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.


Yesterday’s objects: the death and afterlife of every day things: Preserving Video Game culture notes

Last week I attended a really interesting event run but the Autopsies group entitled Yesterday’s objects: the death and afterlife of every day things.  It gave plenty of food for thought. I really enjoy conferences as I become very absorbed in the topics being discussed, and get very over excited about ideas and concepts and cant wait to see how I can fit those ideas into my daily work.  Over the next few posts I will attempt to bring my quick and dirty notes from the day in to some sort of coherent whole.

First up is the first presentation of the day on the session “Keeping yesterdays objects: Museums and Galleries”

Mark Carnall – Preserving Video Game culture: making the same mistakes with a new medium

Mark discussed the issues of Social acceptance of video games, or lack of. Posing the question “Are we missing an opportunity ?” Because video games are quite niche, the opportunity to preserve is being lost because it is not considered important.  All digital media are vulnerable to long-term loss, particularly video games. There are very few systematic attempt to preserve video games, despite video games being  an important part of modern popular culture. Robert Ebert’s recent journal article titled “Video games can never be art” is a recent example of how video games are still tentatively striving for a concrete affirmation of social acceptance.

Mark’s presentation reminded my of the brilliantly titled Grand Theft Archive, which attempts to understand the reasons for the current lack of video game preservation in the UK and suggests that this understanding is necessary in order to develop strategies of preservation and archiving  for the future.  Mark also pointed out that there is hardly any discussion about how museums should/could/need to display video games in museums. But of course we cant archive and display everything, are people right to let video games slip through the net?

Ideas were discussed about the broken games industry. Years of development active shelf life measured in weeks. There is little interest in backward compatibility. Boom and bust game development studies.   Computer and video games formats become redundant very quickly. Eg. Xbox 2002. Some formats that have become obsolete and require the original media or hardware as a condition of access. Users on the companies behalf have been trying to preserve but being told that they cant.

An opportunity- imagine how carious media histories would be different with a ‘full’ record. Video games are just past the tipping point whereby a ‘full’ history could be preserved. How should we go about it?

Do established measures of archiving still apply?

A design argument, the best designed games don’t have or need instructions but the real mind blowing stuff happens in gameplay mode which is complicated. Give a stranger a controller see what happens. Instinct is an important part of gaming. So play thought facilitated play and wider non object focused evernt. Context and authenticity. Playing the ‘right’ way.  Can you archive that?

Are video games museum going to be as elitist and niche as the worst art gallery?

Authenticity – which version is the authentic version? When preserving technology  authenticity quiet often goes out of the window

Anatomy of a video game-  what do you archive? The finished game, which may not physically exist. Finished game in all its versions, box, manual marketing materials, adverts, merchandise, films, design docs, other assets music, press reviews interviews trailers demos DLC, authors recollections 100s or even 1000s of people. Actions in the game itself. Community feedback- which takes many forms, fan art fan fiction, music remixes, video, video reviews, whole books. Games and other media inspired by it. Preserving Actions in a game? How on earth do you do it?

Inaccessibility is an issue.

Some examples of museums that have displayed video games

The national video game archive

La muse du jeu video (i like their website it makes me smile)

Game on exhibition at the science museum

Strong museum

However Mark mentioned that many of the examples he talked about were simply random collections of stuff, or a timeline of objects. One way conservation. No community.  Which fails to capture the excitement around games and the massive gaming community. Is that the way forward? crowdsourcing collections and exhibitions of niche popular objects? sounds like a cool idea.