Facebook is a data supernova. According to the site's official stats page, there are more than 500 million users, with the average user creating 90 pieces of content a month. Previously in this Hive, I discussed how my iPhone's camera has nudged me into better documenting my life. For even more of us, the status update is a fossil record of our existence: TV shows we watched, stuff that occurred to us, articles we've read, family photos, FarmVille accomplishments, wedding announcements, and on and on without end. I was curious who was looking at this data and what larger trends they discovered.
Our first stop is Openbook. The site lets you search public Facebook updates and was created to demonstrate how FB's privacy settings are confusing: People don't realize how widely they are sharing personal information. And, indeed, when you do a search like "cheated on my wife," you discover updates that would've been better left in the privacy of one's own mind. Same with "my boss sucks."
As you move beyond obvious "gotcha" searches, the vastness, weirdness, and potential usefulness of Facebook becomes even more apparent. A search like "brushing my teeth" reveals the amazing variety of pop music that launches people into their day. It would satisfy a small curiosity to map the status updates about UFO sightings, and I could imagine tech-happy CNN showing where love for President Obama is currently cresting. I also like doing lunchtime marketing research about how people feel about organic food or comparing the patrons of Pizza Hut vs. Taco Bell.
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