Archiving Social Media Conversations of Significant Events

I’ve already proposed one session, but recent events in Iran and the various discussions of the role of social media tools in those events prompted this post.

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 a session this weekend?

UPDATE:   Ok, if I’d read the most recent THATCamp proposals, I’d have seen that Nicholas already proposed a similar session and I could have just added my comment to his…..  So, we have two people interested in the topic.  Who else?

10 Responses to “Archiving Social Media Conversations of Significant Events”

  1. nm45 Says:

    I posted a similar question earlier:) The questions raised are important and I think we’d be naive to hold an event like this without discussing Iran (and China, Burma. Abu Dhabi and other locations where political tensions are played out in the interface between the event and its virtual representation). It’s not simply a question of archiving: what is kept and how are political questions and there would then be a question of the politics of the archive that underscores the rhetoric of “digital revolution.” I hope this session can be convened

  2. Jeffrey McClurken Says:

    My apologies Nicholas. Should have checked my feed reader before posting. :-)

    You’re absolutely right that the choices made for any such archiving process are themselves inherently political. All the more reason that scholars should be thinking through the process carefully.

    Thanks for getting the ball rolling on this topic.

  3. nm45 Says:

    No worries! it’s a vital issue

  4. David Parry Says:

    Count me in for this session. And I agree with Nicholas here that we should think beyond Iran (even as it serves as a particularly apt and pressing example), for it is difficult to analyze history as it happens, and any discussion of this should also include China, Burma etc.

  5. ghbrett Says:

    Two thoughts on this topic:
    1) Brewster Kahle has been active in this area with archiving early web pages in the “Way Back Machine” at the Internet Archives. He also has spoken in past about establishing mirror sites for the Internet Archives to avoid the Alexandria Library effect of all eggs in one basket / location.

    2) I wonder how this relates to conundrum of disappearing “gray material” in the digital age. My wife was faculty in literature, women’s studies, journalism and more. We often talked about how digital storage and word processing had impacted on the objects of traditional study: manuscripts and revisions. There are more artifacts similar to these, but this might be a good starting point.

    Jeff, I may be guilty of scope creep with this comment.

  6. nm45 Says:

    It does look as if Iran is now becoming one of those points of condensation around which certain key interfaces of technology, media and politics seem to unfold these days (9-11, Shock and Awe, Danish cartoons, Katrina) but with the difference of a key interactivity. It was remarkable to see Obama on TV call on the Huff Post guy, who had a question to relay from Iran via Twitter–old media, web 1 and web 2 interfacing in new ways. The archiving question is first a question as to what this phenomenon might be and who should be describing it: media studies, political science, history, visual culture, religion…or surely some new modality of interfacing those areas.

    The digital archive might actually be the way to lead into those interfaces in ways that traditional archiving has not been able to do.

    Anyway, I hope after all this I can actually get over to THATcamp…bit of a wrinkle this AM…

  7. Jeffrey McClurken Says:

    I do want to avoid getting into a session about backing up _everything_ online (as George’s comments might lead us), but certainly the work that the Internet Archive has done provides some basic model for the process of digital archiving.

    I also want to clarify that I used Iran as the touchstone or example or catalyst because of its immediacy and the widespread use of social media in the events that have emerged, but I’m interested in discussing a larger process by which social media materials might be archived/preserved/analyzed related to any of a variety of significant events (certainly China, Burma, etc., but also events in & about the US).

    Nicholas’s example points to the need to figure out a way to capture/replicate/analyze at least some of these intersections of various media. We are no longer at the point where scholars can get away with focusing on one form of media (say newspapers or TV) to get a picture of what’s going on. So how can future scholars write about the complex, multimodal context of that interchange Nicholas cites?

    [Hope you can make it Nicholas.]

  8. Dave Lester’s Finding America » Tips on grant writing, from Twitter Says:

    […] grant writing, and received some terrific responses via Twitter. At the same time, I’ve heard recent concerns that it’s difficult to access and search the history of your own Twitter activity.. making us […]

  9. nm45 Says:

    got it done, will be there:)

  10. Archiving Social Media Says:

    […] or “formatted” in ways that will be useful to future historical inquiry. As a session organized by Jeff McClurken at this year’s THATCamp made clear, there are still lots of […]