Seven charts that show how I used Facebook over the years

I wasn’t aware that Facebook allows users to download their data until I heard Mark Zuckerberg’s testimony in the US Congress last month.

So last weekend, when I reactivated my Facebook account after ten months, that’s the first thing I checked. The data archive, 900 megabytes in size, includes my location history, phone contacts, chat messages archive, status updates, history of all likes and comments among other stuff.

The data is shared as a collection of web pages. There is an index.html file to help users navigate through the data trove.

The best part: all HTML files can be easily parsed. I dug into the data to analyse the patterns of my Facebook usage—from February 4, 2010, when I registered for the service till date. Here is what I found.

  1. My relationship with Facebook: It’s complicated

Look at the following calendar chart: Every box represents a day; the big rectangle is a year. Boxes shaded purple are the days when my account was deactivated. Note that I have only included cases where the account was not active for at least 24 hours. Well, such was my love-hate relationship with the platform that many a time I used the deactivate feature as an alternative to logout—I would deactivate, only to get back in a few hours.

The chart shows how my big break that began in June 2017—which lasted for over 300 days until I got back recently—was a result of a sequence of fairly regular “social media detox” sessions during 2016 and a couple of weeks in 2015. (I don’t remember what led me to deactivate my account before 2014). More on ‘Life without Facebook’ in a future blog post!

2. How I gained friends

I have over 2400 Facebook friends. Gosh: it is impossible that I know them all.

The following graph charts the number of friends I added every month. It peaks during my second year in university (2012–13) and around the time of graduation (late 2015). The bulk of my network consists of students and alumnus of my university.

After I graduated, the number of new friends significantly dropped. Two potential reasons: One, I deactivated my account regularly; Second, I became very selective in adding friends, almost ignoring everyone with whom I have not interacted even once.

Facebook doesn’t provide data on the date/time I received or sent a friend request for existing friends— that would have helped to understand the factors that lead to expansion of my Facebook network.

3. College and Facebooking went together

As of date, I have 1,324 posts on Facebook. I exclude photo updates in this analysis (which would take the number to 2,329, as it counts every photo in an album as an individual post).

In the calendar chart below, the darkest shade of purple shows six posts on the day and white box means no post on the day.

The chart shows that my activity on the platform grew organically. I was posting fairly regularly during 2011–2013 but the post frequency increased in 2014 and 2015. That overlaps with the time I was leading Vox Populi, my university’s journalism society. The same story with Facebook messages —it peaks in 2014–16.

I haven’t analysed the content I was sharing, but it would largely comprise of articles that Vox Populi published, my thoughts on campus affairs, promoting club events and news articles. In 2016, when I started my journalism career, I used Facebook mostly to share news stories and my opinions on national and state politics.

I wish Facebook had this calendar chart in a personal dashboard where I could keep track of my activity and set alerts for overuse. Something like Github Contributions, a calendar which shows how frequently you’ve been contributing code over the past year. But of course, this will never happen: Harvesting user’s attention and data is at the core of Facebook’s business model.

4. Facebook is largely about small-talk. Call me maybe.

My Facebook inbox has 1,322 chats. 322 are group chats (with three people or more) and 1000 are one-to-one conversations.

But most of these chats are short exchanges: two-thirds (881 to be precise) have less than 50 messages. 77% have less than 100.

This swarm plot shows the distribution of the number of messages in my Facebook chats. Each dot represents a unique chat.

Only seven chats — six one-to-one, one group—have more than 2000 messages. I exclude them in the plot to reduce the height of the already-long chart.

One striking fact: In the last ten months, while my Facebook account was deactivated, I haven’t spoken — at all—with two of the six people with whom I had those 2000+ chat conversations. Of course, I didn’t need data to tell me this but it struck me hard when their names appeared in the analysis. Both have been contacted —yes, through a Facebook message—and I’ll bring it up how we should not let this happen again.

5. I have sent more number of messages but have received more words

My entire Facebook chat history comprises an exchange of 1,15,756 text messages with 8,30,164 words.

In one-on-one conversations (labelled ‘Single’ in the charts below), I sent 46,836 messages and received 46,050. But I received more words (3,69,403) than I sent (2,99,106).

I hope I had comparable data to see how my activity and patterns fare against others. Regardless, this was fun.

What else you’d do with this data? Any ideas? Let me know in the comments.

Update: Run this analysis for your Facebook data. Here is the code.

Freelance Reporter. Programmer. I write words and code. More:

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