Free Our Tweets

Yesterday I taught an all-day class at Cleveland State on social media.

I would say I probably have a deeper understanding of search engine optimization. But right now I have a greater passion for social media. “The greatest media revolution in the history of humanity,” I say at every class and believe with all my heart.

As an aside: I don’t believe anyone has true deep understanding of social media. 10,000 hours. That’s what Malcom Gladwell professes to become an expert at something in “Outliers“. And I believe it. No one has their 10,000 hours in social yet. That takes about 10 years.

At any rate, at all my classes I set up a Twitter hashtag for the group. Yesterday’s was #csusocial.

From Wikipedia: Hashtags are words or phrases prefixed with the symbol #, a form of metadata tag. They are used within IRC networks to identify groups and topics.

If you add a hashtag to a post within Twitter it automatically becomes a link that connects to all other tweets that have used the same hashtag.

I use this as a form of note taking for my classes. I put resources there and I encourage my students to add their thoughts on Twitter to that tag as well. It’s an awesome way of creating a group catalogue of the event.

You see, Twitter was its own revolution. It allowed the group to speak to the group. That never had been possible before. People completely unfamiliar with each other yet united under one cause or topic instantly had the ability to communicate with any other group that had an interest in that cause or topic. An impossibility before Twitter and the hashtag.

But here’s the dirty little secret: that data is going to disappear in about a week. My tweets from my Cleveland State Search Engine Optimization class a couple weeks ago are completely gone, #csuseo. Or at least it will become unsearchable at Twitter. The tweets are still there, somewhere. But virtually inaccessible.

This is… so many adjectives: ridiculous, insane, frustrating, absurd, shocking… sad.

I know “fresh” is in and all. But that doesn’t mean that old things don’t occasionally have value. I can’t be the only person in the world who wants to look at certain hashtags or tweets from, at the very least, a couple weeks ago.

I just feel this is lame and irresponsible.

On top of that, people have tried to create archive tools for Twitter. But Twitter often changes its policies and most of those tools have gotten broken over time.

There is one tool that takes a little work but it’s amazing: Twitter: How to archive event hashtags and create an interactive visualization of the conversation JISC CETIS MASHe by Martin Hawksey. It involves setting up an App in Twitter (very easy, actually) and then tying it into a Google spreadsheet that he has created (that’s actually the harder part).

But the results are impressive and complete.

His tool grabs all the Tweets at a set time interval that you choose, dumps them into the spreadsheet template he has given you and then it does all sorts of really cool things with the data.

Here’s the dashboard it created for yesterday’s class:

The spreadsheet is made up of multiple sheets that show the data in a variety of ways, not the least of which is a complete dump of all the tweets that used that hashtag. I’ve made the entire spreadsheet available here:

But that’s not all!

He also created a visual explorer so you can visually move around the tweets. It looks like this:

He also has it setup so this explorer can be linked to so anyone can see it. You can see the #csusocial explorer here:

This is an amazing tool. And it’s very cool that Twitter has allowed people like Martin to come in and pull down data like this.

That said, Twitter really needs to make improvements in its archives retrieval capabilities. Anyone should be able to simply access past Tweet.



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