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UMD & Partners to Develop Tool to Archive Social Media During Historically Significant Events

January 20, 2016

Nicky Everette 301-405-6714

DocNow will provide scholars with new ways of gathering and analyzing data from social media

COLLEGE PARK, Md. – A two-year, $517,000 grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation will fund a project titled, “Documenting the Now: Supporting Scholarly Use and Preservation of Social Media Content.” The Maryland Institute for Technology in the Humanities (MITH) at the University of Maryland, Washington University in St. Louis, and the University of California, Riverside, are collaborators on the project.

The project responds to the public’s use of social media for chronicling historically significant events, as well as demand from scholars and archivists seeking a user-friendly means of collecting and preserving digital content. As part of the project, the three institutions will develop DocNow, a cloud-ready, open-source application that will be used for collecting tweets and their associated metadata and Web content.

Twitter emerged as one of the most important channels of communication during the 2014 protests in Ferguson, Mo. for example, when it served as a primary conduit for disseminating information. DocNow will be developed using tweets and Web content related to the events in Ferguson, resulting in a data set that can be used in research. 

“The DocNow application will provide scholars with new ways of gathering and analyzing data from Twitter, which is a tremendous source of documentation on contemporary events,” said Chris Freeland, project co-principal investigator and associate university librarian at Washington University
in St. Louis.

DocNow is among a growing number of applications that make social media datasets available for noncommercial, scholarly research. The app will be specifically designed to help authenticated users tap into Twitter streams to identify Web content that is of value for current and future research.

“We at MITH are honored to be partnering with Mellon, Washington University and the University of California to ensure that the documentary record around events such as the protests in Ferguson can be studied in an ethical, timely and cost-effective manner,” said Ed Summers, lead developer at MITH and co-principal investigator and technical lead on the project. “I am specifically interested in the challenges of not only collecting and analyzing the data, but also packaging and archiving it for future use.” 

Scholars on the project also seek to produce a white paper on ethical, copyright and access issues related to the collection of social media content. 

Bergis Jules, co-principal investigator and community lead at the University of California, Riverside, hopes the DocNow project will be a catalyst for community building around the scholarly use and preservation of social media archives.

“Community building will be vitally important as we continue to develop standards and effective practices around the collection and access to this rich content, said Jules. “I’m excited The Mellon Foundation is supporting this project as it will be an important contribution to scholarship on social media archiving.”