James Gleick at the NYRblog on the Library of Congress’ plan to archive tweets. All of them:
Here in the twenty-first century, the Library of Congress is now stockpiling the entire Twitterverse, or Tweetosphere, or whatever we’ll end up calling it—anyway, the corpus of all public tweets. There are a lot. The library embarked on this project in April 2010, when Jack Dorsey’s microblogging service was four years old, and four years of tweeting had produced 21 billion messages. Since then Twitter has grown, as these things do, and 21 billion tweets represents not much more than a month’s worth. As of December, the library had received 170 billion—each one a 140-character capsule garbed in metadata with the who-when-where.
Of course, the chance of even your very best tweet being seen again by human eyes is approximately zero.
The rest of the article is a little techno-cranky, but he has a point. Is it worth it? I’m of two minds about this. On one hand, if we can save every tweet we probably should. The technical challenges to actually doing something useful with all that data are going to be solved as big data computing matures. The maddening thing is that the government shouldn’t have to do the heavy lifting, Twitter itself should.
On the other hand, I now have the option to download all of my own tweets and I don’t see the point. I guess you could say that the sum total of the words I’ve typed on Twitter for the past five years is just as valuable as any essay or blog post that I carefully back up and move each time I get a new computer. But I also have more than 10 years of email archived in my Gmail account, and I can count on one hand how many times I’ve looked up something more than a few weeks old.
I’m sure there’s value in a massive tweet archive to an anthropologist, or a prosecutor, or a journalist trying to track down a fake girlfriend hoax. But for an individual, tweets feel more like our real-world conversations; valuable only within the context of a certain audience and place. If it’s important enough, you can just say it again.