The announcement was made on Wednesday, April 14, that Google will now provide a way for searchers to access Twitter postings made in the past. All tweets have been archived since the first use of the program in 2006, and Google’s announcement is related to the Library of Congress’ news release about the donation of the archive of public tweets from Twitter to the Library of Congress. The archive is considered to have “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. 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.” (James H. Billington, Librarian of Congress, April 15, 2010) The Library will not post the archive online, but specific presentations around topics or themes will be put together.
As far as the relationship with Google, when you search for a topic, you can choose to see Twitter activity on that event by choosing “Show Options” and then “Updates” in the left pane. You can select a timeframe from the chart displayed showing the relative volume of activity on Twitter that the topic has generated. You could, for example, decide to investigate what people might tweet when they see the Statue of Liberty for the first time. Using Google, you search for Statue of Liberty and then a certain time period, and the tweets will be presented. It might be very interesting to see how tweets differ for this landmark throughout different times of the year — on July 4th, on Memorial Day, on the anniversary of tragedies such as 9/11, etc. Students using this resource as a research source will need to learn how to present info from such a source, as well as how to take care in presenting conclusions about society based upon it. The closer a student of history and culture can get to the original people involved in an event, the more likelihood of getting first-hand accounts and impressions that are closer to the underlying truths and facts. But researchers still need to keep the cultural bias of their subjects in mind, as well as their own cultural background when analyzing such personal data that was often generated with an agenda in mind.
Meanwhile, it’s a fascinating look at not just observations of newsworthy events, but also an extraordinary collection of personal data and opinions and local-oriented events and information. Missed your daughter’s soccer final game last night? Soon you’ll be able to search for the event and review all the tweets that were made about the event before, during, and after it. Someone may even have included a link to a video they took that shows your daughter’s goal that she was devastated you had missed seeing the first time around. Talk about a save!
For some, the opening up of all of this information is not welcome. Most of us have probably thought in the past that if we tweeted something really stupid or make some dumb comment, it was gone and no one would remember it the next day. But now, someone will be able to find all your embarrassing moments. Privacy issues? Oh yeah. Entertainment possibilities for your friends? Oh, yeah. Glad that it only goes back a few years — incredibly so!