When history is compiled 140 characters at a time


Twitter’s donation of its archives to the Library of Congress offers vast potential—as well as challenges—for historians, reports the New York Times. Twitter users now broadcast about 55 million Tweets a day. In just four years, about 10 billion of these brief messages have accumulated. Not a few are pure drivel—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. That’s why Twitter last month announced that it would donate its archive of public messages to the Library of Congress and supply it with continuous updates. Several historians said the bequest had tremendous potential. For one thing, the Twitter archive will be easily searchable by machine—unlike family letters and diaries gathering dust in attics. Also, 10 billion Twitter messages take up relatively little storage space: about five terabytes of data. But there are some privacy issues that need to be resolved. Even though public Tweets were always intended for everyone’s eyes, the Library of Congress is skittish about stepping anywhere in the vicinity of a controversy. The library will embargo messages for six months after their original transmission. If that isn’t enough to put privacy issues to rest, “we may have to filter certain things or wait longer to make them available,” said the library’s Martha Anderson…

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