Twitter hits its 10 billionth tweet: What this means for you

[This was first published at AMPed.]
If you are following any blogs on social media, the one that should be at the top of your list is Mashable. While at times the writing is a bit sensationalistic, Mashable is great for getting news and information as it happens making it one of the definitive sources on social media and networking on the web.
Anyone old enough to remember the days when McDonald’s used to change their signs when they sold X number of burgers? Fan fare and promotions were a blazed the numbers climbed and once McDonald’s hit 99 billion burgers, it stopped counting.
Today, Mashable reported that Twitter reached 10 billion tweets. Here is how the numbers work out: Twitter begins in early 2006 and it takes nearly 2.5 years to reach the first billion tweets (fall of 2008). One year later, it quintupled the number of tweets (from one billion to five billion) in 1/3rd of the time. And six months later, Twitter doubled that figure to ten billion tweets served.
And unlike McDonald’s, Twitter is not going to stop counting.
There are a couple of things that make this information interesting and to some degree, crucial:

  • Twitter is not dying or on death’s door. Despite various predictions from anyone with online access that Twitter had run its course, people still creating Twitter accounts every second. Sure, Twitter has had growing pains and due to the unbelievable increase of traffic it has occurred, it will still continue to have growing pains but this does not denote death or dying of the service. While there is no definitive word as to how Twitter (if ever) will monetize their services, this has not stopped the zillions of third parties from making money off the Twitter API. In short, Twitter should not be discounted because clearly, it is doing nothing but grow. The benefits of using the service are only going to get better.
  • Studies by Pew Internet and other social researchers keep observing and recording new trends within social media and primarily within Twitter. Sometimes conflicting reports will appear that suggest: teens love Twitter, teens hate Twitter or only old people are using Twitter. While in the beginning the conflicts were more wide spread, the older Twitter gets, the more about who/why/when is using Twitter information will stabilize.

For Twitter, and for its users, this information is great news, but for an archivist dealing with born digital preservation – this could be a nightmare. Due to storage constraints, Twitter does NOT archive the entire breadth of your Twitter account anymore. Thus if you’re someone like myself who has nearly 15,000 tweets on record (since 2007!), that to process and produce an archival system to keep it all intact, preferably off of the Twitter cloud would be huge. While personally I am an extreme example of a Twitter user, I’m not really all that unique with wanting to preserve my tweet history. Several months ago I installed a lifestream plugin for my personal blog for the simple reason to collate and preserve my online activity, so that I could personally archive everything myself. But even that was not enough because more than 75% of my Twitter life is in the ethers since I did not think to set up any kind of backup plan to preserve my Twitter history. For a long time, I (like most people) depended too much on Twitter to do this for me, but now that the growth spurts have put an end to Twitter keeping an active Twitter history for all of their users.
In late 2009, the APA style guide released an online update detailing how to cite Twitter. If APA can take Twitter seriously, then archivists need to start thinking of the Twitter model as the springboard to help come up with solutions to born digital preservation issues, primarily in social media and networking. If this scenario was presented about tangible, physical objects, 15 manuals would appear by the SAA within a month. As it stands, there is currently no definitive way on how to archive these born digital creations and as such, we will eventually lose access to them. And since Twitter is not archived via the Internet Archive or by Google, once those tweets are gone, they are gone.