Tales from the Trail

The tweets of your life, now archived at the Library of Congress

April 14, 2010

PRESIDENTSDid you tweet what you had for breakfast today? If so, that bagel and coffee are now immortalized, sort of, as the Library of Congress has acquired the entire Twitter archive. Billions of 140-character musings, some 55 million tweets a day, just waiting to be read. You may wonder if anyone reads your tweets, but at least they’ll be in good company.

Even though Twitter has only been around since 2006, there are tweets that will live in history, such as Barack Obama’s message when he won the presidency in 2008: “We just made history. All of this happened because you gave your time, talent and passion. All of this happened because of you. Thanks” — a pretty big message for 140 characters, and yet gets the story told.

The library announced the move on Twitter, of course. Twitter unveiled it on its blog from Chirp, the official Twitter Developer Conference in San Francisco.

The Twitter folks said they were pleased to donate the entire archive to what started out at Thomas Jefferson’s book collection. The vast majority of tweets will be publicly available; only a small fraction are protected, Twitter said on its blog.

The Library of Congress said on its Facebook page this venerable institution has been gathering materials from the Web since 2000, when it trolled through congressional and presidential campaign Web sites. It now has more than 167 terabytes of Web-based information.

CLIMATE-BIRDS/But this all begs the question of what figures in American history would have tweeted if they could have. Would Abraham Lincoln have tapped in the whole Gettysburg Address, tweet by tweet, or would he have shortened “Four score and seven years ago” to 87?

Franklin Delano Roosevelt would have had plenty of room to spare with “We have nothing to fear but fear itself.” And what about Neil Armstrong, tweeting laconically from the lunar surface, “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”

When the news is really big, maybe 140 characters is all you need.

Photo credits: A portrait of U.S. President Thomas Jefferson, who served from 1801-1809 (From the Library of Congress)

A Pine Siskin (undated National Audubon Society image)

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