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Welcoming baby Maren, who was born this Tuesday morning in the front seat of our car.August 31, 2010 via Twitter for iPhone

Todd’s family just increased by one a few weeks ago. I found it to be quite a surprising tweet to read that morning, to say the least. I imagine the family may have some stronger feelings about that tweet than I do, too. To them, it’s something that years from now will still signify such an important moment of their lives. Unfortunately, Twitter’s not making it easy to retain that nostalgia.

Now and then

Twitter is about now now now. What’s happening now, what just happened now, what will happen in approximately now. What you have to say about “now” is interesting to people. What you said about “now” is mostly interesting only to you.

Twitter’s a snapshot into your life. How you feel a given day dictates your tone of your tweets. Writing a detailed personal journal is one way to capture your thoughts, but Twitter is another type of journal. The tweets you made after being hired at that company, or while at that great conference last year, or after breaking up with a loved one, or simply being drunk on the beach in a beautiful place with friends… all of those experiences are your experiences. They’re important.

Twitter retains

As it stands, Twitter doesn’t make it easy to relive these experiences.

You’re API-limited:

Clients may access a theoretical maximum of 3,200 statuses via the page and count parameters for the user_timeline REST API methods.

You’re also web-limited. I can hit page 159 on my user timeline, but anything after that is a blank page. 160 pages sounds like a lot of tweets, but that only covers me to early 2009; a far cry from my first tweets made in 2007.

What’s worse is that this affects your Direct Messages, too. I can only pull back my DMs from four months prior to now; all of the ones before that period are inaccessible to me. DMs are even more intimate than regular tweets, and to lose all of that personal, one-to-one correspondence is a bummer.

Tweet mining

So Twitter’s restricting access to our tweets. That’s a bummer. But even if they flipped the switch tomorrow on full browse access, that’s still not quite very useful. Tweet mining is the real goldmine. Just imagine the treasure trove of things you could re-learn and re-experience about yourself if you had the tools to do so:

  • What were my first tweets? Did I even “get” Twitter? How do those early tweets differ from my tweets today?
  • What have all my conversations been with @insert-user-here? Were they all serious? Were they all hilarious? Were they somber? Maybe you’ve fallen out of touch. Maybe they’ve passed away. These quick back-and-forth conversations may grow to become impossibly important to you, further down the line.
  • How can we explore my tweets graphically? Can you chart my tweets out by month? By year? Maybe there’s a novel way to graphically point out “Hey, this cluster of tweets around May 2008 must be really important to you since you tweeted nonstop over three days”.
  • Can you show me when others thought my tweets were important? If they favorite my tweets, can you show me which segments of my Twitter life might be the most important to me, judged from the perspective of my followers?
  • Can you break out my geolocated tweets on a map, over time? Maybe an animated heatmap that I can interact with. I would absolutely love to revisit old trips and vacations through the lens of tweets, twitpics, and maps.

Meaning

There’s so many possibilities that are exciting to think about. That are comical. That are dumber than hell. That are deeply meaningful.

Twitter is a terse communication medium, and yes, most tweets have very little value because of that. But it’s clear that some tweets are the exact opposite. It’s a low-barrier of entry to exploring your past self. Twitter has matured to where we can’t ignore the significance it can bring to people, to relationships, and to society. The Library of Congress shouldn’t be the only one who gets to explore the archives of Twitter; it’s something to which everyone should have a right.