The Library Of Congress Is Archiving Your Tweets

Every public message in the history of Twitter will be included in the library's holdings. Host Liane Hansen speaks with Andy Carvin, senior strategist for NPR's Social Media Desk, about the acquisition.

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LIANE HANSEN, host:

O-M-G. The Library of Congress wants to archive my tweets and your tweets and every public tweet ever. I found out about it on Twitter this week, which will please Andy Carvin, senior strategist for NPR's social media desk, and he's here in the studio.

Andy, really, every tweet, even, you know, the what I had for breakfast ones?

ANDY CARVIN: Breakfast, lunch and dinner. They're grabbing the whole kit and caboodle.

HANSEN: I mean, first of all, the Library of Congress is the oldest federal cultural institution.

CARVIN: Right.

HANSEN: Why does it believe tweets are important enough to archive?

CARVIN: Twitter in many ways has become the pulse of what's going on online right now. Because it's a real-time conversation that anyone can chime into at any given point, it's 24-7. And so when something happens somewhere in the world you're almost guaranteed that people will be talking about it or even witnessing it as it happens, whether it's protests and revolution in Kyrgyzstan to people talking about the ham sandwich they just ate and everything in between.

HANSEN: But to quote Carl Sagan, they are billions and billions of tweets. I mean, how are they going to do this?

CARVIN: Yeah, tens and tens of millions of tweets per day. So, on the one hand it's just a matter of storing all this stuff and having enough to space to keep it all. But then the big question will be, what kind of tools will they have available for researchers to parse through all of it and find what they're looking for? And that may not be a stretch either, because there are a whole range of third-party tools out there right now that will allow a person to go online, search for tweets.

And so there are already ways that any of us on any given day can go and find information we're looking for.

HANSEN: A Librarian of Congress, James Billington, said the Twitter digital archive has extraordinary potential for research into our contemporary way of life. What do you think tweets are going to tell us about ourselves in 100 years?

CARVIN: I don't know. I think people are going to be surprised and have forgotten that President Bieber used to be a singer before he got into politics. Beyond that, Twitter captures everything and you're going to get a sampling of what life was like at its most mundane and banal and at its most tense and exciting and disturbing because it really is just a reflection of what's going on at any given moment.

And so it makes research rather onerous in some ways but at the same time, historians and archaeologists are always often looking for the mundane because you can't always tell what everyday people were doing. Twitter, not only does it operate 24-7, it has tens of millions of people participating in it. And so suddenly it democratizes the snapshotting of the world in a way that's never been done before. It's the famous, its the infamous that get captured for posterity and now we're going to have a little bit of everything.

HANSEN: Andy Carvin is senior strategist for NPR's social media desk. Andy, thanks a lot. Don't forget to tweet.

CARVIN: Certainly won't.

HANSEN: This is NPR News.

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