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Friday, May 7, 2010

The Ultimate Retweet

The Library of Congress dived into the electronic diaries of millions of Americans this month when it acquired Twitter’s entire archive of public tweets. Storing tweets ranging from the horribly mundane to the historically significant, the archive serves as a window into the common person’s reactions to cultural and political movements.

The Twitter archive is a 21st century version of the Gallup Poll. For more than 75 years, historians, sociologists, and other researchers have used Gallup Poll results to analyze public opinion about presidents, religion, foreign policy, and more. These statistics have been instrumental in understanding the 1960s counterculture and public reaction to the Monica Lewinsky scandal.

The Twitter archive will broaden the scope of the Gallup Poll, increasing the opportunities for future historians to analyze American culture. Just think about the mountains of research that could be done about our obsession with celebrities (Michael Jackson and Farrah Fawcett’s deaths) or our fast food eating habits.

While weeding through the more-than 50 million tweets posted each day poses a Herculean task for any researcher, the trending topics will be extremely important to future researchers trying to figure out what the Justin Bieber phenomenon was all about.