Tag Archives: Facebook

Facebook Desperately Wants You Back!

Sometimes I’ll go a week or two without logging into Facebook. It doesn’t take very long before they start sending me reminders trying to bring me back.

“See Alice’s message and other notifications you’ve missed”

“Bob updated their status”

“Carol posted a photo”

It’s only been since the weekend and Facebook has sent me two of these today.

Some of them are straight-forward: You’ve got X messages, Y group invitations, Z notifications.

But the “updated their status” emails are downright manipulative. The message starts with a 40-character snippet from the status they think will get you interested, so it shows up in the preview in your inbox. But it’s styled with color: #FFFFFF; display:none; font-size: 1px so that you don’t see it when you open the message, just a giant button to go to Facebook. And once you’ve clicked, they’ve already got your attention. You’re engaged, and you want to see what this thing is that’s hidden, making you more motivated to actually click on that big giant button. They hope. Unless it makes you angry and want to delete the message out of principle.

*ahem*

Anyway, Facebook apparently gets more and more desperate over time, and after a few months people have been getting customer support messages about how you seem to be having trouble logging in, though Facebook swears they are “not a re-engagement tactic.” Given the manipulation in their actual re-engagement messages, I’m not so sure. (via Slashdot)

It’s all about keeping you online, so they can get more data, show you more ads, and keep their engaged-user numbers up. Understandable, but a bit excessive, IMO.

Oddly enough, LinkedIn is sort of the opposite. When I go a long time without logging in, their messaging slows down. Then as soon as I’m in, *bam!* every few days, another “people you might know!”

What’s in Your Social Media Archive?

I checked out what you get when you export your content from Twitter, Facebook, Google+, LinkedIn, WordPress and LiveJournal, with an eye for both private archives and migrating to your own site.

Tired of Twitter? Fed up with Facebook? Irritated by Instagram?

If you want to leave a major social network, but keep your content — or even just make sure you have your own backup in case the site shuts down, purges accounts, or changes its TOS *cough* LiveJournal *cough*, you can usually get some of your info. But not all of them give it to you in a way that’s useful.

Twitter

You get a CSV spreadsheet containing all your tweets since the dawn of Twitter, with the text in one column, ID in another, timestamp, reply-to, and so on. It’s pretty easy to import this into another system. (I pulled mine into a test WordPress site using the WP All-Import plugin.)

Links in the text appear as the t.co shortened URL, with the “real” URL in another column. Of course, if the “real” URL was also a shortener, you’ll just see bit.ly or whatever. And if you’ve been on Twitter long enough, you may find that some of your older links use shorteners that don’t exist anymore (or have purged their archives), like ping.fm or tr.im.

You also get an offline web app with an index.html that allows you to view all your tweets month by month without visiting the site.

But you don’t get any of your uploaded media, or direct messages. So if you mostly use Twitter for text-based microblogging, you’re fine, but if you use it for photo sharing or private conversations, you’re out of luck.

Update: Retweets are sometimes incomplete in the spreadsheet. The text field is a constructed manual retweet — “RT @otheruser: Text of the original tweet” — but it’s truncated to fit in 140 characters (even if the original was made after the 280-character update). So if adding the username pushes it over the limit, or if it was longer to begin with, you don’t actually get the entire original tweet in the spreadsheet. I suspect this means retweets don’t actually use that field, and get the content straight from the original tweet by ID.

Facebook

You get all your photos, videos and messages, organized by folders, but the names are all just numeric IDs. You do get an offline web application that includes names and indexes.

It also has your entire timeline in one giant HTML file. But it only includes the text, the type of update, and the timestamps. If you posted a link, it doesn’t include the link. If you posted a photo, it doesn’t link to the photo.

And you don’t get comments, either your comments on other people’s posts, or their comments on yours.

Worst, though? It doesn’t indicate the privacy of each post. That means you can’t take the timeline and import it to a new system unless you separate the public and private posts one by one.

Update March 2018: Apparently if you use the Facebook Messenger app on Android, there’s a good chance Facebook also has your SMS messages and call history. This is probably not something you expected them to have.

Google Plus

Google Takeout allows you to export various categories of data, including your Google+ stream, circles, +1s and page posts.

Each post is exported as a separate HTML file, named after the first line. Comment threads are included, along with timestamps, a permalink to the original post, and a visibility indicator. It only marks Public vs. Limited, but that’s better than you get from Facebook.

The HTML files are suitable for publishing as-is, and marked up so that that it shouldn’t be hard to write an import tool for a CMS. (I’m planning on writing a script to convert them to WordPress’ XML format.)

Images aren’t included in the G+ stream download, and are instead hotlinked on photo posts and galleries. I haven’t checked, but I suspect any images you uploaded to Google+ will be included in your Google Photos download.

There is an index of all your posts…but it’s in alphabetical order.

Bonus: Google Buzz

When Google shut down Buzz a few years ago, they generated archives and put them in each person’s Drive account. They did one cool thing, which was to create two sets of archives: One complete, the other containing only public posts.

The format? Long PDFs, dozens of pages each, with all your posts, labeled by source (Buzz, Twitter, a specific site, etc.)…with the letters scrambled. Apparently they left the “reduce file size” option turned on when they generated them. This means you can’t copy/paste or search in the PDF itself, but you can open it in Google Docs and it’ll convert the text back, at which point you can do both. But that doesn’t preserve links or media, which you have to get out of the original PDF…

LinkedIn

LinkedIn generates two phases of archives. The first one, available within minutes of requesting it, contains your profile info, your messages, contacts and invitations in CSV files.

The complete archive, available within 24 hours, actually lives up to the name. Everything is in a set of CSV files: Your contacts, your shares, your group posts, your group comments, even your behind the scenes info like ad targeting categories and recent login records. (One word of warning: They’re encoded as UTF-16, so if the tool you use to import afterward isn’t expecting that, you may need to convert it.)

I’m not sure how photos and video are handled, as I’ve never uploaded either to LinkedIn (other than my profile picture, which landed in a folder called Media Files).

LiveJournal

LiveJournal’s own export tool will export a month at a time into a CSV or XML file, which includes your posts and their metadata (timestamps, moods, etc.), but not comments, userpics or photos.

There are other tools available using the API, which might be able to get more data. I’ve looked at two:

The WordPress importer will pull in all your posts, and the comments on them, and makes a note of moods, music, etc. (you can use my LJ-Moods plugin to display them). It doesn’t transfer any images you’ve uploaded.

DreamWidth’s importer seems more complete – LJ and Dreamwidth are based on the same code, after all – and is able to natively handle moods, userpics, etc. But it doesn’t transfer your media library either.

WordPress

WordPress exports a giant XML file containing all your posts, their comments, and their metadata. You can import it into another WordPress instance, and have virtually the same blog. Or you can merge two blogs together by importing both. (I’ve moved posts with comment threads from one blog to another by putting them in a category, exporting the category, and then importing them on the new blog.)

It doesn’t include your media library, but if you import the file to a new site before closing down the old one, the importer should offer to pull in all of the images and other media that are actually used in posts.

Plus on a self-hosted site you have a lot of tools available: backup plugins that will include everything, SFTP access through your web host, etc.

Update: Tumblr

I didn’t initially include Tumblr because it doesn’t have an exporter…but WordPress has an importer that does a good job of transferring your blog directly from Tumblr to a WordPress blog. (Look on your WordPress dashboard under Tools/Import.) It even imports images (though sometimes it imports a single-image post as a gallery for some reason). The original URL is stored in a custom field, and you can leave it connected and import new items when you want to bring them in.

Some gotchas: It can only map to one author, but you get to choose which one. It puts everything in the default category. Videos don’t get imported, even if you’ve just embedded a YouTube video.

Update: Mastodon

With the 2.3.0 update (March 2018), Mastodon has added its first archive tool. It’s essentially complete, but it’s only machine-readable so far. You get a pair of files in ActivityPub format (based on JSON), one containing your profile and one containing your formatted posts. You also get a folder structure containing any images and videos you’ve uploaded, and your icon and header image.

If you’re willing to slog through the JSON files, you can figure out which image goes to which post, but it’s still a pain.

But this is a first pass, aimed more at portability (keep your own backups or move your data to another instance or service) than readability. ActivityPub is a new standard, so there aren’t many converters yet, but that’s likely to improve.

Others

Instagram doesn’t have an export tool, so you have to rely on third-party solutions.

Flickr allows you to bulk-download photos from your Camera Roll, and it helpfully uses the title to name the files, but it doesn’t export the description, tags, or comments.

Mastodon currently only lets you export your contacts and block lists, but archiving and migration (from one Mastodon instance to another) are on the roadmap.

Broadcasting “Likes”

I figured out exactly what bugs me about Twitter and Facebook showing your friends’ “likes” in the timeline. It’s not just that they’re public — that’s true on Tumblr or Flickr or Instagram too, but you only see them when you choose to look for them.

It’s that broadcasting likes in the newsfeed blurs your intent.

  • A “like” is a message to the original post’s author (and a bookmark for yourself).
  • A retweet or share is a message to your friends or followers.

Putting them in your followers’ feeds turns a “like” into a message to them as well, even though it’s not what you intended. (If you wanted to share it, you would have shared it, right?) It’s a step above completely frictionless sharing, but it still messes with the signal/noise ratio of the timeline.

Why am I still blogging? (And why about this stuff?)

This blog has been around 15 years. Social media has mostly moved on, to silos like Facebook and Twitter. People don’t follow random personal blogs. Topic-focused sites are what people actually read, and even that mainly following links from silos.

Meanwhile there are so many major things going on that make the things I post about here — comics, fandom, photos of things I found interesting, random tech thoughts — seem trivial.

So why keep a blog going? And why write about trivialities, and not big things like the battles over civil rights, healthcare, environmental protections, war?

As for the first: Some of it is stubbornness. And some of it is wanting to keep part of my writing/photo presence somewhere “permanent” (to the extent that anything online is).

As for the second: I’ve never really liked talking news and politics online. I rarely feel like I can add anything that hasn’t already been said (probably better) by someone else. Also, online conversation has gotten way too toxic. On the other hand, while the little things may be trivial, they add up. They add up to your life. It feels like I might actually have something to say that’s not already been said a thousand times by people more familiar with the issue than I am.

Plus it’s a way to assert some normality in a world that feels decidedly abnormal.

I’m not likely to come up with anything super-profound on the most important topics, but I can make short statements, and I can amplify other voices. And I’m trying to come to grips with the fact that that’s important. I’ve been reading a lot more and posting a lot less over the past year or so, but even if I can’t say anything profound, I shouldn’t stay silent.

So I’ve been microblogging, and linking, and reposting — all things that are better suited for a service that’s built around those use cases. When I have something longer to say, I do try to pull it in here, because a blog post is better than a Twitter thread… But I think more people probably see my retweets than my blog posts, anyway.

What makes online posts feel “permanent?”

Facebook is testing a feature to hide new posts from your timeline so they don’t feel so permanent. Of course they’re still searchable until you actually delete them, so they’re still permanent in that sense.

What’s odd: Facebook posts don’t feel permanent to begin with, even though they effectively stick around forever.

Thinking about it, two things make an internet post feel permanent to me:

  1. Can I count on it sticking around?
  2. Can I count on finding it again?

Facebook, despite a lot of improvements over the years, is a mess. The newsfeed algorithm means you can’t just keep scrolling back. The timeline view isn’t reliably complete. Search is kind of a crap shoot. Don’t get me started on trying to find a particular old post on Twitter!

And that’s dealing with sites I can expect to stay online over time. A post on a forum, or a comment on someone else’s blog, or any social network could easily vanish in someone’s server crash or business shutdown.

If I can’t count on being able to find what I post a few years down the line, it feels like it’s temporary, even if it isn’t.

This is one reason that my Flickr portfolio feels more permanent than my Instagram photos: I can find them without resorting to third-party apps. If I want to find a particular photo on Instagram, I have to page down through my profile until I find it. On Flickr, I can find a 10-year-old photo of a fountain in seconds by searching for “fountain” and expanding the “Your photos” section of the results.

Then again, running my own site is only reliable as long as I can afford it. If something happens to me, and I can’t pay for hosting anymore, what then? I figure I’d simplify things down to where I could get a basic, super-cheap hosting plan. Make the blogs read-only so they can be served statically from a shared server or S3 bucket, or move them to WordPress.com, or just be willing to let them crash under load. But what if I’m incapacitated and can’t convert it? Or just plain not there anymore? If I really want to keep my corner of the web up “permanently,” I’m going to have to make a plan ahead of time.

Otherwise my carefully preserved photos, articles, and extended musings will be toast…leaving behind as context only broken links and all my supposedly (but not really) ephemeral offhand remarks on Twitter and Facebook.