ASCII by Jason Scott

Jason Scott's Weblog

How Facebook Export Currently Works —

In October, Facebook made the announcement that you could finally export your information. Woo hoo!

What’s interests me is less how Facebook implemented the exporting (spoiler alert: so-so) than the fact that they felt they need to do this. Why did they spontaneously decide to add exporting of any fashion?

(If you want the clunky way to download the file, Dave Taylor wrote a walkthrough for it.)

My hope is that this signifies that user data exporting has started the long, arduous journey towards being Just Another Checkmark in the world of marketing and system development. A thing that you are as surprised it’s not there as you might be surprised that the HTML doesn’t work in most browsers. Disappointed, really. Tut-tutting.

I might be a bit too hopeful, of course.

Facebook itself changes interface and features utterly randomly, with no real rollout schedule beyond, well, rolling that crap out. So while it works a certain way today, it might not be there the day after. Who knows.

Export is the process of taking out the data from one entity and preparing it for import elsewhere. It’s meant, ultimately, to allow things to share.

As for how the exporting was implemented in Facebook’s little world, I said so-so and I’ll keep to that. It basically blows out all your photos and creates a bunch of HTML versions of your wall and a couple other items. You don’t get your contacts list, you don’t get any indication of how far back it goes (I found it arbitrary what got saved and what didn’t), and you certainly don’t get it in a format that could easily be imported anywhere else.

But at least it gets out of the walled garden in one form or another. And that’s a good first stumbling step, by Facebook standards.


Categorised as: computer history

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  1. Eve M. says:

    Hi Jason– Yep, yay for data portability, sort of. FB is obviously feeling pressure, but they’d be doing a better job if the people applying the pressure were actual paying customers. I wrote a bit on this topic here, expanding on my observation made to ReadWriteWeb that Facebook’s end-users are, rather, the *product*:

    (Your interest and expertise in this area are why I’d love to get you onto one of our Data Without Borders podcasts. In December maybe?)

  2. Decius says:

    Huh. That actually sounds kinda easy to import;

    I talked to someone who developed Point of Sale systems targeted toward hardware stores, back in the day. Most competitors systems used their own proprietary database format for inventory, designed to not be easily ported to a competitors program. Most competitors also had a way to dump the entire inventory to printer.

    He would print a page of inventory, determine how the information was output, connect the printer cable to a data input, then write a program that parsed the ‘printout’ into his inventory database.

    Moral here is that once you have the data in a -known- form, you should be able to parse it into any form you want. Am I missing something here?

    • Jason Scott says:

      Well, I DID say “so-so”, not “lie” or travesty. Someone could write something to re-import what they give you, but there’s a lot of your data they don’t give you. So yeah, it’s something, just not “hurrah”. And comparing it to older more proprietary systems is not exactly a great data point.

  3. Jon-o says:

    Hmm.. nice that they have this feature, but it doesn’t go back very far – my download only has about 5 months of wall posts!