It’s the end of the year and that means only one thing. No, not taking stock of 2012’s successes or failures. Not figuring out New Year resolutions. It’s time for making lists! Top 10 lists. Top 15 lists. Lists that contain lists. Such as this one.
In honor of the “year end lists” that are popping up on so many blogs right now, I have one of my own. It involves Twitter’s latest efforts to improve or broaden our experience with the service. A few weeks ago, Twitter started allowing users access to an archive of all the tweets they have ever sent (other users will get this option in the coming months says Twitter). A quick how-to is located here. Once you download it, the easy-to-use html interface allows you to see which months you were most active, as well as easily toggle back and forth from year to year.
I’ve talked to people about this and their reactions varied from indifference to excitement to outright disdain. How you respond might vary with how you have used the service. Over the years, did you tweet as a way to repost your favorite online material so that friends could see it? Did you use Twitter as a journal of your daily life? Did you spend much time on Twitter at all? If you are like me, you spent way too many hours promoting links from sites you worked for, in an effort to bring more visitors to those sites.
Personally, I found the trip back in time interesting and insightful. I’ve been using Twitter on a fairly constant basis for years, and have connected my account to numerous third party apps and services across the web. There was a lot to sift through. What can you expect from this process? Here are just a few of the things that crossed my mind, and may cross yours.
1.) You are going to find out when you really starting “using” the service, if you ever have at all.
After you download the index html file of archived tweets, you are going to see exactly how many tweets you sent every month, going back to the month you signed up. In my case, I did my first 13 tweets in April of 2008. For about a year, this was fairly typical of my monthly tweet total. It wasn’t until March of 2009 when I first starting really using the service. That month I sent 844 tweets. This launched me well towards the almost 18,000 that I have sent so far.
2.) You may find a lot of links that don’t work anymore.
That link to the post about the Egyptian “revolution?” It’s not at that url anymore. That picture you took on that particular windy but lovely day? It’s not online anymore because the app you were using at the time doesn’t exist anymore. Any Digg link you ever shared? That’s long gone because Digg has different owners now and its old links are gone. My favorite are news sites that recognize you are linking to an old story of theirs, but you are redirected to the home page because the story doesn’t exist. There are even links that still exist, but lead to stories describing events that never came to pass, such as this one. By and large, the Twitter archive is a graveyard of misfit links that often lead to nowhere.
3.) You will be tempted to delete tweets that you no longer want.
Will you delete? I, for one, thought I might be doing that a lot. I spent many months sharing links from news aggregator Digg.com. If I submitted a story from a web site to Digg, then the link where that story was placed on Digg would often show up higher on search rankings than the link to the story itself. I found myself sharing the links on Twitter as a way to help bring these stories to the Digg front page, where millions of people could potentially see it, if it was worthy. Oddly enough, I didn’t want to delete these old tweets. They stand as some kind of weird monument to something I did at the time, a kind of testament to how I lived my life online. Like some kind of odd social media packrat, I find it hard to clean out the attic of my online experience. Yes, I just compared the Twitter archive to an attic. That leads me to my next thought…
4.) Expect to get introspective about who you are and what you’ve been doing online.
Maybe you won’t at all. For me I was instantly introspective. I found it to be very easy, especially when looking at the tweets from 2008 through 2010, to see the person in those tweets objectively, as a separate person. I got a kick out of reading the tweets of someone who I use to be, who I do not know well anymore. The observations, complaints and experiences of that person were as fresh to me as those from anyone with a Twitter account that I follow today.
As part of this, expect to gain a little insight into how people might have perceived you back then. In my case I saw that I was overly focused on my work as a journalist and social media hustler at Village Voice and NBC. Personal conversations conducted on Twitter were much more prevalent on my tweet stream before I began to use it as a marketing tool. Efforts designed to gain page views for whatever publication I was working for at the time took precedence. Links dominated my tweets. Where were the observations, the perspective, that were there before? As I scanned through those years, it became harder for me to find tweets that didn’t involve social promotion. I can only imagine how inaccessible I must have seemed to people outside of the circle I normally interacted with.
So to me, more than anything else, my Twitter archive became a voyage in self-reflection. This takes a willingness to to truly examine what you put out there, back in the olden days when Friendfeed still had a good amount of active users, Myspace was rapidly becoming a shadow of its former self, and “follow Fridays” were something you did without embarrassment.
5.) Expect a trip down memory lane.
In my journey through my tweets, I found a picture of that time a friend and me were having vodka cranberries at a bar. I found cupcakes and Japanese lunches from years ago. I saw longtime friends. I saw the view from the office of an old workplace that I will probably not go to again. I relived conversations with old friends who I forgot I knew. I even found myself retweeting some of my previous tweets, especially quotes from Mark Twain and Thomas Jefferson, among others.
For some people this all sounds like an exercise in navel-gazing. However, to me it is much more than that. There were lessons waiting to be learned. Part of understanding social media and how to use it better for your marketing efforts, or just as a communication tool, is about learning and growing. Seeing how you once did your online work, and knowing that you might do it differently now, is an important lesson to learn. There were more than a few conversations in my tweets I wish I had handled differently. The best thing you can do with your archive is review your history and make changes based on what you see. In the end, social media is a constantly evolving process. Why not use your past as a way to make adjustments now?