Good things from around the planet, and Twitter makes history

Yesterday’s big story was clearly the Library of Congress’ announcement that they will be preserving “Every public tweet, ever, since Twitter’s inception in March 2006 . . . That’s a LOT of tweets, by the way: Twitter processes more than 50 million tweets every day, with the total numbering in the billions.” The reaction from the archivists on Twitter was mixed, but I think it’s a great move on LOC’s part. You may not agree with their appraisal decision, but they believe it fits within their available resources and mission and certainly the collection has tremendous research potential. Providing access will present challenges but I’m confident those challenges will be met by highly-qualified people who believe in sharing their results and process with the rest of the archival community.

In other news:

  • Someone on Twitter (@samaramc, actually) recently posted a link to an old post on Tim Sherratt’s blog about what people are doing with the data released by the National Archives of Australia. The post is worth revisiting, especially in light of the recent interest in tapping the creativity of online collaborators here in the U.S. Also note that I’ll be announcing the Best Archives on the Web awards soon and expect to have a new category to recognized efforts like this, so if you’re doing some hacking I’ll hope you’ll nominate yourself.
  • Speaking of which there is an excellent post by Harriet Deacon over on The Archival Platform blog: Involving archive users in digitising archival collections (note that link seems a little wonky–may have to try it more than once). It’s lengthy and detailed, and concludes, “What are we waiting for?” I was happy to see she referenced a post I’d written on this topic as part of my response to NARA’s call for ideas about how they could become more interactive and collaborative. If you have other sources that discuss projects that use the public to digitize archival records, please post them in the comments. I think this is a prime area for the utilization of volunteers in all kind of archives, large and small.
  • Our colleagues at Archives New Zealand are calling for participation (via a wiki) in reviewing their Digital Continuity Glossary (Feedback wanted on Digital Continuity Glossary. As they observe: “Discussion of digital continuity issues is hampered by the use of inconsistent language and terminology. Digital ‘stuff’ is variously referred to in different contexts as records, information, documents, content, data, assets, etc. At the same time, an effective collective response to digital continuity needs to draw on expertise and experience from all sectors and disciplines.” So, they’re crowdsourcing their glossary. Please take a look and add your thoughts (we all know RPM will do so!).
  • An interesting post from the Collections Australia Network (CAN) about Repatriation and collections online.
  • NARA has released their Open Government Plan, highlighting four specific areas as part of their “flagship initiative.” Among those areas is a (long-overdue) re-design of the website. You can contribute to this effort by participating in an online ” card sort”–see their blog for details. (Just noticed the last day for this is April 16, so you’ll need to hurry.) I was also delighted to see that among the other elements of the flagship initiative are developing a social media strategy (my Christmas wish is answered!) and “[approaching] digitization strategically as well as transparently with the ultimate goal of providing greater access to our holdings online.”
  • The Library of Congress has supplied another great resource for everyone to use, “Why Digital Preservation is Important for Everyone,” shown here on the L’Archivista blog. As she observes: “It’s an accessible non-technical introduction for people who aren’t familiar with the challenges of preserving digital materials, and a great resource and model for those of us who must cultivate support for digital preservation. A full transcript is available.”
  • I just saw this on Twitter a minute ago and haven’t had time to check it out, but it seems to follow some of our recent themes. It’s a post from the East London Theater Archive’s blog, sharing a presentation they just gave at JISC. Part of their description of their project:

    To meet this concern we are about to launch a new version of ELTA which will incorporate a forum where the community can collaborate to help others learn more. Our new website will allow people to log in and make comments, make notes on items, and help us enhance our metadata by providing more detail to our material (in a similar way to GalaxyZoo). They will also be able to help each other with questions and so on. Most importantly they will have the opportunity to curate collections and cluster material together, so we will be able to see how our users/ collaborators use and organise archival material.

    That certainly looks like a project worth keeping an eye on!

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14 thoughts on “Good things from around the planet, and Twitter makes history”

  1. I’m pretty nonplussed about the Twitter thing. I’m assuming they have some sort of weeding plan in place. A perfect job for some “citizen archivists” maybe? My question was are they capturing direct messages? Public messages are one thing – I’m not sure I’d be really happy to see all my direct messages searchable.

  2. I’m sure DM’s are not included as they are not public messages. Same with locked or private accounts–not included.

  3. From the announcement, it seemed like they were planning on only preserving the public tweets, suggesting that DMs were safe. Even if they just do the public ones, however, there are still a lot of questions:
    –Do they archive deleted tweets? After all, they were public at one point.
    –Do they have an opt-out solution in place? What if someone doesn’t want their tweets archived?
    –Do they have the right to make all of these publicly accessible? Twitter ToS has a weird dichotomy between the author owning the content of the tweet and the site having the right to RT/copy as appropriate. I think this move is going to make a lot of people poke at that dichotomy.

    If you look at what Twitterers are saying about the move, there’s a TON of “OMG how can they invade my privacy” and “Welp, I’m going to have to censor myself now” tweets out there. Even if they have the legal right to do this, do they have the moral right? Are we creating a Heisenberg Uncertainty thing, where observing the medium causes it to change inherently?

    Aaaaaaaagh. Brain on fire. Must make own blog post and/or write article. *trundles off to re-read Swain/Prom article on accessioning websites en masse at UIUC*

  4. There’s also costs. Digital storage is expensive. In a public setting (at least) cost benefit is an ethical consideration. These grab and go accessions (sans appraisal) waste a lot of money.

  5. Caution – crankiness ahead…

    Frankly, I don’t get the hand-wringing about invasion of privacy. Public tweets are *public* and on the web already – anyone could be “archiving” them, at anytime. (And I would assume that the Internet Archive has already been quietly crawling the service for years and locking up the discourse on Justin Bieber for posterity.) Since my account is open, I don’t tweet about stuff I wouldn’t want my parents, or my employer, or anyone else who might Google me, to know about, either now or in the future. Upon further reflection, I’m not always thrilled with what I’ve tweeted, but that’s the risk I assume when I hit send. It’s like posting to the listserv – sometimes you may regret that you wrote something, but once you’ve sent it, there’s no way to get it back. (One of the reasons the list archives were going to be discarded a few years back was because a few posters asked to have their posts removed and threatened to sue SAA. Most people agreed that was ridiculous, regardless of what they thought of the value of the listserv and its archives.)

    I also don’t get the archival consternation. Yes, there are issues to be worked out – and Brad and Terry have brought up excellent points – but it seems like we as a profession do too much of debating the nuances of every issue *instead* of taking action, rather than just taking action and working out the details later. With electronic records, the latter is essential since things emerge and evolve so quickly. Though they’re not our national archives, and probably this idea is the brainchild of IT and digital preservation people, not archivists, it seems very fitting to me that it’s the Library of Congress that is plowing ahead.

    (Yes, “fools rush in where angels fear to tread,” but I do think this is a case where we would have come to the conclusion that much of this is worth preserving and worked out a way to do so. It just would have taken us years to get there. And since the NARA is not a collecting repository, LOC is probably the closest we have to a “people’s archive” anyway.)

  6. Regarding what Brad said, “there’s a TON of “OMG how can they invade my privacy”.

    It’s foolish to only consider this once a big official sounding organization like the Library of Congress says they are going to archive all public tweets.

    Does this say anything about how the public perceives libraries and archives?

    I’ve seen a few people on my list (non archives and library types) suggest their tweets aren’t “important enough” to be included. That is unfortunate as well in terms of the notion that only the ideas of “important” people belong in archives.

  7. One thing that interests me is that so many of the Tweets I receive include links off to other web resources. Without the corresponding site (and the bitty link) preserved, how useful could these be?

  8. To throw another iron into the fire, I’m personally curious about how we actually think of this transaction, agreement, whatever it is as archival records. There’s a whole lot of LoC taking in the “archive” or “archiving” the tweets. What is or what are the records being transferred in this case? Is this considered to be a “collection” (loosely put)? What about the individual tweets? Are they *individually* records? If so, do they meet the requirements for recordness? Or, for all my concerns, is this merely a dataset?

    This whole thing is incredibly interesting but I think the announcement raises a whole lot more questions than it answers.

  9. Christine–agreed. If your Twitter account isn’t private, then what you say is public, so what’s the big deal?

    S—it could just be that it’s because LOC is part of the government (and, of course, almost unilaterally confused with the National Archives, even by people who work for LOC, apparently). If the announcement had been about Google, or a university, or the Internet Archive would there have been as much consternation?

    Mark-oh, there you go getting all archival on us! But, yes, those references bother me too. I’d call this a collection, not an archive, and the question as to whether or not these tweets should be considered records (vs. data) will depend on how the context is captured, wouldn’t it? Again, so many questions.

    To t’s point out costs, again, I give LOC credit for having considered that–although you’re right, the cost of long-term storage will be huge. I still think the collection will have great research value (assuming the right kind of data mining and access tools) and, of course, it’s also a great way of generating publicity for the LOC.

    Just a few things to add–re: questions about private tweets being included, remember that if your account is locked but someone else retweets something of yours, it becomes public, so it would be included. See this and other things discussed in:

    And, another aspect of this (which may be on the minds of some of our colleagues at the National Archives), is the kind of precedent it sets for appraisal. Or, some would say, lack thereof. In the minds of the public, if LOC can take all of Twitter, why won’t NARA [or any other archives] take all of [fill in the blank–government websites, for example?]. Archivists know the difference but the public isn’t interested in our professional nuances.

    As I said on Twitter, what I’d like to see at this point is a nicely written blog post over on AOTUS explaining the difference between LOC and NARA, reminding people that their tweets aren’t going to end up in the National Archives, and explaining what NARA does preserve. Not that such a post would do much either, but it would be a nice thing to be able to point confused people to.

    I think much of the archival-hand-wringing is about the long term impact on appraisal standards, which is an interesting topic to consider.

  10. Twitter acquisition is a fascinating move from the researcher perspective.

    I did a cross training assignment for a couple of months in LOC’s Manuscript Division while I worked at NARA. LOC’s holdings on the archival side are pretty broad ranging although the library does screen researchers pretty carefully, as it explains on its site. “Once collections are processed, they are made available within established guidelines to interested researchers in the Manuscript Division Reading Room. Most of the division’s researchers are graduate students or faculty members of colleges and universities. Journalists and other professional writers, attorneys, genealogists, and filmmakers also consult the collections. The Manuscript Division requires that all persons applying to use its collections have a serious purpose and a need to consult the rare and often unique items under its control.”

    I would think people such as Tim Burke of Easily Distracted and T. Mills Kelly of Edwired, who wrote some great posts in 2007 about the H-net discussion lists, could get a lot out of studying Twitter. (Kelly is on Twitter, as most of you know, but I don’t think Burke is.) I mentioned Burke once on A&A–I think I linked to his insightful post about “Mr. Obama’s Neighborhood” last January. He is a thoughtful, unformulaic historian with a very keen eye for how people interact online. Burke recently offered some good observations on online conversation at his blog:
    He and Kelly really think broadly and deeply, not just about tools but about community and fragmentation and what makes for successful forums. Kelly’s thoughts on the demise of the H-net lists were really interesting, he raised topics the trad historians on the History News Network largely ignored. Fascinating stuff. If scholars like that study Twitter, it should make for some good articles and books.

  11. Thanks for the new link, Kate, very interesting. I found the link to Burke’s “Mr. Obama’s Neighborhood.” — I’m posting it here because it fits with who might be interested in studying online discourse but it also relates to the interesting posts here about David Ferriero’s AOTUS blog. Mr. Ferriero will be dealing with very different people with various agendas at his blog. I look forward to seeing how he handles questions raised by genealogists, by archival experts, by historians, by open government advocates, and others. NARA has had a pretty closed culture up to now and it will be interesting to see how it reacts to the twists and turns of online conversation. I don’t have any insights into who internally, if anyone, is providing the Archivist with advice as to how to shape his online persona and what messages to convey. I know the bureaucratic tendency is to risk assess and game and vet everything but that can affect spontaneity, oviously. From everything I’ve heard, he’s very personable and an effective representative for NARA.

    Here’s the link to Burke’s piece, written right after the Inauguration in January 2009:

    The money quote for me? “If you demand a wider, more inclusive approach to institutional discourse, whether in national politics or in university life, then you have to demonstrate that you yourself are committed to inclusion. Which means, in any context, practicing that same taste for the unlike. If all you can praise is work which conforms to your own particular tastes, ideologies, and preferences, you’re not trying to inaugurate the institutional or political future which you ardently demand. It isn’t just Obama that has to go beyond the ‘stale political arguments’. Anybody who demands or values that kind of commitment in others has to try to live it out in their own practices.”

    One of the greatest challenges in governmental use of social media (and also for organizations such as SAA) is how to convey the intended message – organizations like that tend to be very on task — without losing vitality and freshness and spontaneity and the ability to listen, not just hear.

    Thanks for providing a site for listening as well as talking.

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