By ERIN ALLEN
The media was all atwitter with the Library’s April 14 announcement that it would be acquiring Twitter’s digital archive of public tweets. (See story on page 84.) National and international print and broadcast media, along with a variety of blogs and websites, ran the story.
“Academics seem pleased as well. For hundreds of years, they say, the historical record has attended to be somewhat elitist because of its selectivity,” wrote New York Times reporter Steve Lohr. “In books, magazines and newspapers, they say, it is the prominent and the infamous who are written about most frequently.”
“Not a few (tweets) are pure drivel,” added his colleague Randall Stross in a follow-up article in The New York Times. “But taken together, they are likely to be of considerable value to future historians. They contain more observations, recorded at the same times by more people, than ever preserved in any medium before.”
“Twitter in many ways has become the pulse of what’s going on online right now,” said Andy Carvin, senior strategist for National Public Radio’s (NPR) social media desk. “And so when something happens somewhere in the world you’re almost guaranteed that people will be talking about it or even witnessing it as it happens, whether it’s protests and revolution in Kyrgyzstan to people talking about the ham sandwich they just ate and everything in between.”
CNN reporter Doug Gross made sure to point out that only tweets from public Twitter feeds would be included in the archive—not those that have been set as private or deleted—amidst concern about personal privacy.
Slate reporter Christopher Beam’s article espoused the usefulness of the Twitter archive and how it would be used by historians. He interviewed several scholars who gave their opinions:
“I actually think it’s very useful,” said Paul Freedman, a professor at Yale University who studies the history of food. “Historians are interested in ordinary life, and Twitter is an incredible resource for ordinary life.”
“It’s kind of like saying, ‘Are newspapers useful for historians?’” said Elaine Tyler May, a history professor at the University of Wisconsin and president of the Organization of American Historians. “We know that they are, but you have to know what you’re looking for.”
“Save it all,” said history Professor Dan Cohen, who heads up the Center for History and New Media at George Mason University. The center created a 9/11 archive of tens of thousands of personal stories from that day. Researchers have used the collection to study topics ranging from teen slang to cell-phone use during the attack. “That’s the power of a large-scale open archive,” Cohen said.
Mary Elizabeth Williams of Salon.com said, “Every time we participate in social media, we don’t just share our thoughts and ideas, we surrender them. To a business. It’s not such a bad idea to consider that every time we hit send. That’s the price of the ticket. We give it away—the idiotic, the badly spelled, the intimate. And for our minor efforts, we get enshrined in the world’s largest archive. But while our tweets are a trail of where we’ve been, more significantly, they’re a dynamic window into where we are right now. Every day, people on Twitter are sharing their griefs, their victories, the stuff their dad says—those unique little moments that somehow connect us. And that’s bigger than even the biggest library in the world.”
Other national outlets running stories about the acquisition were ABC News, Hardball with Chris Matthews (MSNBC), Agence France-Presse, PC Magazine, the Los Angeles Times, USA Today and BusinessWeek.
Internationally, the news was reported in Australia, Canada, New Zealand and England. Stateside, articles ran in media outlets in Vermont, New Jersey, Washington, Maryland, Virginia, Minnesota, Tennessee, California and Illinois.
The announcement was also picked up by several college publications, including those published by the University of Wisconsin, Quinnipiac University in Connecticut, the University of Missouri, Baruch College in New York, Georgia State University and Tufts University.
Erin Allen is acting editor of “The Gazette,” the Library’s staff newsletter.