comscore Library of Congress scaling back collection of Twitter updates

Library of Congress scaling back collection of Twitter updates

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Hurry, you have just a few more days to ensure a spot for your tweets in the collections of the Library of Congress.

After archiving every single public message posted on Twitter since the social media platform was introduced in March 2006, the institution will soon scale back its approach to collecting them.

Starting on Jan. 1, 2018, the library will apply the same selective discretion to tweets that it uses for other documents, collecting and archiving material around themes or events of consequence.

The move, announced in a Tuesday blog post, brings to an end an ambitious effort, which began in 2010 when Twitter donated its full archive of public tweets to the library.

“The Twitter Archive may prove to be one of this generation’s most significant legacies,” the library said in a document detailing the decision. “Future generations will learn much about this rich period in our history, the information flows, and social and political forces that help define the current generation.”

Twitter has come a long way since one of its founders, Jack Dorsey, posted the first tweet on March 21, 2006. Today, many organizations, celebrities and politicians, including President Donald Trump, view it as a crucial tool for reaching their audiences.

The service has also shrunk the distance between the anonymous and the famous, the frivolous and the serious.

The most-liked tweet of 2017 was a quotation about unity posted by former President Barack Obama in the wake of the white supremacist violence this summer in Charlottesville, Virginia. And the most retweeted message was a plea from a teenager on a quest for a year’s worth of free chicken nuggets. Make of that what you will.

The library’s decision, the result of a continuing evaluation of its practices, was driven by a number of factors, from the difficulty of maintaining the collection to the waning need for a comprehensive archive, the library said.

Now that it has 12 years of tweets in the collection, the library suggested that it had largely fulfilled its original goal of documenting the rise and evolution of Twitter.

“With social media now established, the Library is bringing its collecting practice more in line with its collection policies,” it said in the document.

The move was also driven by practical concerns, including both the difficulty in archiving the huge amount of data on Twitter and the fact that the library has only ever collected the text of tweets even as they have become increasingly visual.

Twitter has also grown exponentially in the years since the library started its collection. That year, 2010, about half a billion tweets were posted every two weeks. Last month, that many were sent each day. The messages are now longer as well: The company recently doubled its limit for tweets to 280 from 140 characters.

Such complications have plagued public access to the archive, too, which is limited while the library works to find a cost-effective and sustainable way to open the archive to the public.

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