Can a Museum collect tweets? And should it?

Last week I was invited to a workshop at the Museum of London focusing on Collecting Social Media as a Museum Object .   It was a really interesting workshop with plenty of discussion and questions raised. It’s a discussion that I think would be well worth continuing with more institutions to see what practices are already undertaken when it comes to dealing with social media and museums.

The workshop follows on from a really great project between The Museum of London and the University of Westminster; citizen curators.  MoL are really interested in how social media can be collected as an object in its own right, if at all.

Hopefully there will be more discussion about this in the future; so these are just some of my quick notes that struck me during the workshop.

The main Interesting question of the day: What do you accession into the museum collection when collecting social media?

Peter Ride, University of Westminster – Citizen Curators

  • #citizencurators – a social networking project for London2012
  • What do you accession into the collection?
  • Experimental project
  • Can communities collect and curate without museum curatorial authorship?
  • Aimed to investigate how social media can provide alternative approach that supplement contemporary collections
  • Designed to result in knowledge about how you can collection born digital media.
  • Public call for citizen curator and Several blog posts about the process. See
  • #citizencurator project found that images are an integral part of the tweet experience. But accessioning social media images is difficult.  Museum of London collected textual tweets but not images. Due mostly to copyright issues. MuseumofLondon decided it wasn’t a viable option. They followed the Library of congress precedent: aka text is ok images are not.
  • But this raises issues relating to the place of images within visual culture. Particularly as images are an integral part of the tweet experience.
  • The outcome – over 7,000 tweets were logged by the Museum using the #citizencurators hashtag
  • But by far the most important issue was about working with Twitter – what could they do with the project.  It’s a scary thing for a museum to let go of content control. By its nature being an open project in a public forum the project had no walls, there was no control in management or in terms of the content. And for curators this raises complex issues. Authority, Trust, Control, Authenticity etc.
  • The Citizen Curator In what form can this media be best collected?
  • Is it best kept for future investigation?
  • Can it be made accessible?
  • Steve raised a point during the discussion that Twitter’s T&Cs have changed meaning there are now quite strict conditions on sharing raw data.  Which will make projects like this tricky in the future.


Catherine Flood, V&A – Flickr and the Olympics

  • V_and_A‘s Collect London 2012 Flickr project …
  • Aiming to create an archive of images of the Olympics
  • Collect the graphic environment at London 2012
  • Create an archive of images that will preserve a snapshot
  • How do you approach social media as a design object?


Helen Hockx-Yo, British Library – Archiving social media

  • Two strands as part of web resources archived in the uk web archive
  • British library collects Facebook data. Can only collect public pages, only as part of a special collections,  due to technical problems – pages dynamically generated via asynchronous JavaScript calls.  How do you archive dynamically generated pages?
  • British Library collects and analyse tweets with Twittervane which can determine which sites are shared most frequently … in order to build a web archive collection
  • Prototype/Investigatory project by the British Library to use Twitter to build a web archive collection
  • Current selection process is largely manual by a small number of experts
  • Explore automatic selection
  • Exploit the wisdom of the crowd

Common issues with archiving social media:

  • Copyright: who owns the content?
  • Technical existing technologies not adequate
  • No generic, scalable solutions
  • Will be more difficult as technology advances
  • Curatorial: how do we select social media content? Focus in events, themes or as much as possible?
  • Ethics: privacy and ethical implications
  • Access and usage: how will the archived content be used?
  • What search/discovery/analytics tools should be offered
  • Twitter offering personal archiving services.  Should you archive your followers? Is it not that that provides the context?


Ruth Page, University of Leicester – Twitter datasets: a linguists perspective

  • Twitter as a source for data
  • Relatively easy to harvest (see suggestions from the AoIR on scraping tools)
  • Small and large scale corpora
  • What does that [visitor comment] tell us about how they fit into the museum environment?
  • Computer mediated discourse analysis
  • LSE museum and social media
  • Challenges for research
  • Ethics
  • Archiving and usability
  • Longevity (is it just a fad?)
  • What is it for?


Workshop discussion and some Twitter chat

  • Why are we collecting?
  • Lack of the visual social media data in collection discussions
  • Twitter and photographers and the network and context. How do you evaluate and analyse that?
  • Visual aspect of social media. Authorship, network, context. Cat meme as an example.
  • There must be a way to solve ethical issues perhaps its a case of a Reserach projects in collaboration with Twitter itself?
  • Higher Education has vast ethical conditions in order to get clearance, can they apply to museums social media projects?
  • What ethical documentation/policies/guidelines do museums adhere to with regards social media?
  •  ‏@ernestopriego tweeted a useful  database of 196 social media policies …
  • question about ethical responsibility &displaying social media. Is it the application, the museum or the visitors ethical responsibility?
  • Do any museums include a clause in their social media policies about archiving and curating their own tweets?
  • Do we discuss social media in museums in silos? Should we be looking at the wider context, it’s interdisciplinary nature?
  • Bit of a meta debate about the difference between ownership and access of social media data.


2 thoughts on “Can a Museum collect tweets? And should it?

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