So if you don’t already know, the Library of Congress has been archiving Tweets off of Twitter into a database. Last week there was an article on CNN about how the Library wants to make these available to researchers, and somehow make them easily accessible and searchable. (If you wanted to read that article check it out here.) From what I’ve been reading off of other people, there’s been some questioning about how useful this can be, so after pondering it for a few days, I wanted to share my thoughts with you.
I cannot hide that I think this is extremely cool. Like, so cool. And maybe it’s because I’m looking at it from a researcher’s perspective, but just think of all the possibilities! Any subject that becomes a hot topic in the social media world, you can now study through Twitter, through a searchable database. Okay yes, you could study it in real time. But let’s face it, if you wanted to do a project on say, how people used Twitter during the Olympic Opening Ceremonies – can you keep up with that amount of Tweets real time? I couldn’t. And do you know how hard it is to scroll down to the start of a topic? (Try scrolling down to the beginning of your own tweets – I give up every time.) While you can search for keywords or hashtags on Twitter, everything is very time sensitive. Twitter isn’t meant to be searchable like that, it’s meant to be a instant, real time social media. A database is a much more practical way of accessing the information.
I keep coming back to the example of the 18th or 19th century authors (yes, I’m an English major…). Researchers love to look at famous authors correspondence with other authors, or even family members, especially when they talk about their work. Take anyone – Jane Austen, for example – and researchers eat up all her letters to her sister Cassandra. Researchers love connecting real life events to when authors were working on their books.
Now think of today. No one writes letters. Maybe they write emails, but hacking into their accounts probably isn’t recommended. But maybe, just maybe, authors are interacting in the public spaces of our social media sites – a place that researchers can easily access.
So take a movie or a show that’s happening today – and sticking with our Jane Austen theme, let’s make an example of The Lizzie Bennet Diaries. This webseries is a modern version of Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, as told through Elizabeth Bennet’s vlog – and if you don’t watch it, you must, so check out the first video. So we have the Youtube culture, and Youtube comments to study.
But check out what is happening on Twitter!
First of all, we have a hashtag, #theLBD, through which you can view real time comments about the diaries.
We have the generic Twitter account that tweets for the diaries in general.
We have the actress who plays Lizzie Bennet, Ashley Clements, with her account.
And finally, we have the character of Lizzie Bennet, who has her own account.
It’s amazes me that all the actors AND characters have accounts, and they interact with each other, and they interact with their fans. That’s so cool! But the researcher in me is just dying to pick it apart and analyze it. This adaption is something that is very cool and is happening right in front of us. So if a researcher wanted to be able to analyze all of the tweets that occur discussing #theLBD, then I say go for it!
The Lizzie Bennet Diaries is just one example of a ton of information that occurs daily on Twitter, on Youtube, on Tumblr and Pinterest and Facebook and blogs and everything else you can think of. There is so much information out there to research and analyze and think about! So a searchable database that would make tweets a little easier to research? Yes please.