Tag Archives: social networking

Searching Your Twitter History: Case of the Missing Context

One of the problems with Twitter’s search capability is that the results are isolated.

I’ve said before that one of the keys to making a social account feel like I own it is that I can find things in it if I want to go back later. You can search your old Twitter posts by adding your username to the query in the regular search form, but it only shows you the matching results, not other posts that might be connected.

If you click on it you can get an actual conversation thread…but only those tweets that are connected as replies, so if you didn’t thread a tweetstorm properly, or if you had a big sprawling conversation with lots of different people, sometimes replying and sometimes posting something new…you can’t see the rest of it.

Worse, if you go back far enough, Twitter doesn’t even have threading. You might see “@friend Inconceivable!” but have no idea what they were saying that you replied to. (And that doesn’t even get into old shortlink and image providers that have shut down, removing content from your post as well.)

I have similar issues with Instagram, which basically has no real search, only hashtag-based timelines to go along with the account-based timelines. In both cases, when you get to a specific post, it’s a dead end. You can’t see anything around it without going back to the author’s profile, even if that author is you. Though depending on how you clicked on the Instagram link, you might get back/forward links.

(This is true for Mastodon as well, but to be fair, Mastodon is still building its search capabilities.)

WordPress, on the other hand, not only usually has next/previous links on each post, but you can view archives by category, tag, month and (for some permalink structures) day. When you find a post, you can see what’s around it. You can get more in the admin interface, but even as a visitor, you can still get the context.

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.


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.


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.

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 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’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 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.


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.

How to Post to Mastodon From Anything Using IFTTT

I finally managed to hook up IFTTT to Mastodon to auto-post from another site! I use IFTTT as glue for linking several services together including sharing interesting links from Pocket when I’m offline: I can add a tag in the app on my tablet, and then when it syncs that tag up to the cloud, IFTTT will pick it up and create the share post on whichever service I’ve tagged it for.*

My main source was this post by @raucao@kosmos.social. It’s a bit out of date, but it pointed me in the right direction.

1. Set up IFTTT’s Maker WebHooks

On IFTTT, go to maker_webhooks settings. Make sure it’s active.

2. Set up Mastodon to allow IFTTT as an application

Go to Preferences/Development/Your Applications on your Mastodon instance (ex: on mastodon.social it’s here). Click on New Application. Enter the following:

Website: https://maker.ifttt.com/ (at first I thought you needed the full URL from the IFTTT config, but it seems OK without it.
Scopes: read and write should be enough. Actually just write might be fine.

Submit the app.

Now open the new app you’ve created and look up the access token.

3. Create an IFTTT app!

Go back to IFTTT and create a new app. For example, I created an app triggered by Pocket, whenever an item is tagged share-mastodon. You could also set it up to autopost every time you blog with a specific tag, or every new item in an RSS feed, or all kinds of things. Even cross-post from Facebook or “the birdsite” (Twitter).

For the “then that” section, choose a Webhooks action.

URL: https://mastodon.social/api/v1/statuses?access_token=1234567890 (paste your access token here.)
Method: POST
Content Type: application/x-www-form-urlencoded
Body: status=whatever-you-want-to-post

For example, to share a link from Pocket you might want the body to be

status={{Title}} {{Url}}

Or for posting from WordPress, you might want it to be

status=New blog post: {{PostTitle}}


Click on Create Action.

Add a title and click on Finish.

4. Test it out!

Go and post something that should trigger the rule, then come back and click “Check Now” on the IFTTT applet. Make sure it comes through the way you want it to. Adjust it as needed.

Update (Feb 2018): This method can’t upload images, because the Mastodon API needs the image to be uploaded before you post the status, and IFTTT apps can only take one action. If you want to cross-post between Twitter and Mastodon, you can use crossposter.masto.donte.com.br, which can handle image uploads. @outside_rs confirmed that you can use Twitter+Crossposter as intermediaries to get images from another service onto Mastadon, as in Instagram→ IFTTT→ Twitter→ Crossposter→ Mastodon. It’s roundabout, but it works! (Not sure when I’ll have time, but I’m thinking about writing a gateway script that you can hit directly from IFTTT that will upload an image and then post to Mastodon with it, removing the dependency on Twitter.)

You can follow me on Mastodon at @kelsonv@mastodon.social. If you’re not on Mastodon, but would like to check it out, start at JoinMastodon.org. It’s a quick overview of what Mastodon is, how it’s different from Twitter, how different instances work (think of them as different servers on an MMO game, or different email services), and how to pick an instance that suits you.

*The day after testing the Pocket-to-Mastodon connection with a few links, I discovered something interesting about IFTTT when it re-posted one of those links to Buffer. Apparently IFTTT doesn’t know which tags are new, only which bookmarks have been updated and what the current tags are. My new Pocket-to-Mastodon applet picked up the share-mastodon tag I’d just added, and my Pocket-to-Buffer applet picked up the old share-buffer tag that had been on there since I first shared it last month.

Android Oreo Won’t Stop Vibrating

I finally discovered why my phone has been vibrating on most incoming messages since upgrading to Android Oreo, even when sound is on: It’s now a per-conversation setting, so even though I have Messenger set to sound only, that only applies to new senders. I had to go through my saved text messages and turn vibrate off in every. single. saved. conversation.

Deleting a conversation also makes it use the default setting the next time that person sends a message, so if you don’t want to save the existing texts, deleting them is faster.

Not terribly convenient, Google.

Of course, that only fixes it for Messenger.

Notification settings are per-app now, and it seems Oreo assumes you want it to vibrate along with the ringtone unless the app turns it off. And of course not all of them let you turn off vibration independently from sound. They haven’t needed to until now, after all.

Ironically, this includes Chrome. I’m trying out Mastodon (find me at @kelsonv@mastodon.social for general conversation and @kelsonv@photog.social for photos), and for now I’m using the embedded Chrome app. And I can’t fine-tune the notifications because Google’s own flagship browser doesn’t include the options it needs on the new version of their OS! 🤦

Deciding Where to Post Online

Things I think about when choosing where to post something original, once I’ve decided to post it.

  1. Audience. Who’s going to be interested in this? Family? Friends? Fans or hobbyists or people in my industry or some other shared-interest group? People looking for troubleshooting help? Do I just want to say something for the record?
  2. Permissions. Who do I want to allow to see this? Am I OK with it being seen by the general public, or do I want to lock it down to specific people?
  3. Type of Media. Long article, short comment, photo, video, link to something interesting? Not much point in linkblogging here these days, while Twitter and Facebook are better suited. A long post is easier to compose and easier to read as an article than as a Twitter thread (though Tweetstorms do have their place). Photos are more likely to be seen on a dedicated photo site than here, but if there’s a story to it, a blog post might work better.
  4. Polish. I’ll sometimes post something off-the-cuff on Twitter or Facebook, then refine or expand it later. Or I’ll post a photo on Instagram in the moment, then when I have time, do a cleaner edit or album on Flickr, or write a story around it here.
  5. Connections. Is it related to something else I’ve already posted? This is why I keep posting funny signs, examples of holiday creep, and convention reports here.
  6. Permanence. Do I want to be able to find it again easily? If so, I’ll probably go with a blog or Flickr (yes, Flickr), because searching for stuff on Twitter or Instagram or even Facebook is such a pain.

So yeah, that’s why I still post some things here, why I only post other things on Twitter, why I post different things to Flickr and Instagram, why I sometimes cross-post, re-post, and re-edit. Am I overthinking it? Maybe, but it’s not like I go through a full checklist every time – this is less a recipe and more trying to write down what I’ve been doing anyway.