Time to clean out old Tweets so they won't define you the rest of your life

DataSift deal turns fly-by-minute Twitter thoughts into shapers of your permanent record

Spring cleaning time came early to the web this year as social network vendors compete to make deals or privacy policy changes that would let them turn the private activity of customers into commodities faster and more invasively than their competitors.

Facebook's privacy settings need constant tuning, of course. Google shook up the whole social network environment, however, by announcing it would combine the bits of activity data from all its sites and services into packages that give a more comprehensive picture of people who never expected anyone to study their clicks so closely.

Following the leaders, but still in plenty of time to take advantage of the privacy fire sale, Twitter has changed the ephemeral nature of its service by signing up data-marketing company DataSift to collect, package and resell the past two years of Twitter messages under the banner DataSift, is that companies looking for a more complete picture of their brand images, attitudes of customers and trends within their core markets are no longer limited to analyzing a few weeks worth of Tweets to get their answers.

Instead they can build simplistic queries that sift Tweets by characteristics of the sender – geography, gender, attitude or audience size. They can also include content from a range of other social networks, including FaceBook, Twitter, Digg and Klout.

News that Google would be consolidating and marketing years worth of browsing history was disturbing because no one expects their browser history to become public without some significant warning – a warrant, an angry significant other or emails from HR warning they'd be up to check the "appropriateness" of the content in your cache.

Twitter is almost entirely public, so few people would be surprised if a Tweet or two was recirculated beyond their own list of followers or even off Twitter and into other networks.

Tweets are supposed to be quick, current and available for only a short time. Twitter shows members only about the past week's worth of messages from other people.

Members can go through the whole history of their own Tweets, but if no one else is reading them, why bother? No need to delete something you wish now you hadn't Tweeted then, to correct a mistake you made six months or a year ago or even remember the rant you went on against some inoffensive person or thing during that really hard time you went through last year.

DataSift is changing all that.

DataSift is taking the whole Twitter Firehose – the full feed of all Twitter accounts, as opposed to the Spritzer and GardenHose settings on Twitter's Streaming API, which return 1 percent and 10 percent of all Twitter messages, respectively.

DataSift is the first vendor to get full Firehose access not only to the full content of the current feed, but the last two years of stored content as well.

According to the press release, DataSift will absorb all 250 million daily Tweets and all the daily Tweets going back to January, 2010. That's a lot of data, even if most of it is trivial musings on what you plan to have for lunch. Or how much you hated it. Or who you went out with, who you may not like any more.

So…Time to review and delete some of those old Tweets?

If you're at all prolific – or even if you're not – the number of Twitter messages builds up really fast.

One Tweet a week is 52 per year is 104 for two years. That's not a big number unless you can't change or delete more than one at a time.

Twitter, by the way, only allows you to change or delete one Tweet at a time. If you Tweet once per day, there are at least 730 Tweets in there waiting to be dealt with one by one.

Luckily there are a couple of options from outside companies that make the cleanup a little easier.

Delete all my Tweets

If you're the trash-and-burn type, TwitWipe is probably the simplest option.

Sign up for the service, give it access to your Twitter account and tell it to wipe out all your messages.

Do it when you have plenty of time; it takes "A BLOODY LONG TIME," according to the TwitWipe home page. "Because TwitWipe is very popular, there are tooooooo many people wiping their accounts at any given point in time. So just start the process and just leave it on overnight. I'm serious. It is NOT instant. It will take a while. Don't tell me it's stuck at 0, because that happens and all you gotta do is WAIT."

If you get disconnected mid-delete, go back to the site whenever you notice and start the wipe again.

Delete just the Tweets I want to delete

If you'd rather be a little selective, or would rather delete just the Tweets older than a certain date, the most-often-cited available option is TwitLAN.com, though I found it clunkier and slower than TweetEraser (see below).

Once you sign in using your Twitter login, TwitLAN will show you, by default, 100 Tweets and a pull-down that will let you pick which segment of your Tweets you look at (1-101, 102-202, etc.). It will load up to 200 Tweets at a time (scroll down if you don't see them right away, the screen doesn't change much). It will let you delete only the Tweets you want, but you still have to go through and click each checkbox individually.

It takes a lot longer than TwitWipe, at least you have to be involved with it longer than with TwitWipe, because you have to keep reloading the next 155 Tweets and deleting them. It's one of very few ways you can delete most of your Tweets without nuking them all, however.

TweetEraser offers more options, and is a lot easier to use than TwitLAN. It's still in beta, so it's somewhat unproven. It lets you delete as many as 3,200 Tweets at a time (though the Twitter API accepts only 350 per hour). It lets you filter messages using specific text strings, hash tags, dates or senders, in case you want to get really selective. And it is completely free, though the author does ask for donations. The donation is up to you, but if you're trying to weed out some of your older Tweets without wiping them all away, TweetEraser is probably the simplest option.

What about direct messages?

Direct Messages, which are more similar to email than Tweets, are just as hard to delete if you go through Twitter. If all you want to be rid of is some or all of your DMs (and replies from your correspondent), there are more options.

DMWhacker is the most widely known (and, at this writing, busiest) of the applications listed here; once you get in the tool itself is pretty fast and gives you the option to delete DMs by sender or date.

TweetWax looks approximately as fast as DMWhacker but lets you sort messages by tag as well as sender/receiver;

InBoxCleaner has fewer options, and only lets you delete 10 messages per day for free. More than that are $19.99.

Twitter, for its part admits it doesn't provide a way to delete more than one message at a time. Its best suggestion for cleaning out some or all the Tweets in an account is to create another, temporary account, move the Tweets you want to save to it, delete the old account, then rename the new account with the old name.

Sounds like almost as big a pain as having another big social network come out of the woodwork every week or two with another big scheme for making money from activities you never thought would be public. Or, in the case of Twitter, never thought anyone would remember by now.

Just remember, after deleting all those Tweets, go back and hit Account, Settings in your Twitter dashboard, then click on Apps in the list of options down the left-hand side. Click the button marked Revoke Access next to each of the new housecleaning apps you just tried and next to any other apps you've approved over time but no longer use.

Giving access to your account to apps you don't use and don't monitor is a bigger security risk than storing years worth of old Tweets.

Depending on what you used to Tweet about in the old days, though, it might not be quite as embarrassing.

Just remember, with all these services and Twitter's own delete function, gone is gone. Once you delete them you can't get them back. That doesn't mean DataSift won't have access to them on a backup file somewhere, but you certainly won't.

And good riddance.

Read more of Kevin Fogarty's CoreIT blog and follow the latest IT news at ITworld. Follow Kevin on Twitter at @KevinFogarty. For the latest IT news, analysis and how-tos, follow ITworld on Twitter and Facebook.

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