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Time to Start Cherry-Picking Favorite Bowie Fan Tweets?

May 17th, 2017 | by admin
Time to Start Cherry-Picking Favorite Bowie Fan Tweets?

I think about a world to come
Where the books were found by the Golden ones.
Written in pain, written in awe
By a puzzled man who questioned
What we were here for.
(David Bowie, “Oh You Pretty Things,” 1971)

ICYMI, in 2011, Twitter began “donating” its public tweets to the United States Library of Congress. The donation began with a transfer from Twitter’s data management company, Gnip, of about 21  billion tweets from the years 2006 to 2010.

According to the Library’s director of communications, Gayle Osterberg (no relation to Iggy), Gnip has transferred an hourly stream of tweets to the Library every day, all day since then. The Library’s last project status update (January 2013) reported that tweets were arriving at the Library at the rate of about half a billion per day, bringing the Library’s collection at that time to 170 billion tweets.



The Library of Congress and profit-making companies worldwide have been harvesting and selling Internet information—including our tweets—for years. The Library’s last status report–the January 2013 one mentioned above–included blog readers’ comments ranging from one extreme to the other.


  • “I’m sorry, but this is ridiculous.”
  • “You can’t be serious!”
  • “Oh, great…so much for privacy and intellectual freedom.”
  • “What the hell?”
  • “stay out of my tweets. that’s why I set them private.”
  • “What a COLOSSAL waste of time/money/effort!”
  • “Shame on our self-serving wasteful government!!”
  • “This is bullocks.”
  • “a Mount Everest of largely mindless babble…”

Clearly, this group of readers were not at all pleased with the idea of government control of the creative output and communication of ordinary citizens. To those who know Bowie’s work (comments were still coming in as late as March 30, 2017), the whole arrangement might feel chillingly like Bowie’s 1971 vision of “a crack in the sky / and a hand reaching down to me” (also from “Oh You Pretty Things”).



  • “My two cents: good move.”
  • “Very cool!”
  • “It is immensely useful for humanity’s history. Don’t just think, ‘Me, Me, Me’.”
  • “We are living to make history and twitter is helping a lot by saving proofs of that history!”
  • “I think this is down right awesome!”
  • “This sounds like an incredibly valuable resource.”
  • “Thank you Library of Congress.”
  • “Will be hugely useful in the future for research and historic preservation.”
  • “Languages which may be lost after this time can also be found again through tweets! Isn’t that cool?”

This group was too excited about the scope of the undertaking to be worried about the how, the cost, or the embarrassing things they themselves might have said in their own tweets. One can imagine this group gleefully singing, “A modern scholar, just let me know if I sing too much” (“Atomica,” David Bowie, 2013).


If the process described above is working as smoothly as planned and hoped for, there should now be copies of yesterday’s tweets–and today’s, those more than an hour old–on servers at Gnip, Twitter, and the Library of Congress. The Library plans to make the tweets available on site (for a price) to scholars and government agencies and other eligible researchers.

Unfortunately, however, the Library hasn’t figured out how—and doesn’t have adequate technology or funds—to make such a huge quantity of data searchable in an efficient way. But so far, there’s plenty of room for the tweets to be stored upon arrival. Even so, it’ll be a while before researchers find yours.



Journalists and others who’ve been following this deal haven’t been able to get a straight answer to questions of this kind. That being the case, far be it from me to start “spreading rumors and lies” (“Sweet Thing,” David Bowie, 1974) by speculating on something no official spokespersons want to speak about. Still, I do have a couple of thoughts on the matter.


First, we users of social media sites “own” (unless it’s copyright by someone else) the content we post. That assurance is part of virtually every social media site’s Terms of Service, be it Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, blogs, or what have you. On the other hand, we’ve given our service providers “worldwide, non-exclusive, royalty-free license…to copy, store, distribute and allow others to do the same”—or words to that effect–to what we post.


And that’s fair enough, to borrow a phrase we hear DB using in interviews now and again. Without these mutual agreements, the social media universe would be a one-way street—upload your content and say good-bye to it because no one except you and the service provider will be displaying and using it.

So while things at Twitter and the Library are still in a state of flux, I think we should keep our tweets in circulation as long as we have access to them. With that in mind, I’ve sprinkled some of my favorites throughout this post. If you’d like to tweet some of your favorites to me, please do so and I’ll retweet them from my home base, which is @revisingmyself.

Thanks for checking this post out, and please consider following me on Twitter at @revisingmyself if you’re not already doing so. Be safe and enjoy your Bowie collections!



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