenly be public 6 months later?

    if i delete my account now, will my tweets still be archived?

  18. Derek W.
    May 10, 2010 at 2:56 pm

    Will this be an ongoing agreement? i.e. Twitter will continue to donate tweets to LOC past the date of the agreement?

  19. Korodzik
    May 12, 2010 at 4:13 am

    From vampiress: “my twitter is marked private, are my tweets going to suddenly be public 6 months later? if i delete my account now, will my tweets still be archived?”

    From the FAQ: “Private account information and deleted tweets will not be part of the archive.”

    Reading skills are dwindling in our glorious civilization.

  20. Neil Mansilla
    May 31, 2010 at 2:44 am

    By the way, “deleted tweets” will not be part of the archive; however, if you delete a tweet AFTER it has already been archived by the Library of Congress, that tweet will STILL remain archived. Even though it is deleted from Twitter, it will still show up, in perpetuity in the Library of Congress.

    Just FYI, that’s the reason why http://noLOC.org was created.

  21. lu
    June 11, 2010 at 12:51 am

    My tweets are private, only people i allow to see them can read them, it is unnerving that your above FAQ amounts ot saying that after 6 months anyone can view my tweets.

  22. lu
    June 11, 2010 at 12:54 am

    Oh and by the way Korodzik “Private account information” could mean email addresses et al, it needs to be specifically stated that private TWEETS aren’t included in the archive. ALso … I don’t like the fact that non-american content is automatically lumped into the library of congresses archive. twitter is a world service.

  23. Korodzik
    July 10, 2010 at 3:54 pm

    “My tweets are private, only people i allow to see them can read them, it is unnerving that your above FAQ amounts ot saying that after 6 months anyone can view my tweets.”

    For god’s sake. Learn to read. The FAQ clearly says that the archive will consist of PUBLIC tweets. Just how many times do I have to repeat this, over and over again?

  24. C3rvantes
    August 30, 2010 at 4:43 pm

    Are tweets admissible as evidence in a court of law? :/

  25. anon
    September 14, 2010 at 4:05 pm

    To Korodzik:

    I believe private twitterers are concerned because the FAQ never states that ONLY public tweets will be included. Private tweets are never specifically excluded, and the archival gift is suspiciously described as what Twitter “determines to be public.” Considering the general public’s lack of trust in corporate America (both justified & baseless), I hope you can understand their concern.

  26. Emma
    October 3, 2010 at 10:04 am

    I’d agree that it appears from the FAQ that if you have your account set to ‘private’ then your tweets won’t appear. Along with most twitter users, mine’s not set to private – however, I think that it would be useful to all concerned if it was clearly stated that ‘accounts set to private’ (as well as personal information, and, I hope & assume, DMs) won’t be archived. The use of the term ‘private account information’ in this case, where an account can be private isn’t perhaps the best phrasing to use. Had they said ‘personal…’ & then made it clear that it was only those tweets set by the tweeter to be public, it would be clearer.

    Not sure about Lu’s comment ‘I don’t like the fact that non-american content is automatically lumped into the library of congresses archive. ‘ – is it a concern re. the cost of storage of non-US citizens data – or are you from outside the US & you don’t want your data to be stored there? If the latter, then how do you justify using any service that’s located outside of your own country?
    This is a difficult issue – I’m from the EU – where data protection laws tend to be more strict than the US (though other laws allow greater freedom of speech than, say, Iran).

    If you’re from the US – then I can see your concern re. costs – though it would be technically very difficult to filter out those tweets originating from outside the US – and also would give a rather mixed picture – as you’d not get the range of issues you currently do.

  27. Dan W
    October 28, 2010 at 11:26 am

    How much of a tweet is being archived? Is it just the text or is the full metadata (timestamp, id, in_reply_to, geo information, etc) being saved too?

  28. Nathan M
    November 11, 2010 at 4:44 pm

    It has been 6 months since the original announcement. Any word on when the research community will be provided access to this rich archive?

  29. John
    November 13, 2010 at 3:07 pm

    How nice would have been to have twits from the romans, the greeks and ancient civilizations. One day we will also be an ancient civilization.

  30. Sam
    December 12, 2010 at 8:33 am

    Are there any updates on when this archive will be open to the public?

  31. Andres
    February 22, 2011 at 10:37 am

    Any updates on when the archive will be open to the public?

  32. Iskramex
    March 3, 2011 at 2:28 am

    I´m interested in recover my old tweets which are not available anymore from Twitter (it only keeps the most recent 3 thousand ones from each user)…

    Will there be a way for the general public to back up their own old tweets?

    Thanks advanced.

  33. Sounman
    April 28, 2011 at 12:11 pm

    When and where will this dataset be available to the public????

  34. Marie
    May 19, 2011 at 10:28 pm

    Have procedures been established for requesting tweets research use? Some colleagues and I would like to analyze tweets with a certain hashtag (from a particular academic conference). Can you advise?

  35. John Sayers
    May 23, 2011 at 10:40 am

    Marie, we are still working out those details and hope to share some new information soon.

  36. Jennifer
    August 2, 2011 at 2:25 pm

    When will researchers have access to the archive for academic research?

  37. Barra
    August 10, 2011 at 8:13 pm

    Any idea of when new information on researcher access will be released?

  38. John Sayers
    August 11, 2011 at 10:05 am

    Folks, we’re getting there. There are still some technical details to work out. We hope to have more information soon.

  39. @cjwallington
    September 21, 2011 at 3:24 pm

    - Actually (unless I’m mistaken) deleted tweets are only deleted from your timeline. Once published, they are available to all of your followers, regardless of whether they’ve been deleted or not, so I’m not sure if those will/will not be a part of the Library of Congress collection.

    – Looking forward to an update on research opportunities, and VERY glad to see Twitter offering the collection.

    – Would also like to know the frequency of Twitter updates to the collection. I see the six-month lag between post and donation, but will new additions be added weekly, monthly, quarterly…?

    – Are there any restrictions on the research opportunities ?

  40. Natalie
    November 28, 2011 at 2:14 pm

    Do we know a date when the Twitter archives will be made available yet? Also, is there any news on the procedures that academic researchers will have to go through to prove that they are a “known researcher”?

  41. Axel
    December 14, 2011 at 5:12 am

    So any news on that? I’d like to use the archive for academic research too.

  42. Jenny Scott
    May 13, 2012 at 7:14 pm

    I would be very interested in an update on where the Twitter archive is at the moment and what the plans are for long term preservation and access.

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