Digging Into My Facebook Data

Piles of Books

Facebook has been in the spotlight lately, over a variety of issues related to how they collect and use the data of their “members”. Which means they’re doing a lot of apologizing and tinkering with their system, hoping to avoid more negative publicity and political interference.

But even without the recent problems, Facebook would be making alterations to their data policies, because of new laws in the European Union that go into effect next month. Among other features, the General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR) will give citizens of the EU the right to see the data companies have collected on them.

Which is probably one reason why Facebook is now offering a way to download a copy of the information they have on you. You’ll find a link to make the request under General Account Settings.

If you’re an active Facebook user, be prepared for a large file. They will be sending your entire timeline, all the messages you’ve sent and received, every photo and video you’ve uploaded, and more.

My file, however, was not large at all, a zipped file of 74kb.

Although I registered for a Facebook account ten years ago, I’ve never posted anything in that time1 and very rarely comment on the posts of others. The only reasons I open the app a few times a month are to see the latest photos from friends and relatives, and to read new comics from Bloom County. I’m just not very social I guess.

In fact, the only even slightly interesting part of my Facebook data is in the Ads section, where we find a list of advertisers with my contact info. First advertiser: Cyndi Lauper. Farther down is Rod Stewart. Very odd.

The rest of the list includes a few companies I use regularly or from whom I’ve requested information. And many sites dealing with crowdfunding I’ve never heard of. I’m very sure I did not click on any ads for these firms in Facebook or on articles related to them.

All of which leads to a basic question: why did Facebook send my information to those advertisers? What did their algorithms find in my bland profile and very sparse timeline that lead to those matches? I suspect some of this data came from the harvesting Facebook does on other websites.

Anyway, check out the data Facebook has stored in your account. You may find something even more interesting.


The image is piles of old fashioned data taken by Michael Coghlan, posted to his Flickr account, and used under a Creative Commons license.

1. Ok, maybe not never. I found one post I made in April 2010: “Still on my ongoing effort to figure out the appeal of Facebook and why I would want to spend time on it. At least the iPad makes it easier than than the iPhone app. :-)”. I’m still working on that.

Photo Post – Maker Faire NoVA

Last Sunday was the 5th annual Maker Faire here in Northern Virginia and I was fortunate to be one of the official photographers for the event. The Faire has grown tremendously in a short time and this year moved to it’s new home at George Mason University. Below are a few images of people and exhibits spread among three buildings and two outdoor areas. More are in this gallery.

Robots

A line up of robots waiting to come to life.

Robot Kids

There was lots to attract makers of all ages.

Dismantle Space

One of the most popular areas of the Faire allows visitors to take apart electronic devices like printers and DVD players. Because everyone is curious about what’s inside.

Maker Faire Johnson Center

I also took some 360° images at the Faire and this one of the exhibitors in the Johnson Center at GMU. Click your mouse or tap your finger in the image and drag around to see more. More 360° photos are in this Flickr album.

Making Is More Than Robots and 3D

Punkin Chunkin' in Washington State

When you hear the word “maker”, many people think of 3D printing, robots, coding, and makeshift devices like that pumpkin’ chunker in the picture. But, as Josh mentioned in a webinar last week, we should also be including some more traditional creative activities in our thinking, like blogging.

I would also add photography.

When professional photographers talk about their work, they will often not use the phrase “take a picture”. Instead they are “making an image”. It may be a subtle difference, but more than a few pros I’ve read and heard insist that making better defines their process than taking.

Because great photos, ones that inspire and move people, don’t happen by just pointing a camera at the subject and pressing a button. They are made through artful composition, a skillful use of light, and making the best use of the available equipment.

I won’t claim that any of the images I’ve posted here, on my photo site, or on Flickr qualify as “great”. However, I’m working in that direction, through experimentation, learning from others, and lots of practice.

Just like any good maker.


The picture, from Photos By Clark on Flickr, is used under a Creative Commons license.

Edit Your Photos. Please.

The video embedded above may not appeal to everyone but it could be interesting for anyone who takes a lot of photographs. It’s a short (6-1/2 minutes) testimony to the relationship between National Geographic photographers and their editors, and offers some insight into the editing process at a professional level.

I’ve had a number of opportunities in recent years to participate in workshops and other sessions led by professional photographers, including some from Nat Geo. The editing process is one important topic that always comes up and, it turns out, the photographer does very little of that editing by themselves. That’s why they have editors. 

However, those professionals use the term “editing” very differently than most regular picture takers.1 For them, editing photos is about cropping the image, maybe applying a filter or two, changing the brightness. Or just clicking the Auto button to see if the software can improve things. Professionals refer to those changes as “processing” the images.

For professional photographers and their editors, editing is the process of reviewing a relatively huge number of photos and selecting the relatively few that will be used in a project. At Nat Geo that can mean taking 40,000 images (or more) and finding fifteen or so that will best enhance the story.

I can’t imagine that job. It’s hard enough when I come back from a trip with 800 photos and have to pare them down to a collection that my friends and family will actually want to view. Part of my editing also involves writing a title (instead of IMG-1171), a short description, and adding a few keywords for each image I post online to Flickr and/or my SmugMug sites.

I also love viewing photos taken by others but I really wish more of them would do a better job of editing of their pictures. Too many people simply post almost everything they take to their social media channels with little or no culling of the lesser images. As a result, the narrative in those pictures can get lost.

Spend some extra time on editing those photos and they will tell a better story. Thank you.


1. I mean absolutely nothing negative in that phrase. I’m also a “regular picture taker” who is working to improve my skills and I love helping others do the same.

A Modest Cure For The Overload of What Looks Like Information

I have a confession to make. I have not watched television news for more than a year. Not the so-called cable news stations, not regular network programs (morning or night), and not the local broadcasts.

Not only do I feel better, I think I’m also better informed than the people who binge on that stuff. Certainly better than anyone who watches Fox “news”.

It started just before the 2016 election when I took off for a week in Cuba that just happened to include election day. After learning of the results (the family we were staying with was very sympathetic), I decided I needed a new media diet, one that actually contained useful information, instead of hour after hour of “analysts” with little information and grids full of screaming heads.

My information stream may not work for you but it might give you some ideas on how to craft your own break from TV.

I start with suggested content from a few curated sources. Curation is that thing editors of television news, newspapers, and magazines used to do when they had 24 hours or more to consider events and decide which ones were worth including in their limited space. They didn’t always get it right, but trying to find instant value as you watch the stream is even worse.

My current favorite curators include Next Draft (by one person Dave Pell) and Quartz’ Daily Brief. Every weekday, both deliver a short collection of links to the stories they consider most important, along with some interesting stuff of less import. Plus very brief and sometimes humorous commentary.

I also receive a few weekly collections. From writer and edtech critic Audrey Watters (for a jolt of reality and much to consider), writer and artist Austin Kleon (for some inspiration), and UK-based educator Doug Belshaw (for education-related ideas).

None of these sources takes long to scan through, and I certainly don’t read the stories at the end of every single link. Very often the commentary is enough to get a general idea, especially when it comes to political news.

The articles and posts I do want to read usually get sent to Instapaper, an incredible service that aggregates anything I send to it and then delivers the information in a simplified format (re: no ads!) on any device I happen to be holding when time allows for some reading. It also offers some good highlighting and note taking features for when I want to rant about something in this space.

So, there it is. My simple, curated flow that takes less time and delivers more information than whatever passes for news on television. Chances are, if there is something worth viewing, one of these sources will link to the video anyway.

And what, you say, about “breaking news”?

I maintain that there’s no such thing. Most of what is given that label by the news channels is not of immediate importance and they often have very incomplete (often incorrect) details on what happened anyway. They offer even less on why it’s important. Besides, my Twitter feed will tell me if something big has happened in the world, and I can then choose to follow one of the tweeted links. More curation.

Anyway, that’s my system of keeping up with the news. As I said, it may not work for you. However, I would argue that most people would be far better informed with a buffer of time and thought between the actual event and the report of it. And a few good curators.


The graphic is by Jessica Hagy who has been posting these wonderfully insightful charts every weekday morning at her site This is Indexed for more than decade.