Library of Congress Archives Twitter History, While Google Searches It

WIRED | April 14, 2010
By Ryan Singel

While the short form musings of a generation chronicled by Twitter might seem ephemeral, the Library of Congress wants to save them for posterity — and Google wants to let you search them like an archive, the organizations announced Wednesday.

The unrelated announcements make it clear that at least some people think billions of short messages are worth archiving. In four years, the service turned simple, 140-character status updates on what people are doing into a global publishing phenomenon that tracks and creates the Zeitgeist.

Now, Twitter messages — from the musings of celebrities to citizens’ cataloging of their daily breakfasts to the pronouncements of politicians — will be archived permanently by the Library of Congress. The Twitter archive of all public tweets, starting from its inception in March 2006, will join such august collections such as letters from the Civil War and famous photographs from Great Depression-era works project.

The Library of Congress’s blogger Matt Raymond says there’s research gold to be found in the archive:

“I’m no Ph.D. but it boggles my mind to think what we might be able to learn about ourselves and the world around us from this wealth of data. And I’m certain we’ll learn things that none of us now can even possibly conceive.”

The interest in the Library’s announcement has been overwhelming on its servers, according to Raymond. He told by phone that this is the first time that the public’s response to an LOC press release has taken the site down since it released the infamous Starr report on President Clinton’s extra-marital dalliances.

For its part, Google thinks you shouldn’t have to wait to start doing sociological and anthropological research into the Twitter archive — so it’s turning on a feature that lets you choose a point in time and start to “replay” the short-form messages from that point on. Google’s search combines Twitter updates with those from MySpace, Facebook and its own fledgling micro-publishing service Buzz.

The search service (which you can try out here will roll out to English-based sites) in the coming days and is limited to tweets going back to February 11, 2010 in the initial release. But the company promises that “soon you’ll be able to go back as far as the very first tweet on March 21, 2006.”

The point?

“Tweets and other short-form updates create a history of commentary that can provide valuable insights into what’s happened and how people have reacted,” wrote Dylan Casey, Google’s product manager for real-time search. “Want to know how the news broke about health care legislation in Congress, what people were saying about Justice Paul Stevens’ retirement or what people were tweeting during your own marathon run? These are the kinds of things you can explore with the new updates mode.”

So be careful out there with your Tweets and Buzzes and status updates. Your great-great-great grandchildren will have to do “book” reports on them someday.