Friday, September 04, 2015

The Digital Traces of User-generated Content: How Social Media Data May Become the Historical Sources of the Future

The Digital Traces of User-generated Content, How Social Media Data May Become the Historical Sources of the Future.  Katrin Weller. Library of Congress. Updated August 27, 2015. [Video and transcript.]
     What value will user-generated data be to the historians of the future and how can we preserve and manage these new kinds of information sources. Social media data should be preserved since they will be a valuable source for future historians, but they are also a very important source for  researchers today.  We must be aware that if we do not deal with this now, if we do not find ways to preserve social media data and online data now, then it might be too late. Many things have already been lost.  For these online companies, they want our data so they can sell us things and they are not necessarily interested in opening these platforms for our research. We must figure out how to deal with the sensitivity of this data that people contribute. Some of the symbols and terms used may not be clear to others in the future.

Some social media has replaced other formats. "For example, this is a blog by a war hero, which is kind of the digital equivalent of a war diary which would have been in other context, as well.  So the content is kind of the same, but the ways to engage with it are different because people can immediately respond to a blog post here to a diary entry, they can link to it from other platforms, they can share the link, they can like it, they can comment on it.  These are things that you will not have in a classical non-digital format, which makes this digital source something special."

There are no standards yet for this media, and actually there are different types of social media. The data formats may vary and that is important. The platforms change frequently and that can be a big problem for future historians and even for researchers today who want to know what they were actually studying. In addition, some data may vanish after a certain point of time. 

The top three challenges for historians and librarians when dealing with social media content and web content are
  1. not to run into something like the Dark Ages of the internet, 
  2. not to lose too much critical information that cannot be restored after awhile, like what we also find for the [inaudible] of radio and television a lot of things have been lost already. URLs in the message may be un-resolvable so you may not know what they were referring to.
  3. how to deal with lots of hard drives full of digital photos, terabytes of digital photos, terabytes of other things? 
We should do the best possible effort we can with learning from the past, with learning from what we have lost in the past and to try to prevent this happening with this new material. Keep it at this and we'll see what survives.   We can do a lot of things already by keeping the background information so we know how to deal with the data if it becomes available. We should realized that the companies could change or shut down in time. We don't know what would happen if Twitter or Facebook shuts down someday.
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