'Snapshots' cannot accurately archive gov 2.0 content, says Navy official

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Simply capturing an image of social media content hosted by third parties isn't a sufficient archiving strategy, says Charley Barth, director of records at the Department of the Navy.

Since October 2010 the National Archive and Records Administration has held that social media records should be archived, including those hosted by third parties. Agency content hosted on Twitter, Facebook or YouTube, for example, is a record if the platform adds value, such as better indexing and public comment or other collaboration opportunities, beyond what is available on through government-hosted communications. That content also requires a records schedule, says NARA.

If agencies are taking "snapshots," the records really aren't complete, said Barth while speaking Oct. 17 at the ARMA conference in Oxon Hill, Md. "There's not a lot of value there when the links don't work and you can't really drill down into the content. It's just a picture of a page."

Barth leads the Federal Records Council's social media subgroup, which submitted a whitepaper, with recommendations for gov 2.0 archiving policies and implementation aides, to the NARA in May 2011. According to Barth, the report to NARA recommended that agencies:

  • Copy and paste social media record content into a Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT) Word document and in a .pdf format and save it to records management application;
  • Copy and paste social media record content into a Microsoft Word document and in a .pdf format and save it to a share drive, hard drive or something other than the RMA;
  • Use a really simple syndication (RSS) feed to collect information into an RSS aggregator, such as Google (NASDAQ: GOOG) Reader;
  • Use an RSS feed to pull information into an email account and save the record in an RMA; or
  • Use one of several commercial, social media archiving tools embedded within the social media site or sold commercially.

A social media archiving tool may be embedded into the social media platform if its use is negotiated into the terms of service agreement entered into when starting an account. Many agencies don't realize they can ask companies such as Facebook and Twitter to accommodate their records management needs rather than just scrolling through fine print and clicking "I accept," said Barth

Embedded archiving tools may also make it easier to capture the full context around communications. In its research, the subgroup determined that public-generated content in a government forum can be just as important as government-generated content.

"It became clear, from a legal background, that you may need this entire string [of public-agency interaction] for legal reasons. So that public comment can be just as important as government employee content that's out there. It needs to be treated as part of the context of content," said Barth.

Such comments can even be useful for policy decisions--just as an agency would consider more formal comments submitted in response to a proposed regulation posting in the Federal Register, said Barth.

It's true that some agencies are simply using third-party hosted social media tools for reposting information that is already available elsewhere on the agency's site. "But at other agencies it's just the opposite. They're putting original content out there from extremely high-level officials," said Barth. "If we're not trying to figure out how to capture some of this stuff, we could have another lost decade of information from social media that we never captured."

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