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It was on the day I published an article called Dissecting the ‘death of Facebook’, where I pulled together all the negatively spun reports on Facebook of late and tried to add some balance to the argument, that Facebook announced its revenue for 2013 as $7.9bn, an overall increase of 55% year-on-year.
Suddenly my measly defence of Facebook seemed a little bit pathetic.
Then just a few days later, without warning, these little video links started appearing on our news feeds: Facebook a Look Back. 62 second long videos of all of our personal histories as told through the eyes of Facebook.
Facebook has used its 'bigger than big' data, accrued over ten years of existence, to create something completely unique and personalised for every single one of its user. Not just for the users in the UK either, worldwide.
That’s 757m daily active Facebook users worldwide, each receiving a minute-long, personalised love letter from Facebook. It’s an incredible achievement and a massive PR assualt directed at every single one of us. It seems the rumours of Facebook's demise have been greatly exaggerated.
I talked to some experts today about what they thought of Facebook’s 10th anniversary present to its users, but first a little of my own experience.
Initially the share button was missing from my video, so I assumed this was just a private treat for me. Facebook soon fixed that and my news feed started clogging up with as many friends sharing their own videos as friends saying they weren’t impressed and posting wet cat GIFs in defiance.
“It's total nonsense, my most liked picture is a screenshot of a Gumtree ad for female mud wrestlers” seemed to be the tone of most major complaints. Well that’s not really Facebook’s fault, that’s just down to the user’s own life choices. (I interview this particular person later on, but I won't name them in this paragraph.)
I was mainly impressed that, whatever the automatic software that Facebook used, it knew that I was engaged to my current girlfriend and only showed pictures of us together, rather than a miserable parade of ex-girlfriends awkwardly mixed into the montage, which is what I feared it would do during my first viewing.
I also thought this was a hilariously apt image to highlight the end of my video with, if not terribly 'meaningful'.
Again, I have nobody else to blame but myself.
Anyway, that’s my humble opinion on the subject. Here's what the experts think. We have three for, and one defiantly against.
Henry Elliss, marketing director of Tamar:
I personally loved them. It was a little glitchy at first (mine didn't have a 'share' button until the next day) but I LOVED mine. I actually welled-up a little watching it, since it showed my kids growing up and reminded me of all the stuff parents get reminded of when they see that sort of thing.
But I actually watched at least a dozen of my friends' ones too. After all, if you can't spare one minute to watch a potted history of somebody's life, you really need to reprioritise!
I only saw a few people complaining about them and even they had shared their own, so I think it was just a bit of a curmudgeonly response to the VOLUME of them. Presumably Facebook were ensuring they showed up in everyone's feeds (I doubt they were getting the low exposure that most other Facebook content seems to get in feeds these days) so they could seem a little over-whelming.
Frankly, compared to some of the dross people share on Facebook (need I mention giraffes?!) it was quite pleasant.
My only gripe was that it would have been nice to be able to edit them - I saw a couple where the photos that had been chosen were REALLY odd, one girl I know had the same photo three times in her video, but I guess that would have been a much bigger operation.
Steve Richards, MD of Yomego:
I think they're actually quite a nice idea. The problem is that they're focused on the individual so not very shareable. Not very social, and the Facebook version was quite schmaltzy.
But it had to do something and I think it's a simple and effective way to boost the sense of community.
Lawrie Malen, web developer at Very New Media:
There are two main problems with the Facebook Look Back:
1) Nobody cares about yours. 2) Because everyone thinks that everyone else cares about theirs (which they don't) nobody cares even harder about yours. I have 189 friends on Facebook and literally every single one of them has posted their Look Back. Out of 189 of those videos, I have watched precisely none of them.
Of my 'most-liked' photos: the first one is of my wife and I in New York... immediately followed by a Blu-tac giraffe I once made, a screenshot of Spotify crashing and Phil Spector in court on charges of murder.
Then I double-checked those 'most-liked' pictures. The Spotify screenshot had NO likes, whereas a picture of my (frankly amazing) Breaking Bad carved pumpkins had 28 likes... yet they weren't featured anywhere in my Look Back. WHERE ARE YOU GETTING THIS STUFF, MARK?
Despite these technical quandaries, I think the Look Back is missing a crucial point: social media is (for the users, at least) transitory; it's completely ephemeral by its very nature.
Can you imagine someone coming up to you at a party and spending ten minutes telling you what has fleetingly passed through their mind over the past five years, showing you photos of themselves with slightly different haircuts?
Let's put it this way: am I in your Look Back? No? Then I don't care. Perhaps a more fitting (although less catchy) name for this would have been A Look Back At Your Random Facebook Noise That Nobody Is Interested In.
Matt Owen, head of social media here at Econsultancy:
Overall I think it's a nice thought, it really communicates to users (most of us at any rate) why we keep returning to Facebook, and how deeply integrated it has become in our daily lives.
It would have been easy to really show off the data Facebook has on individual Likes and actions (can you imagine seeing a graph of every picture you'd ever Liked on Facebook?), but Look Back goes down the highly personal route and shows the strength of connections.
It feels like the right decision in light of various privacy concerns over the years. Look Back keeps it simple and doesn't do too much with the data, so users don't feel stalked and/or weirded out. It's only displaying moments that matter to the user.
It's feelgood all the way. In many ways it reminds me of Microsoft/IE's recent 'we first met in the 90s' ads, and it is a great way to communicate the core brand ideal, that it's about connecting people and relationships, rather than branded content and selling ads. It's a strong way to increase brand loyalty and it's certainly had the viral response that Facebook was looking for. A quick look at my own news feed and I can see no less than eight Look Backs being shared.
Facebook has had a long time to plan this, so it's oddly endearing to see them take such a simple approach to their tenth anniversary.
A couple of final tips:
Facebook has said that the videos will only be available for about a month unless you share them on your timeline. Only you will be able to view your video if you don't share it.
If the clip contains posts you'd prefer to keep private, you will soon be able to edit them via an Edit Your Movie button, although it's unavailable as yet and for many of you, that may be too late.