Twitter lasts forever in Library of Congress

  • Article by: MIKE CASSIDY , San Jose Mercury News
  • Updated: January 25, 2013 - 2:58 PM

The national repository of all things has already collected 170 billion tweets, and the number is growing exponentially. Who will read all of those tweets?

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So the Library of Congress is busy amassing all the tweets known to man and woman — OK, all the public tweets known to man and woman — and putting them in an archive.

Where to begin with this situation? In fact, the Library of Congress hardly knows where to begin. Why encourage them — the tweeters, that is? As great as Twitter is, the inanity factor is soaring. Letting tweeters know that their words of wisdom will last forever can’t always be a good thing. Right?

And can you imagine the chore the library has set up for itself? The national repository of all things has already collected 170 billion tweets, and the number is growing exponentially. The library is now gathering half a billion tweets a day compared to a daily total of 140 million of the 140 character missives in 2006 (when the archiving began).

These digital collections can get hefty. As CNN pointed out recently, the entire printed book collection of the Library of Congress has been estimated to be about 10 terabytes in size (there are 1,024 gigabytes in one terabyte). The library’s project to archive websites dealing with government activity and policy? About 300 terabytes.

What would Thomas Jefferson say? “TJPrez: gatherin’ total twittersphere and just now reading JimGaffigan. LMAO twitterproject LOC.”

You know how fast tweets pile up. How many times have you left your Twitter account idle for 45 seconds only to see “167 new tweets” at the top of your stream?

The other question: Who is going to read all these tweets? Not to offend anyone in the Twittersphere, but who even reads all the tweets in their own stream. Would that even be possible? Now think about wading through 500 million a day.

On the other hand, Twitter is where history is being written — somewhere amid sports trash talk, celebrity hookups and odd roadside sign sightings. Somebody needs to keep track of the digital canon, so historians in 2100 have something to read.

Gayle Osterberg, the library’s director of communication, explained it thusly in a post on the institution’s official blog:

“Twitter is a new kind of collection for the Library of Congress but an important one to its mission. As society turns to social media as a primary method of communication and creative expression, social media is supplementing, and in some cases supplanting, letters, journals, serial publications and other sources routinely collected by research libraries.”

Which might leave you with one last question about this massive tweet-gathering exercise:

Will your tweets be included?

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