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Apr 20, 2010

History is Written by the Tweeters

By Morgon Mae Schultz

The U.S. Library of Congress’ Wednesday announcement that it would archive every public tweet came, coincidentally, on the same day the institution gained its 50,000th follower on Twitter. In a big, recursive social-media tangle, that number had grown to nearly 55,000 a day later and the library’s Web site had suffered downtime—perhaps due to crippling traffic—and directed visitors to its Facebook page to read and comment.

The LOC, whose mission is to “make its resources available and useful to the Congress and the American people and to sustain and preserve a universal collection of knowledge and creativity for future generations,” is the world’s largest library and the United States’ oldest cultural institution—nothing if not venerable. It plans to digitally store every public update posted since Twitter’s 2006 inception. Twitter says it now processes 55 million tweets daily.

The tweets come as a donation from Twitter, which is placing a six-month delay on library use of each update.

Comments on the announcement ranged from the sarcastic—“This is making a meaningless library indexing (of) ephemeral nothings” stated a commenter on the library’s blog, who apparently thinks Web 2.0 is good enough for kvetching but not for keeping—to the scholarly: “Kind of the equivalent of if they had kept every Revolutionary War diary, regardless of the fact that at least 40 percent of it all was ‘My feet hurt,’ ” wrote Donald Thompson of LOC's Facebook announcement.

On the same thread, Randy Rice concurred: “When writing about Elizabethan London and how people lived, it would have been nice to have more letters, diaries and journals. Instead, all that ‘nonsense’ was destroyed, making it that much more difficult to understand what life was like at that time, including what they ate and what they wore.”

I tend to agree with Thompson and Rice. One of my favorite parts of old broadcast material is the random-person-on-the-street interview, where I get to hear how normal folks really spoke in, say, the ’40s. And what would a Ken Burns documentary be without the letters that ordinary families have protected over the decades?

I’m wondering if you tweet and, if so, whether knowing that your updates will be enshrined in these halls will change the tone of your updates.

IBM Systems Magazine offers tweets for every platform: AIX, IBM i and mainframe. The U.S. Library of Congress tweets here.


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