News

Documenting the now: archiving social media for generations to come

Social media archiving

Credit: iStock

A two-year, $517,000 grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation will fund a project called “Documenting the Now: Supporting Scholarly Use and Preservation of Social Media Content.” The University of California, Riverside, Washington University in St. Louis, and the Maryland Institute for Technology in the Humanities (MITH) at the University of Maryland are collaborators on the project.

DocNow responds to the public’s use of social media for chronicling historically significant events as well as demand from scholars and archivists seeking a user-friendly means of collecting and preserving digital content.

As part of the project, the three institutions are developing DocNow – a cloud-ready, open-source application that will be used for collecting tweets and their associated metadata and Web content.

Twitter emerged as one of the most important channels of communication during the 2014 protests in Ferguson, Mo., when it served as a primary conduit for disseminating information. The app will be developed using tweets and web content related to the events in Ferguson, resulting in a data set that can be used in research.

“The DocNow application will provide scholars with new ways of gathering and analyzing data from Twitter, which is a tremendous source of documentation on contemporary events,” said Chris Freeland, project co-principal investigator and associate university librarian at Washington University in St. Louis.

Making social media available for scholarly research

Bergis Jules, co-principal investigator and community lead at UC Riverside, hopes the DocNow project will be a catalyst for community building around the scholarly use and preservation of social media archives.

“Community building will be vitally important as we continue to develop standards and effective practices around the collection and access to this rich content,” said Jules. “I’m excited The Mellon Foundation is supporting this project as it will be an important contribution to scholarship on social media archiving.”

DocNow is among a growing number of applications that make social media datasets available for noncommercial, scholarly research. The app will be specifically designed to help authenticated users tap into Twitter streams to identify web content that is of value for current and future research.

“We at MITH are honored to be partnering with Mellon, Washington University and the University of California to ensure that the documentary record around events such as the protests in Ferguson can be studied in an ethical, timely and cost-effective manner,” said Ed Summers, co-principal investigator and technical lead on the project. “I am specifically interested in the challenges of not only collecting and analyzing the data, but also packaging and archiving it for future use.”

Scholars on the project also seek to produce a white paper on ethical, copyright and access issues related to the collection of social media content.

For more information about the Documenting the Now project, contact Chris Freeland at 314-935-5400.