[This was an unfinished draft from September 2011. I don't know why I didn't finish and publish it. I've publishing an unedited version now because, why not?]
Early last week, I was laying in bed imagining how I wanted a solar-powered wireless access point and web server built into my tombstone someday. I was imagining hosting a version of the data I get from Facebook when I download all my data from them. I wanted a way to share a look into my life with the people who come after me. This excursion through my imagination faded as I fell to sleep.
I’ve been on Facebook for almost five years, since October 2006, and when ever since I joined I have used the little “Adam is …” box to post status updates multiple times a day. I didn’t join Twitter for another year and a half, but since then I’ve tweeted almost 12,000 times. Around 3500 tweets, I started using BackupMyTweets.com so I could maintain access to more than just my most recent 3200 tweets that Twitter lets us access.
I exported those tweets to CSV, imported them to a MySQL database, and wrote a simple PHP browser so I could easily jump to any date from the past three and a half years and read what was on my mind. I can go back and find my first day at ISU, my first date with my first serious girlfriend (and a year later, a tweet about the breakup). Like an automatic journal updating about ten times per day, Twitter has archived the last three and a half years of my life.
The problem was, my browser was ugly. It was a quick hack — I planned to add features like starring important tweets and adding a way for me to add annotations to the tweets giving a bit more background in case 140 characters failed to provide sufficient context. I never got around to adding these features.
On Thursday, all my dreams came true.
On Thusday, I watched the F8 keynote when Mark Zuckerberg came out and gave the overview of Facebook Timeline. This total revamp of the Facebook profiles makes it easy to browse all the way through my history through a beautiful interface that calls out important events, going all the way back to the day I was born. Since I didn’t join Facebook until October 2006, the real data didn’t start until then, but Facebook makes it easy to add events to the timeline. I scrolled through this presentation of my past, seeing events such as when I started at a new job, my graduations, and siblings’ births.
Facebook didn’t just throw up 15000+ data points on my screen: they curated the data, presenting information they thought was important. As I scrolled through, becoming friends with some people was marked as important, usually because my relationship with that person was more than a casual friendship. Statuses that generated a lot of discussion popped up in my timeline, often related to important things.
Photos I took popped up as I browsed my history. I saw some numbers recently that estimated that 20% of all photos taken this year will end up on Facebook. Almost every photo I take ends up there; as of May 14th, I have 2,375 photos and 35 videos — and that was before I got my DSLR. My history is very visual.
I wanted a way for someone to be able to view the story of my life and Facebook Timeline solved that.
(Dear Facebook: please give us a way to buy a printed archival version of our timeline, preferably in full-color annual editions at $10-20.)
Open Graph API
The Open Graph API, the added “frictionless sharing” features didn’t agree with as many people as the Timeline did. Some called thees new features an invasion of privacy or “really scary and virus-like.” People called it the final straw and started deleting their Facebook accounts.
The Open Graph API allows for apps to, once given permission, begin publishing actions you perform within the app without requiring individual approval for each post. Some examples were listing to music on Spotify or Rdio, watching a movie on Hulu or Netflix, or reading a news article. If I listen to a song, it gets shared instantly in the new Facebook Ticker and people can join in listening to that song with me. If I’m watching a show on Hulu, my friends can watch with me. As I read news I’m interested in, those articles are posted for others to see and browse.
The big objection here is some people don’t want everything shared. My response: fair enough, but I’m not some people.
When I check-in on Foursquare, it posts to Twitter. When I like a YouTube video, it posts to Twitter. In my perfect world, there are a thousand other actions that I want to be shared automatically and without any action by me. I currently post a few to Twitter because it’s the only real option available for consolidating my online activity in one place.
[Abrupt end, consequence of being an unfinished draft.]