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Facebook’s “Download your Information” reviewed

Published on
10 Nov 2010
Written by
Bernie Hogan

As part of Facebook’s march to capture as much of your life as possible while making you feel okay about it, last month they announced a “Download your Data” feature. This feature has been rolled out in waves, and happily, that wave lapped up on my shores yesterday. So here’s a review of the feature

The short story is that this is a pretty neat feature that is clearly still a first step. In particular, there are a handful of absences, such as not knowing who ‘liked’ your posted. Also, it won’t download any of your friend’s data, so if you want to view your personal network, you’re still left with applications like my own namegenweb or netvizz.

The data that comes down is basically a series of queries on the big table that holds all of this data, spit out as a series of sparse html files. The source code of the files is nice and clean, with legible div tags, but its no easier to parse this data than it is to do so through a series of fql queries. Obviously, most users aren’t going to either look at the source code or use fql queries, but its nice to know that their API is so thorough and open that you were able to get all of this data even before the “download your data” feature.

To get started, you have to go to account -> account settings. There should be a feature there called download your information, with a link called “learn more”.

Click on account settings

If you are part of the roll out, then you can click on this link. If not, then it tells you to sit tight, and that it will be available sometime in the future. When available, it gives you a big preamble and a simple “download” button.

Once clicked, that button should turn into a greyed out “pending” button. The first time I did this, it emailed me and said there was something wrong with my file, and that I could try again. I tried again, and the button never turned to “pending”. So I logged out of Facebook, closed my browser and tried again. This time it worked.

If everything works, you should see this screen before waiting.

It took about 2 hours for the email to come to me, and it was very simple to click on that link and get a zip file.

Inside the zip file was a series of folders and a pretty straightforward “index.html” file. I’ve posted a stripped down version of mine to NameGen so you can get a sense of what this whole thing looks like.

Example Profile Screen

Comments to photos appears as usual. People tagged in photos do not. Both messages on one’s wall, and the replies show up, but interestingly, only the number of likes shows up. You cannot see who actually liked it. I can’t comment on “places”, since I haven’t used that feature and do not know how it would show up.

Curiously, Event IDs are the only thing that is clickable. The remainder are not – that is, you cannot click on a message and go to the live version on Facebook, or click on a friend and go to their profile.

It is nice that this is all in a clean html format. Its a step towards data transparency, but not towards data portability. There is a great deal of work that would be required to actually slice up this data. But as I mentioned, most of this is already covered in the Facebook API, so it doesn’t seem like having another point of entry to machine readable structured data was necessary.

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