Class: Personal Archiving with Facebook

I taught a class called “Personal Archiving with Facebook” in partnership with Knowledge Commons DC and DC Public Libraries! This post is a cursory description of what I discovered and a summary of how the class went. To access the full lecture or to try the class out yourself, download the following:

Personal Archiving with Facebook Slides Only

Personal Archiving with Facebook Slides and Notes


For over 1 billion of us, Facebook has become a default archive for the artifacts of our personal lives, and with features like “On this Day” and memorialized profiles, the company is deliberately framing themselves as a service for saving as well as sharing. But is it a suitable method for personal digital archiving?  

To answer this question, I used the four challenges to pda identified by Catherine Marshall  as a metric. Then I used Facebook’s capabilities as an online environment and what you get in your downloaded archive to grade how well Facebook addressed each challenge.

Accumulation: C 

I’m not too sure about this one. On one hand, we make specific choices about what we upload to our profiles, and therefore inherently delete things or leave their destiny to fate (for example, you’re not going to upload all 5 attempts at the same shot to an album). On the other hand, I feel like I document things now more than ever because I can put them on Facebook, so you could look at it as an impetus to produce and accumulate more.

Distribution: A 

Although I keep my stuff on multiple devices and web sites, Facebook is where I centralize my photos, daily thoughts, and links to other work.  Since opening my account in 2005, I have had two computer crashes and a handful of forgotten web environments where my photos and diaries were stored- but Facebook’s popularity has caused me to maintain my account for a decade, which in turn makes it my default place for publishing, which in turn makes it the number one place for saving and accessing.

Digital Stewardship: B 

Marshall defines this as automatic maintenance, communal maintenance, and individual maintenance of files. Facebook does have automatic mechanisms in place for maintaining your files, updating them, and protecting them from viruses. It does a great job providing communal maintenance because it encourages sharing and downloading, and the comments provide communal description. Individual maintenance (as I’ve discussed previously) is also fairly easy to do and encouraged. BUT you have no technical or copyright control over what happens to your files after you upload them, which is crucial for stewardship. [see more about this in my slides and notes]

Long-term Access: D

In order to ensure long-term access, we have to prepare for the possibility that the site will die. This means we’ve got to have local, offline control of our files, and those files need descriptions. The ability to download the data helps us with local control, but unfortunately there are many things that are not included, such as a history of your likes and comments on other people’s stuff, their likes on your stuff, posts on your timeline, or posts by you to other timelines. We also have no way of knowing if we’re really seeing everything Facebook keeps on us. To see a list of what they disclose, go to Accessing Your Facebook Data.

Overall it’s the description that really sinks Long-term Access to a D. Let’s look at photos as an example.

Case Study: Photos


Here’s what you see in your downloaded “photos” folder. Everything has been given a unique identifier, so there’s no way of knowing what your original file name was or even what album’s what. Notice how they also give you your facial recognition data. 


Here’s a snippet of what you see inside of a folder. All JPEGs, all with unique identifiers and an html index.

When you look at the properties of a file, there’s not much embedded metadata. You’ve got the size, resolution, bit depth. That’s about it.


In this example, the photo on the left is how it appears when this album’s html index is open in a browser. It gives the date uploaded, orientation, and IP address uploaded from. The one on the left is how it appears on Facebook. See what’s missing? BASICALLY EVERYTHING.


Photos uploaded from my smart phone include EXIF data in the archived html page as well, which is useful, but still doesn’t make up for the obliteration of user added description.

Summary of Findings

During the class activity, I assigned each person one of the following types of files to examine “as an archivist.” Here’s what we found together.


The students were shocked, and some great discussion ensued.


These were my final slides with suggestions for now and going forward.



How the Class Went

I had 6 students and 1 KCDC facilitator, ranging in age from ~25 – ~50 years old with varying digital literacies and no archival expertise. When asked why they had come to the class, students reported they had previously experienced data loss on web platforms such as Live Journal, GeoCities, and WebShots, were interested in personal digital archiving, or were worried about the security of their online content.

Overall I was very pleased with the class.  The students were engaged with the material, and everyone was able to contribute insights during the group activity. 4 out of the 6 students left contact information so that I could notify them of future classes, and one even tweeted me!

If you try the lesson, make sure you have extra laptops for people, and move through the slides at a steady quip to leave plenty of time for the last two suggestion slides. Perhaps re-thinking the title of the class will make it more approachable and increase attendance (something like “How to Save Your Facebook Profile Forever”).

Give it a try! 

Please download the slides and let me know how it goes at your library!

3 thoughts on “Class: Personal Archiving with Facebook

  1. Pingback: Class: Digital Estate Planning | Jaime Mears

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