A stream of consciousness

Published April 20, 2010

(Note: I really wanted to call this post ‘Don’t Cross the Streams’ but I knew people would be mad it wasn’t about Ghostbusters.)

I am so very up to date with TWiT podcasts now that I have even impressed myself! I was just listening to this weekend’s episode of This Week in Google, and there was a section of it I found really interesting. About half an hour in, they started on the topic of the Library of Congress creating an archive of all Twitter streams. That led on to some fascinating conversation.

Firstly, if you’re going to make an archive of Twitter, does it make sense to just have the streams? Lots of Twitter is made up of links to other things - and without those other things, you’re just left with a lot of non-functioning links, and tweets about Glee. It would make more sense to archive the whole of the entire interwebs ever.

That leads nicely on to the Internet Archive, who are trying to do just that. Leo, Gina and Jeff touched upon the copyright issues involved with archiving the web. Is it right that you can save and display content that I have put up and since taken down? Any web savvy person has long since come to the conclusion that you can’t hide anything on the net. Once it’s up, it’s up, and you have to deal with the fallout. Fine. But where does intellectual property fall into this?

I forget whether the following topic was a story in itself or if it led on from the discussion of copyright, but next up under the microscope was the idea of making a book out of tweets. Merlin Mann was particularly vocal when his tweets were used in a book that gathered together the best of Twitter. He said:

Ephemeral as this material might seem to anyone who didn’t write it—whether to the publisher who essentially stole it, or to the readers who share my grave distaste for the glut of similar shovelbooks—it’s simply not cricket to compile and sell a collection of anything other people have made without asking permission, negotiating a license, and paying a mutually agreeable fee to the creator. Period.

During the show, Leo looked at the Twitter terms of service and they did say that tweets are your copyright but by putting words into Twitter, you’re granting them the right to use and reticence them. Perhaps this book sought a licence from Twitter. I haven’t investigated the story to that degree. I’m more interested in the general concepts this throws up.

Why does it seem less important that a book gathers together tweets, whereas if a book scooped up the best articles on the web without permission, it wouldn’t last five minutes on the shelves of any bookshop. Both are published in a public forum, but perhaps the short-form nature of tweets mean that it feels less like a work of art and more a passing comment.

I can imagine that Merlin, who clearly puts a modicum of thought into his 140 characters, might be more upset than someone like me, who tweets if they see a passing wasp. Even so, I don’t think I would be happy for my tweets to start appearing in a book without my knowledge (like that would ever happen), but it still doesn’t feel as big a deal as ripping off the long-form written word.

What do you think?

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