On the eve of Twitter’s Chirp developers conference, on April 13, 2010, Twitter, Inc. gifted [PDF] the US Library of Congress the entire Twitter archive, to be housed in perpetuity and indexed for search. It will be available for researchers to query for generations to come. Sounds nifty, doesn’t it? According to the LOC FAQ:
There will be at least a six-month window between the original date of a tweet and its date of availability for research use.
Thus, according to my MySQL date query, Twitter will dump the entire tweet database to the Library of Congress on: “2010-10-10 10:10:10″ — okay, I added the 10:10 AM for dramatic effect.
Dude, Idiot, It’s Public Man, STFU, RTFM, RTFTOS.
There have been numerous arguments made regarding the fact that tweets are, as stated in the Twitter TOS, licensed royalty-free and can be used in any way that Twitter sees fit. In the same document, it also states that we still own the content that we tweet. These are, after all, our chunks of data we’re submitting about ourselves and what we’re interested in at the time. These are our synapses, be they profound or inane, embodied into 140 characters or less, shared with social networking community. So, why am I concerned? I mean, we did publish these messages for everyone to read, in plain sight, correct?
Which brings me to my main point — communications on the social network that are intended to be “social” [interacting with others] are the most valuable and useful in the context of the “real time” — the moment they are published. I believe the value of a tweet diminishes over time. The accuracy of the intent of the tweet may change over time. The likelihood that the tweet will provoke a response from others lessens over time.
Additionally, and most importantly, as time passes, the tweet serves little positive value to the publisher. In fact, it carries potential negative value. The only benefactors are those individuals or companies that wish to data mine your content. A commercial purpose could include market research and targeting. A business’s or individual’s purpose could include competitive analysis, legal research, and any other nefarious reasons for dirt digging. That archived tweet can nail you down to a personal or political view, affiliation, date/time, and even geolocation.
Benjamin Franklin Said It Best
And if he were alive today, he might prepend his famous quotation to read: Tweets, fish and visitors smell in three days. The only reason to read your tweets several pages below the fold is to study you. Through the years I have been using Twitter, I can’t think of a single time I’ve paginated down deep into someones tweet history for the sake of interacting with them. So, assuming that you’re not using tweets to publish solely marketing messages, and you’re actually responding to current events and interacting with others — what is the value to you of having your tweets archived and available to the public indefinitely?
Surely, the value, at the time of the tweet, was to interact — possibly for sharing knowledge, humor, letting off steam, being goofy, responding to current events with commentary, etc. But after that moment is passed, how does that information being stored in perpetuity (that’s forever) serve you? When we socialize in the real world, doing the same things that I described in the first sentence of this paragraph, the interactions take place but are not recorded. If these social interactions were recorded, and played back for an entirely different and larger audience at a different point in time, the content of the interaction could be taken completely out of context.
Weighing and Watching Your Words Wil Wheaton?
Depending on who you are, and what your purpose is for tweeting, determines if you should be concerned about watching your words. I have another blog article I’m working on now that addresses this issue titled, Sally the Sixth Grader to Dave F’ing McClure. It’s an exploration of the wide range of users and uses of social networking, and how those factors play into long term privacy and control. Generally, if you’re Sally the Six Grader (or her guardian), it’s incredibly important to manage the information that Sally posts online because of how easy it is going to be to recall that information decades later. However, if you’re Dave McClure or Robert Scoble, who live in the Valley, and it’s part of your job to be clever, gregarious, and mostly wide-open, then maybe you’re not so concerned about what you say now and how it will be interpreted 5 or 10 years from now. Danah Boyd refers to these folks, who blog and micro-blog their hearts out and are better off for it, as the privileged. (BTW, Ensign Crusher is up there purely for alliteration)
Set Your Tweets Free with #NoLOC.org
My conclusion: delete your tweets before they get archived. So, rather than just talk about it, I’ve actually hacked a technical solution! Head over to http://noLOC.org. It’s a registered Twitter application that will allow you to place a simple hashtag on a tweet that will trigger the automatic deletion of that tweet in 23 weeks. Why 23 weeks? Because on the 24th week, your tweet will sent over from Twitter to the Library of Congress. There’s a 6 month delay/embargo, and any tweet that is public, and has not been deleted, will be archived… forever. So, with NoLOC.org, you simply tweet like you normally do, but just embed a tiny little hashtag, and your tweet will no longer be archived by the Library of Congress. The web site has more links/information about the Twitter/LOC archive deal.
Hopefully, one day Twitter will make opting out of the Library of Congress archive a user setting. But I’m not sitting around and waiting for that day to happen. #noloc By the way, NoLOC.org responds to hashtags #noloc, #noarchive, #noindex, and the incredibly short #n. I welcome any questions or suggestions about #noloc, either here, or on Twitter @mansilladev.