Tag Archives: social networking

Link Sharing and Source Trails

I read a lot of articles in one of two ways:

  1. Open a bunch of tabs and then read them one at a time
  2. Save a bunch of interesting-looking stories to Pocket and then read them one at a time

So by the time I’ve decided to share a link to the story on Facebook Twitter, Mastodon, etc., I’ve often forgotten where I saw it to begin with.

If it’s a site I follow regularly, or I found it through a search, or if it was recommended by Pocket, no big deal, but if someone else shared the link and I saw it, I feel like I ought to give a little credit.

Now, the share/retweet buttons do automate this trail…but only if you do it immediately on Facebook or Twitter, because they have a nasty tendency to update your timeline when you come back, making it difficult to find the post you clicked on.

(It took me 30 minutes to find this tweet, since I couldn’t remember who had written it, only who on my list had retweeted it.)

This encourages you to share articles before you read them, no doubt contributing to the problem of people sharing stuff that turns out to be total BS, sending it halfway around the world before the truth can get its proverbial pants on.

I’m not sure how much people care about the trail these days. Citing the original source? absolutely. Posting someone else’s idea as yours? Hell yeah, just search for “stolen tweets.”

But the intermediary? Whether you follow the person you retweeted, or you follow someone who follows someone who follows someone who retweeted them, it looks the same to the rest of the world. Back when reposts and linkblogging were done manually, it was a BIG DEAL. I remember people getting upset that big-name bloggers would share links to things that smaller bloggers had already shared without crediting them. (Admittedly, I don’t remember whether it was a common complaint or just a few people.)

On the other hand, if you’re studying the spread of ideas, opinions, information or misinformation, it’s invaluable. And if you’re trying to hide a propaganda operation, you might want to disguise the trail…

But social media users do care about share counts and like counts. Original posters want the validation. Viewers see high counts as social proof that other people find the post valuable. And the platforms themselves use it as a signal to prioritize display in the newsfeed algorithm du jour. So there’s a strong incentive to get people (or bots) to use those share, reblog, retweet buttons.

So when it comes down to it, the normal use case preserves that link trail (even if you only see the oldest and newest links in that chain)…and I’m just an outlier when it comes to the way I use social media.

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!”

How Link Shorteners Leave Holes in Your Social Media

Another problem I’ve noticed in my Twitter archive: Lots of URL shorteners and image hosts have shut down or purged their archives.

Sure, bit.ly and is.gd and tinyurl and ow.ly are still around. But in the days before t.co, I used a lot of different Twitter apps that used different shorteners or image hosts.

I have photos posted not just at Twitter and Twitpic, but at phodroid, mypict.me, and twitgoo. In some cases the description and date can point me to the right picture on my hard drive or on this blog (I used to import a daily digest of tweets, and I still sometimes use Twitter as a rough draft for content here). In some cases I can narrow it down to a group of photos — the 2012 partial solar eclipse, for instance.

In some cases, I have NO IDEA what the photo was:

Similarly, I linked to a lot of articles that might still exist, but the short URLs don’t point to them anymore. Services like tr.im, short.to, and awe.sm. StumbleUpon’s su.pr. In some cases a publisher set up their own shortener, and has since dropped it. Again, sometimes I can find it from here. Sometimes the description includes a quote or title that I can search for.

Oddly enough, I found most of my lost awe.sm links by looking at Del.icio.us, which apparently unwrapped the links when they imported from Twitter way back when. It’s still around and searchable. For now. (I should look into what you get from their archive.)

It’s true that these problems are biggest if you were on Twitter before they implemented their own link shortener and image hosting. But a lot of tools (Buffer, for instance) still use their own shorteners for tracking purposes, so you’re not just depending on the tool being around long enough to post your tweet, you’re depending on it to stay around for the rare person who stumbles on an old thread and wants to see what you were talking about.

And even if you didn’t start using Twitter until they hosted photos themselves, Twitter doesn’t include your photos in your archive! If you want to save your own copies in case they go the way of GeoCities or even photobucket, you’ve got to hold onto the originals or download them yourself.

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.

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.