Twitter Archive: Pin the Butterfly

John Rentoul

twarch 277x300 Twitter Archive: Pin the ButterflyEver since Twitter announced that it was going to allow everyone to download the archive of their tweets I have looked forward to the day. Now it has come. Well, it came a few days ago. I requested my archive (when yours is ready a button appears at the bottom of your Account Settings page) and waited for my email. When nothing happened I checked my junk mail folder and found it there.

Anyway, then you click download and you have to unzip the files, which used to be a pain but is quite easy in new versions of Windows. Finally you have to open a file called index.html in your browser. It didn’t work in Explorer, so I copied and pasted the address from Explorer into Chrome and there are all my tweets, arranged by month. (The navigation pane is shown right.)*

It was an anticlimax in that my first ever tweet turned out to have been this:

21 Apr 09

One quarter of Tesco sales go through self-service checkouts. Other people are more 21st century than me.

Not only is this dull and conventional, it is the opposite of the evangelist for self-service checkouts that I became, shortly afterwards.

Anyway, for nine months after that I didn’t really use Twitter. All my posts were posted automatically from my Independent blog – just the headline and a link. Then I remember Liam Byrne, who was Chief Secretary to the Treasury, telling me he liked my “cryptic” posts on Twitter.

That prompted me to look at my Twitter account again. I had 600 followers, and I thought something was going on.

So I started tweeting properly in January and February 2010, three years ago, and, as you can see from the chart above, it is now out of control.

One of the drawbacks of Twitter, though, was its evanescence. You could still find old tweets if you knew the exact longish phrase for which to search in Google. But mostly, they were gone, like butterflies or fluttering blue birds.

Now, mine are all back, and the search function works well. Indeed, Twitter has turned out to be more permanent than the old Independent blog, on LiveJournal, to which every link from those early tweets is now dead. For a blog archive I have to rely on local files painstakingly and self-obsessively kept by me.

What puzzles me is why Twitter should provide such a fabulous service for nothing (in addition to the main service, which it also provides for nothing). I would have been eager to pay, say, £40 for my archive.

Still, they have my warm and soppy goodwill, which may be worth something in the years to come.

*Twitter’s instructions, in a readme file that comes with the download are:

How to use your Twitter archive data

The simplest way to use your Twitter archive data is through the archive browser interface provided in this file. Just double-click `index.html` from the root folder and you can browse your entire history of Tweets from inside your browser.

In the `data` folder, your Twitter archive is present in two formats: JSON and CSV exports by month and year.

CSV is a generic format that can be imported into many data tools, spreadsheet applications, or consumed simply using a programming language.

JSON for Developers: The JSON export contains a full representation of your Tweets as returned by v1.1 of the Twitter API. See for more information.

The JSON export is also used to power the archive browser interface (index.html).

To consume the export in a generic JSON parser in any language, strip the first and last lines of each file.

To provide feedback, ask questions, or share ideas with other Twitter developers, join the discussion forums on

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  • Andrew Denny

    Your point about Twitter being free: Well, I for one would love to pay and be a customer. I can’t be the only one. I’m fed up with being fodder for advertisers.

  • creggancowboy

    Twitter bans left wingers much the same as you did Jody McIntyre

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