Archiving Social Media Conversations of Significant Events

This is a rough proposal for another session at 2009 THATCamp that grew out of conversations with a number of people in my network about the role of social media in the recent events in Iran.

I propose that we have a session where THATCampers discuss the issues related to preserving (and/or analyzing) the blogs, tweets, images, Facebook postings, SMS(?) of the events in Iran with an eye toward a process for how future such events might be archived and analyzed as well. How will future historians/political scientists/geographers/humanists write the history of these events without some kind of system of preservation of these digital materials? What should be kept? How realistic is it to collect and preserve such items from so many different sources? Who should preserve these digital artifacts (Twitter/Google/Flickr/Facebook; LOC; Internet Archive; professional disciplinary organizations like the AHA)?

On the analysis side, how might we depict the events (or at least the social media response to them) through a variety of timelines/charts/graphs/word-clouds/maps? What value might we get from following/charting the spread of particular pieces of information? Of false information? How might we determine reliable/unreliable sources in the massive scope of contributions?

[I know there are many potential issues here, including language differences, privacy of individual communications, protection of individual identities, various technical limitations, and many others.]

Maybe I’m overestimating (or underthinking) here, but I’d hope that a particularly productive session might even come up with the foundations of: a plan, a grant proposal, a set of archival standards, a wish-list of tools, even an appeal to larger companies/organizations/governmental bodies to preserve the materials for this particular set of events and a process for archiving future ones.

What do people think? Is this idea worth pursuing?

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  1. think archiving is a crux of so many of these issues, and this sounds like a fascinating discussion to me. For the very idea of archiving everything around the Iranian Election online would be an excellent example given the very specific and relatively controlled space of time in which it occurs. What is interesting to me is what services portray the domianant history and which the minority? If that makes any sense at all. But can distinctions themselves be traced on particular social networking communities? Would the “history” of that event be different if analyzed through Facebook rather than Twitter, for example. I wonder if that is even a useful distinction, but it fascinates me, cause I onl follow it through Twitter, not Facebook at all, so is my information markedly different?

  2. This seems fascinating! I was wondering about that myself – I’m a medievalist but I’m keenly interested in new media and the way new media has impacted our recent history and given a voice to those who might have not had their voices heard in the past. I’d love to be a fly in the wall in this session. Let us know how it goes…

  3. Is this an actual project that’s going on right now? I’d love to learn more about it! In a similar vein, I led a one-man mad dash to archive as many pages that hosted DOS programs on Geocities as I could before it shut down. I think it would behoove historians, archivists, and librarians to pay heed to how we discarded some of the earliest films because no one thought that they would have any value. Now film historians rue that even the most famous actors of the silver screen, like Buster Keaton, have left behind an incomplete oeuvre.

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