While I’m not terribly concerned about the privacy implications of Facebook having access to the fairly insignificant drivel I usually post there, what really bothers me about it is the fact that it represents a whole chunk of my life wrapped up in a company database that I can’t get access to, except through the Facebook web interface (which leaves much to be desired, particularly when it comes to archived material).
It’s not that I need my Facebook data so much as that it’s like a diary: all sorts of conversations, notes, random remarks, and social interactions that might once have been written in a diary or in letters; the sort of thing that would be nice to be able to page through and reminisce when I’m old and backwards-looking. There’s a practical component too – I’d like to be able to search my messages so I can find random notes, or remember what I sent to X about Y (again, the Facebook interface sucks in this area, though I note that in the last few days they’ve upgraded the messages UI once again, so maybe that will improve things – hey, pigs may one day fly through spaaaaacccce).
Anyway, I noticed this afternoon that at some point Facebook added a ‘download your data’ function to the account settings page, so I had to try it. Here’s what you get:
All of the HTML pages are stripped of Facebook’s look and feel, and contain no extraneous links (they only link to other files in the download set, such as photos). Internally, they’re fairly well structured, with tagged divs and spans for most of the key elements, so they should be fairly trivial to parse if one was so inclined.
While the pack doesn’t contain everything I’ve ever posted on Facebook, it’s pretty thorough. The main things I can’t recover are comments that I’ve posted on other people’s walls or items. It seems those only come out if that user does an export. It’d be nice if this was all a little more structured – some XML linking everything together would be nice, for example, as would, perhaps, be links to the original content. But the main problem, for me, is solved – I can recover the bulk of what I’ve put on Facebook, which means I’m no longer locked in if (when) they turn out to be evil, nor do they have any monopoly over these artifacts of my existence. They’re all going into my document repository for storage..
If you’re paying any attention to web technology, you’ll know that there’s excitement building around the possibilities of HTML 5. For the lay-people out there, HTML is the language used to write web pages. We’ve been using HTML 4 since the late 1990s, and while it’s pretty great, there’s things that are a real pain to do in it as well as all sorts of things that are impossible. Hence the existence of Flash plugins and so on.
HTML 5 is a new standard for the web that adds a lot of new features. Some of them look like gimmicks (Speech input and the pulse CSS tag), some look set to become fundamentally important (HTML 5 video), some offer technical capabilities (in browser DB and local storage), some offer simple ways of solving old problems (CSS support for rounded corners), and others look set to significantly change the sorts of content that can be displayed effectively on the web (WebGL and inline SVG).
There’s definitely challenges and issues with HTML 5 – video formats are one, while another will be the inevitable storm of partial implementation errors and browser-specific idiosyncracies. That said, it looks set to seriously expand the tools available to web designers, and that’s cool.
For a good overview of what you might be seeing coming soon in your browser, take a walk through this slideshow from HTML5Rocks.com. It’s best viewed in Chrome 11, and provides a thorough set of examples of what HTML 5 will offer.
Take a look – while it’s of most interest to the technically minded, it’s got plenty of interesting examples accessible to those not so inclined.