Among the three new features introduced by Facebook last week, one of the last ones to make it to the hands of users was the personal data downloader. It's also one of the most interesting of the bunch, since it effectively gives users an escape hatch to grab everything they've ever uploaded to Facebook and take it elsewhere.
The feature finally went live over the weekend, and I've had a chance to put it through its paces. The good news is that it's one of the simplest options I've ever seen for such a large amount of data. The bad news is that because it's just your information, you may find it's missing a lot of things that include you, but that were uploaded by others.
So what does the service do? It grabs every photo, video, wall post, private message, event, and scrap of profile information from your Facebook account, and puts into a tidy little zip file. In essence, it's your entire Facebook identity in just a folder.
To get this wealth of information, you have to jump through a handful of security hoops. Even if you're signed into Facebook, you need to re-enter your password to request it. Also, if you're on a computer that Facebook is unfamiliar with, it will ask you to solve a captcha. Facebook will then beginning pulling together all those files, which it does in the background, before sending you an e-mail to let you know it's done.
For me, the turnaround time from filling out my information to getting the download link was less than 10 minutes. And the size of the download? 270MB.
Once you have that file in hand, your profile is broken into folders. This includes photos and videos, though unfortunately, this works out a little better for videos than it does for photos.
Every single video I had uploaded was preserved with the exact same file I had uploaded. The photos, on the other hand, had all been run through Facebook's processing, and ran the gamut from 604 pixels wide, to the newer 720 pixel wide format--in either case, that's tiny. The good news is, going forward this won't be as much of a problem, since Facebook recently increased its photo resolution (and thus the preserved file download) to a 2048 pixels wide--an eight-fold increase.
My bigger objection to the process was that some of the original metadata--like when the photo had been taken--gets stripped in the process. Why is this important, you ask? Say you want to stick those photos into a photo management tool, you can no longer sort them by date. The good news on that front is that your collections are preserved as subfolders within the main photos folder, so you have some frame of reference. … Read more