Daddy, Where Do Tweets Go When They Die?

Jimmy, tweets don’t die, but they don’t go to heaven either.  They actually live forever out on the Internet.

If you use Twitter, you tend to live in the moment.  Everything about Twitter is geared toward recency.  What’s ‘trending’ on Twitter is a familiar term for Twitter users.  As a microblog tool, you may think of your tweets as more of a passing comment, but like everything they seem to live on in Cyberspace somewhere forever (just remember that before you tweet something in anger!).  Last year, Twitter announced it was giving its entire Twitter archive to the Library of Congress.  Yes, your proclamation of where you were going out to eat last Friday will be preserved for all posterity by the United States Government.

While the Library of Congress may now have all our tweets, they’re not yet able to make them publicly available.  Google and other search engines do search Twitter, but they too tend to favor recent tweets.  Its difficult to go back in time and see what someone tweeted months ago, but its not impossible either.

Hootsuite's Search Function

Due to, I assume, performance issues, Twitter limits searches on their site to the last 10 days.  There are other third party services that allow older searching, but most seem tied directly to your account.  Hootsuite, the Social Media dashboard I use, will let you search your Twitter feeds.  I still don’t know if it lets you search all the way to the beginnings of your Hootsuite account or the beginnings of your Twitter account.  If you don’t use a dashboard like Hootsuite, try  Snapbird allows you search your feeds by keyword and go back in time.

Other services that try to search all of Twitter need to invest in their own data caching technology.  I assume they’re all doing this as a strategy to get acquired by either Twitter or Google.  There used to be a favorite site of mine, that allowed you to search for all tweets about a particular website.  This service was purchased by Twitter which was probably great for them, but now Twitter has shut it down.  Not sure when Twitter will now integrate this functionality into their service.

Recently, a research project from Cornell University put a few years worth of tweets in a database to enable sociological analysis of tweets over time.  Their service is available online for any Twitter fanatic that wants to do a little data exploring.  I did a few simple queries on this service, and came up with one expected and one unexpected result.  The service allows you to see how words and phrases in tweets change over time.  Over the course of a day or over a week.  A simple search for the term ‘mass’ clearly shows a spike during Sunday mornings which you would expect as people promote the fact they’re going to mass, enjoyed a mass, or wondering what time mass is. Graph of the Term 'Mass' Over an Average Week








However, searching on the term ‘catholic’ yields a noticeable spike at 6pm on Wednesdays.  This isn’t a particular Wednesday, but an average of all the Wednesdays over the last 2-3 years. Graph of the Term 'Catholic' Over each Day of the Week








Any idea why Catholics tweet about being ‘catholic’ on Wednesdays at 6am?

Deleting your Twitter feed maybe one sure way of getting rid of your Tweets, but now with the Library of Congress storing them, search engines indexing them, and sociologists now trying to analyze them my guess is they will still be in Cyberspace somewhere.



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Author:Joe Luedtke

Joe Luedtke is LPi and is currently leading LPi’s efforts to move into the on-line world. Joe works for the world's largest and oldest social network, religion, and believes that this social network could benefit tremendously from the the proper use of Internet technologies.
  • Craig Berry

    Hmm…the only thing I can think of is the Wednesday Papal Audience.

  • Catholic Youth Ministry

    Thanks for this!  As a youth minister, great information to make our youth more aware of their actions online as well!