Library of Congress to Archive All Tweets

Posted April 14, 2010 at 1:20pm

Updated: April 15, 2:34 p.m.

You don’t have to write a Joycean masterpiece to be included in the Library of Congress these days. Apparently all it takes now is 140 characters.

The Library announced that Twitter has donated its archive of every public tweet ever sent on the popular social networking site. Billions of these 140-or-fewer-character blips have been sent since Twitter’s debut in 2006, according to a release from the Library. Twitter processes more than 50 million per day.

The announcement appropriately came in the form of a tweet from librarycongress: “Library to acquire ENTIRE Twitter archive — ALL public tweets, ever, since March 2006! Details to follow.”

Biz Stone, co-founder and creative director of Twitter, followed up with a statement Thursday on Twitter’s official blog.

“The open exchange of information can have a positive global impact,” Stone wrote. “This is something we firmly believe and it has driven many of our decisions regarding openness.”

He added that the arrangement comes with a few stipulations: The tweets can only be used after a six-month delay and only for noncommercial research, public display by the Library and preservation.

Librarian of Congress James Billington said in a statement Thursday that the “digital archive has extraordinary potential for research into our contemporary way of life.”

“This information provides detailed evidence about how technology based social networks form and evolve over time,” he said. “The collection also documents a remarkable range of social trends. Anyone who wants to understand how an ever-broadening public is using social media to engage in an ongoing debate regarding social and cultural issues will have need of this material.”

The statement included a quote from Margot Gerritsen, a professor with Stanford University’s Department of Energy Resources Engineering and head of the Center of Excellence for Computational Approaches to Digital Stewardship, a partnership with the LOC: “I think Twitter will be one of the most informative resources available on modern day culture, including economic, social and political trends, as well as consumer behavior and social trends.”

Matt Raymond, the Library’s director of communications, cited a few examples of historic tweets, such as the first ever tweet from Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey, then-Sen. Barack Obama’s tweet about winning the 2008 presidential election and a set of tweets from James Buck, a photojournalist who was arrested in Egypt but freed after Twitter drew attention to his plight.

The archive will of course include countless tweets from Members of Congress who have taken to the site.

The Library has been collecting Web material since 2000, Raymond said, and now holds more than 167 terabytes of digital information, including legal blogs and Web sites of candidates for national office and Members of Congress.

So for everyone who thinks the Library of Congress is “just books,” Raymond added, “if you want a place where important historical information in digital form should be preserved for the long haul, we’re it!”