In an article posted yesterday under the title 5 Ways Social Media Will Change Recorded History, Mashable co-editor Ben Parr writes,
For the first time in human history, the day-to-day interactions between people are being permanently recorded and formatted in easily organizable segments of information.
I don’t disagree that social media is poised to change the way the history of the early 21st century is written. But I’m not at all convinced social media interactions are being “permanently recorded” 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 unanswered questions swirling around the issue of archiving social media. Indeed, I’m not sure we understand the full range of questions involved—standards and interoperability, privacy and copyright, preserving context, mapping personal networks, etc., etc.—let alone the answers.
For nearly a decade now, my colleagues at the Center for History and New Media and I have been investigating the problems and opportunities that internet ephemera presents for scholars and archivists, exploring and implementing best practices for collecting the born-digital record of unfolding events through projects like the September 11 Digital Archive and the Hurricane Digital Memory Bank. New social media and their traces (Tweets, Facebook status updates) present a new set of questions for this ongoing project. If past experience tells us anything, the full range of those questions won’t be readily apparent until we begin the actual work of archiving social media. It also suggests we have to move quickly.
With that in mind, we are already getting down to business, laying the groundwork for a 2010 workshop of collections professionals, scholars, social media experts like Ben Parr, and representatives from the most popular social networking services to start this project and make sure these unprecedented—but as yet still potential—historical riches are in fact “permanently recorded” and properly “formatted” for scholarly access.