Events and debate used to take place through traditional printed media, whether broadsides, newspapers, posters or pamphlets. Think of your own local studies service. Ours has a box of newspaper cuttings, copy photos, articles, etc. on the 1996 IRA bomb. Yours will have similar resources covering whatever gets ask about most often.

Think of the so-called ‘UK Riots’ in August: how have these been documented? Who told the world about what was actually going on? Was it the journalists or the people on the street?  How can citizens or academics research this documentation?

Riot, New Cross, Manchester, 1815 (m03622)

Increasingly what used to be produced and consumed via traditional print media is taking place online through social media websites. This means that if we want to continue documenting what’s going on, we need to start thinking about preserving the media through which it’s taking place.

All of this has become a bit more urgent since Twitter changed the way its API (application programme interface) and website work. For example, you can now only browse back through hashtags for a certain amount of time.

It’s great news, then, that the Library of Congress is going to archive ALL tweets. Exactly how this might work, and how access to it might be provided, has yet to be announced. In the meantime, it’s worthwhile to play around with alternative solutions.

We’ve backed up our own tweets with the third-party website Backupmytweets. But if anything happens to that company or service, these will be lost. That’s why it’s a good idea to export this archive, preserve it in an open format (like .csv), and treat it like any other digital archive. You’ll lose the ‘feel’ of the Tweets, as they were sent and read, but the important links and information will be retained. We don’t think this contravenes the Twitter API, but we’re open to correction!

Other changes Twitter have made to the Twitter API mean that exporting of keyword archives is no longer allowed by third-parties. We used Twapperkeeper to create an archive of the #occupymcr protest last week. Somebody else had the foresight to set up the same for manchester way back in April. But Twitter’s rules don’t allow us to export these archives and be sure of their continued preservation.

Home-made methods can be found. It’s possible to set up feeds from Twitter to your Google Reader, and then work with them from there. There’s an open source solution called yourTwapperkeeper too. But these require a bit of techie knowledge. So there’s a lot riding on the Library of Congress!

Any comments and advice on archiving social media would be gratefully received. We’re just at the stage of starting to think about the issue.