[also at the NYR Blog]
“What food for speculation each person affords, as he writes his hurried epistle, dictated either by fear, or greed, or more powerful love!”
—Andrew Wynter (1854)
For a brief time in the 1850s the telegraph companies of England and the United States thought that they could (and should) preserve every message that passed through their wires. Millions of telegrams—in fireproof safes. Imagine the possibilities for history!
“Fancy some future Macaulay rummaging among such a store, and painting therefrom the salient features of the social and commercial life of England in the nineteenth century,” wrote Andrew Wynter in 1854. (Wynter was what we would now call a popular-science writer; in his day job he practiced medicine, specializing in “lunatics.”) “What might not be gathered some day in the twenty-first century from a record of the correspondence of an entire people?”
Remind you of anything?
The Library of Congress is now stockpiling the entire Twitterverse, or Tweetosphere, or whatever we’ll end up calling it—anyway, the corpus of all public tweets. There are a lot. The library embarked on this project in April 2010, when Jack Dorsey’s microblogging service was four years old, and four years of tweeting had produced 21 billion messages. Since then Twitter has grown, as these things do, and 21 billion tweets represents not much more than a month’s worth.
As of last month the library had received 170 billion—each one a 140-character capsule garbed in metadata with the who-when-where.
The library has attached itself to the firehose. A stream of information flows from 500 million registered twitterers (counting duplicates, dead people, parodies,
Continue reading “The Twitterverse Goes to the Library” »