Documenting the Now

Documenting the Now (DocNow) 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. This two-year project was funded by a $517,000 grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, and MITH will work with Washington University in St. Louis and the University of California, Riverside, as collaborators on the project. The three institutions are developing DocNow, a cloud-ready, open-source application that will be used for collecting tweets and their associated metadata and Web content. The dramatic rise in the public's use of social media services to document events of historical significance presents archivists and others who build primary source research collections with a unique opportunity to transform appraisal, collecting, preservation and discovery of this new type of research data. The personal nature of documenting participation in historical events also presents researchers with new opportunities to engage with the data generated by individual users of services such as Twitter, which has emerged as one of the most important tools used in social activism to build support, share information and remain engaged. Twitter users document activities or events through the text, images, videos and audio embedded in or linked from their tweets. This means vast amounts of digital content is being shared and re-shared using Twitter as a platform for other social media applications like YouTube, Instagram, Flickr and the Web at large. While such digital content adds a new layer of documentary evidence that is immensely valuable to those interested in researching and understanding contemporary events, it also presents significant data management, rights management, access and visualization challenges. DocNow will develop new tools, knowledge and user communities to enable and promote the collection, preservation, visualization and analysis of social media content generated through this new wave of social activism, storytelling and community documentation. The project will result in an open-source application for collecting tweets, their associated Web content (text, images, video and audio) and metadata, as well as creating data views and export mechanisms both for use with data visualization platforms and for preservation. It will utilize Ferguson-related tweets and Web content as the subject of application development, delivering a Ferguson social media data set for research and preservation, and build a community of users and advocates around the DocNow application.