Did you know you are in the Library of Congress (LOC)? Well, if you have a Twitter account and use it. Since 2010, the most famous archival institution in America started saving every public tweet in a database--everything from President Trump complaining about fake news to that one snarky comment you made at Burger King.
Later this week, the LOC will stop saving all tweets and has decided, based on a press release this week, to only save important tweets at random for the public record. (As one outlet noted, there's no question President Trump will get the presidential treatment and all of his tweets will be saved. The future of @Monkey429RadMan is not so secure.)
Why the change?
As Twitter tries to evolve and stay relevant, it has become a bit like a website now that you can tweet . This "expansion" according to the press release is enough to 280 charactersmake the LOC question whether every tweet deserves to be archived forever.
Another stated reason has to do with the volume of tweets.
Twitter has stagnated at 310 million active users, but compared to 2010, there is quite a lot of noise. Every second, there are 6,000 tweets to track. Every minute, it's 350,000 tweets. That's a lot of processing power required to save the tweets when it is only for future generations to be able to look back and see what you had for lunch.
More than anything, it just doesn't seem worth it. As Twitter changes the rules, they also risk becoming less of a cultural statement and more of a has been.
If you can tweet today in 280 characters, maybe it will be much longer in a few months or by 2019, which means Twitter is really just another blogging platform. In many ways, the character limits remind me of Bitcoin in that they have no intrinsic value; figuring out what to say in only 140 characters seemed like a bit more of an exclusive undertaking. If you are essentially going to write a short blog post, how is it any different? You lose any sense that you can doing something cool and unique. It's no longer a tweet.
When I meet with people to talk about social media, the conversation sometimes turns to Twitter...and usually ends with people wondering why Twitter still exists, I'm well-known as a supporter and like the short posting paradigm. There are too many baby pictures on Facebook. LinkedIn seems too much like a workplace group chat with news links. Still, the reason people question why Twitter has any value is exactly the same reason the Library of Congress is questioning whether it makes sense to archive all of those pithy sentiments.
It's become a fire-hose of information and a steady stream of nonsense (for the most part). To find value again, the LOC will likely pick the tweets that actually made a difference in society--the famous and the not-so-famous Twitter users making statements about culture and modern times in a way that seems valuable and helpful.
You could just as easily question whether it ever made sense to archive a bunch of bad jokes, but now we know we don't need to save everything.
It does make me wonder if the LOC will eventually decide if any tweets are worth saving. It could come to that eventually. Right now, the archive is locked down and not available, but even today it is not exactly a treasure trove of worthy anecdotes and well-researched insights. It's a cascade of diatribes. Maybe it will eventually just die out.