In August the GW Libraries received a $24,550 Sparks! Ignition Grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services to fund the continued development of custom-built software that collects data from Twitter. Social media materials are by their nature ephemeral and at risk of disappearing. As collecting institutions like libraries and museums strive to document social and political developments, social media is becoming increasingly important. Institutions have used this type of technology to collect material from the Occupy Wall Street movement, the political transition between U.S. Presidential terms, and university controversies like the recent presidential scandal at the University of Virginia.
The GW Libraries’ open source software, known as Social Feed Manager, automates the process of collecting data from individual Twitter accounts; to date, it has collected over 3 million tweets from over 1,000 accounts. The software is part of our ongoing effort to assist faculty in their research endeavors; several GW faculty members are actively using Social Feed Manager to collect materials for academic research on digital journalism and microblog analytics. Faculty members are also incorporating the software in the classroom to teach students how to analyze the use of social media by members of Congress. In addition, the GW Libraries utilizes Social Feed Manager to collect Twitter feeds from university administrators and student organizations for our University Archives.
The one-year funding from IMLS is enabling a team from the GW Libraries, led by Dan Chudnov, Director of Scholarly Technology, to enhance Social Feed Manager so that it becomes a robust, reliable, implemented, documented, and tested application. “The Social Feed Manager application is a natural extension of what libraries have always done: helping members of their community navigate through a massive volume of information and zero in on the material they need to perform their work,” said Chudnov. “By collecting, preserving, transforming, and making social media data available to our faculty in this way, GW Libraries staff creates a strategic advantage for our research community, removing the drudgery of slogging through unorganized information and helping faculty members move quickly from concept to the heart of their research work.”
As part of this grant-funded initiative, the GW Libraries has partnered with other cultural organizations that have an interest in Social Feed Manager to ensure that the software is functional for a wide range of collecting institutions and goals. On December 11 and 12, the GW Libraries brought together representatives from libraries, archives, and funding organizations to share institutional activity around social media data, discuss use cases for the Social Feed Manager software, and identify areas and priorities for further development. They also tested installation of the software and explored development ideas. Over the next several months, a handful of institutions will also install, run, and provide feedback on Social Feed Manager.
Full documentation for the installation and use of the software is currently available online and is continuously updated with the latest release notes and installation instructions, so that those interested can to track the progress of the software and participate in the project. At the conclusion of the grant-funded project, the GW Libraries will issue a white paper detailing the range of needs identified by the group for using Social Feed Manager.