JISC PoWR

Preservation of Web Resources: a JISC-funded project [Archived Blog]

Preservation Of Your Tweets

Posted by Brian Kelly on July 11th, 2008

How should you go about preserving your Twitter posts, which are sometimes referred to as tweets. You may feel this is a strange question, or perhaps even an incomprehensible one.  For those who may not be familiar with Twitter, this is a microblogging application which can be used to create a brief (up to 140 characters) blog post. Although initially used by individuals to summarise how they are feeling or what they are thinking the ways in which the service is being used has evolved: in some cases it is used as a general chat facility, and so has some parallels with an instant messaging environment (with the added advantage that tweets can be delivered free-of-charge to mobile phones). Of particular relevance to this blog, is the way in which institutions are beginning to explore Twitter’s potential from an institutional context.

On a recent post on the UK Web Focus blog I described how the Open University has set up an institutional Twitter account. And a number of responses to the posts described similar institutional Twitter accounts for Edge Hill University (illustrated), Birmingham City University, Coventry University and Aston University. We can also expect departments to follow the example of the School of Law at the University of Sheffield  which is using Twitter to syndicates its Law School News blog.

Edge Hill University Twitter Account

Many fans of Twitter may feel that issues of preservation shouldn’t intrude in what is normally used as a individual productivity and social tool. However if is often the case that new technologies which may have initially been provided for individual use and for social purposes, quickly seem to be used by early adopters in teaching and learning and research contexts. And soon afterwards institutions which are willing to explore the potential of such emerging technologies to support the needs of the institution will set up Twitter accounts, areas on YouTube, iTunes, etc. as, for example, the Open University has done.

Hence the need, I would argue, for institutions to ensure that they have considered the preservation and management implications of their tweets, even if the institutions feels that it would be inappropriate to have heavyweight policies on personal use of micro-blogging technologies. But perhaps before we establish the institutional policies we need to think about the different ways in which such micro-blogging applications may be used and also what the potential risks may be. 

Any thoughts? 

10 Responses to “Preservation Of Your Tweets”

  1. Andy Powell Says:

    Perhaps we should follow every member of staff round with a microphone and/or camcorder, capture it all digitally and preserve it – just in case!? :-)

    The fundamental question is, “why?”, which I don’t think you either really ask or answer above??

    Pandering to institutional vanity is one possible reason – just as institutions are now wanting to recall how their Web sites looked way back when it all started.

    Preserving the scholarly record is another – if it can be demonstrated that tweets are beginning to form a part of the scholarly record that isn’t captured in other forms.

    Meeting a legal requirement as part of QCA – where Twitter is being used to deliver learning (none of the examples above do this as far as I can tell, but presumably it is beginning to happen somewhere) then there *might* be a legal requirement to record what has been sent to whom, possibly as part of assessment?

    Without know why it’s a bit hard to judge whether it is worth doing at all, or whether the potential costs and so on justify it.

    Andy.

  2. David Harrison Says:

    I’m with Andy, and would seriously question whether twitter was ever the proper environment for organised group learning. If that was what you wanted to do then using a Jabba server with a chatroom facility such as Soapbox would allow a log of contributions to be recorded. I’m using Pidgin for IM linked into Soapbox/Jabba and it could easily be used in this manner.

    Having said that I’d hope that twitter never went down the “scholarly record” route. If you or someone else has tweeted something of any significance, your next step should be to blog about it.

    twitter is dynamic, the context is constantly changing, the language is informal – don’t go there!

  3. Rachel Bruce Says:

    I guess I can really see how Twitter could act as a great source of information on society and trends etc. But then so could everything (more or less). I don’t know what conditions I signed up to when creating a Twitter account (I know I should know)so I’m not sure how far the information can be kept, re-used, preserved as a whole.

    But I think your point that if a university has a twitter feed it should consider whether it wants to keep it/preserve it, is fair enough. Records of corporate activity (often minutes etc but also publicity) are something universities consider within their archiving policies and tweets could be considered part of that corporate record. The university can ask the “why” and if there is no good reason then decide not to. I then imagine that decision needs reviewed as some information/communication mediums may take over the role of others. For example you might keep a selection of paper news letters in the archives but perhaps Twitter or similar takes over the news letter role and then perhaps you need to update your policies. (Stating the obvious here :-)

    Future use is hard to predict and often we get it wrong, e.g. we keep a lot of data that does not get re-used…but maybe it will be re-used in the future.

  4. Brian Kelly Says:

    Hi Andy, David, Rachel. Thanks for the responses. I would agree with Andy that there is a need to understand why we may wish to preserve tweets. My response to that is that we are now (in the UK HE/FE sector) starting to see institutional use of Twitter being made. So it is no longer being used solely as a ‘dynamic’ and ‘informal’ channel, to use David’s words. (I also suspect that the US is ahead of us in use of Twitter in diverse ways – indeed after receiving Twitter follower spam from various US presidential election candiates I did wonder whether such electioneering messages would be covered by legisliation governing elections).

    UKOLN, for example, will be using twitter for the forthcoming IWMW 20098 event. In this case it is being used as a mechanism for the event organisers to be able to quickly send messages to the event participants – and if their tweets are delivered to their mobile phone, they will be able to receive alerts when they are away from a PC. As an official channel we will need to treat our (institutional) use of twitter in the same way as official emails sent out to delegates. I am conscious, for example, of the possible confusions (and perhaps, in more formal contexts, the legal ramifications) which could be cuased by inappropriate messages being sent out. And as around this time last year there were many problems caused by the floods in the southwest of England, I know that if there were serious problems associated with the event we would need a proper audit trail for tweets.

  5. Frankie Roberto Says:

    The fact that every tweet has a permalink (and can be indexed by Google, and the Wayback Machine, etc etc) is enough of an archive for me…

  6. Rachel Bruce Says:

    @Frankie Roberto for me I personally agree with you! But for institutions it might be different.

  7. Brian Kelly Says:

    Hi Frankie, Rachel’s right. An individual will need to decide for themselves what to do (if anything) with old tweets – although an instituion (especially in the educational sector) may have a respoonsibility to wanr them of possible dangers, as will many other social network services. However the JISc PoWR project’s remit is to advise on the institutional implications for preservation of Web (1.0 and 2.0) services and resources.

  8. Ed Pinsent Says:

    Agree with Rachel and others in this thread who seem to be saying that a ‘selection and appraisal’ step may have been overlooked in this line of thought. I can’t assume that, simply because something is transacted over a web browser, this immediately confers upon it the status of a digital resource that information professionals should be interested in capturing or preserving.

    I tend to agree that it’s rather hard to see what the value of a Twitter resource is, nor can I tell from this post at what point a Twitter turns into a record that requires preservation. Telling me that use of Twitter is advancing and becoming more institutionalised is worth knowing, but it does not convince me completely. Show me how its outputs relate to real-world institutional policies, and how they form a part of the corporate record. Show me what is at stake, and what are the risks of corporate memory loss if we decide to do nothing about Twitters.

    I’m prepared to believe that if Twitter grows and becomes more widespread as an institutional tool, then its outputs and resources may conceivably reach a tip-over point when their value can longer be ignored. Or worse, we are forced to take action because of a disaster arising from a record-keeping gap.

    I’m sure we all want to see the day when all desktop applications are so smoothly integrated with record-capturing mechanisms that a conscientious creator of information can select and add virtually any digital output into a comprehensive electronic filing system. It would be an optimistic man, however, who demands an instant solution. Institutional policies, records management practices and indeed software solutions to the problems raised by digital resources do not happen quickly; just ask anyone in the profession about the problems they’re facing with e-mail management.

  9. Richard M. Davis Says:

    I was reminded of this post the other day when I was playing with WordPress and the Prologue theme which makes WordPress look and behave in a very Twitter-ish way.

    There is also the Feedwordpress plugin, which will import posts from external RSS feeds. This could be directed at one or more Twitter feeds, and tag-gregated feeds at Twemes etc, to form the beginnings of a selective institutional or personal Twitter Archive, built in WordPress.

    Of course you could just keep the RSS, but this way you keep a lot of the functionality, accessibility and experience as well (with a few tweaks it could look almost exactly like Twitter).

    At a time when even No 10 tweets, maybe the idea that selective Tweet archives might be valuable is not such a crazy idea.

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