China's national library to archive 200 billion Sina Weibo posts
Updated 21:44, 19-May-2019
By Wang Mengzhen
China's National Library is joining hands with Sina Weibo, the popular Twitter-like platform, to archive social media posts. The library plans to save around 200 billion posts from Weibo's hundreds of millions of users, for research and policymaking purposes.
As paper books are no longer the first choice for many of its readers, the National Library is reshaping its internet archiving strategy and Sina was chosen as the first commercial partner of the initiative launched in late April.
“We have already had our own web archiving center in 2009," said Liao Yongxia, deputy director at coordination & operation management division at the National Library of China. "But we've been using mostly web crawlers to gather information in government and news portals in the past decade. Sina, especially its microblogging platform Weibo, has been a key online channel for the public to express themselves. So this could be a strong supplement to our existing collections.” 
All of the more than 200 billion public posts, as well as huge amounts of pictures, vlogs and even comments from Weibo's over 400 million active users, will be archived gradually for non-commercial purposes. For academics, the massive big data is indeed a rich mine.
A view inside the National Library of China. /CGTN Photo

A view inside the National Library of China. /CGTN Photo

"It's not only the content, but the emotions matter, known as affective computing and also the social networking reflected in these Weibo posts is important," said Zhou Kui, an associate professor at the Communication University of China.
Back in 2010, the U.S. Library of Congress initiated a similar program with Twitter. But as the number of new tweets ballooned exponentially, the library had to take a step back by only saving selected posts.
But as Liao Yongxia pointed out, their project could be somewhat different.
"We will first store all archives on the servers of Sina. Then the national library will join Sina to select certain useful data, but we haven't decided the selection criteria yet. As for the access, we would like to first serve certain researchers and then expand to more step by step, we hope to reach out to the public ultimately," the library executive said. 
So, are Weibo users really buying the idea? The project became a trending topic on Weibo, soon after its announcement. Many welcomed it and even joked about how later generations would view their slang. But the reactions have been mixed. As expected, one major concern is privacy.
The screenshot shows the joint project has become a trending topic on Sina Weibo. /CGTN Photo

The screenshot shows the joint project has become a trending topic on Sina Weibo. /CGTN Photo

“I will be so excited if my posts are selected as a future research subject. Why not? It becomes part of history,” said one Weibo user.
"I would like to share some of my posts with the national library. But for some other posts related to my personal feelings, I would rather not do so," another user told CGTN. 
But experts said the sharing of data is part of the deal when you sign up. "Before you start to use social media like Weibo, you have to agree with the terms of service. One of the most important terms is you allow these platforms to use the content or data you generate," Zhou Kui said.
In response, the national library said it's in the process of addressing privacy concerns with Sina. The staff at the national library also told CGTN that some of the archived Weibo posts will be shared with the public later this year as a first step. So you will soon find out what is valued by the researchers.