As you may have heard, Facebook has been planning to allow all of its users to download all of their information. At least for my account, that promise has now become a reality. Not only is this good for people concerned with , but this is also good for archivists. Now that people have control over getting their data out of Facebook, they can chose to donate it as a part of their personal papers, just like how someone would donate their letters or diaries.
So I decided to download my own Facebook profile, to see how long it took and in what formats the data was presented. The first step was go to Account Settings; there is now a link there called “Download Your Information.” When you click on it, a popup tells you that you’re going to have to verify your information before the download can begin.
The “Pending” button appears when you click to start the download of your information. For my profile, it took somewhere between 20 minutes and an hour; I left to do some cleaning for awhile. When it has finished, Facebook sends you and email. You then re-enter your password and download the .zip file. Mine was 44mb.
This is what you find once you unzip the file. The photos folder holds, obviously, all of the photographs, arranged by the album in which you put them. The names of the photographs are the names that you give them in Facebook, not the original names, but that’s not a big concern. There are html files for each of your albums, your list of friends, your wall, messages, etc. However, its through the “index.html” file that you navigate through most of your information.
What you see is basically a stripped down version of your profile. It has all the posts on my wall going back to August 2006, even though I joined Facebook in October 2004. Looking at my posts from around that time, it seems like that was when the first “New Facebook” was created. However, my received and sent messages go all the way back to 2004. There is also a list of all your current friends as just a static text list. Under the events tab, it shows all of the events that you have said yes, maybe, or no to but it doesn’t say which response you gave to each individual event.
As you can see, this information is easily downloadable and easily able to be browsed. For all the flak that Facebook has taken for privacy concerns over the year, this is a step in the right direction. As an archivist, it also makes me happy that people now have the ability to download, preserve, and even donate this part of their digital life. Google has already started to document how their users can get their data out of their various services with the Data Liberation Front. I hope that other social networks will follow suit and allow their users to start having more control over the information that they put in.