Look Back: Facebook’s take on personal digital stories

If you’re a Facebook user you have probably seen the Look Back videos that have become a feature of the site and are being heavily promoted.

If you haven’t, well done on your achievement. They’ve been EVERYWHERE!

Facebook has created this feature that automatically produces a 1-minute video based on what it judges to be significant events, popular status updates and key pictures from your photo albums. It’s all mashed together with an inoffensive soundtrack and interesting transitions a la Animoto.

It’s all harmless, mildly diverting stuff but I was thinking about it from a digital storytelling point of view the other day.

Depending on how “resident” we are in social networks, the amount of information we put in there can accumulate into an interesting personal narrative. A while back, I downloaded the entirety of my interactions on Facebook and reading back through it was quite striking. It reminded me of events that I’d completely forgotten about and surprised me about how individual moments fitted into a broader timeline.

It also gave me a different perspective on the picture of the version of me that I had been broadcasting to those in my Facebook circle.

Storytelling and personal identity

Personal identity is a really important aspect of digital storytelling. Stories are the way we make sense of the things that happen to us, fitting them into a bigger picture. It’s also fascinating how those stories start to have an impact on the choices we make. Self and stories exist in a circular relationship.

Creating personal digital stories can be a great way of crystallising some of those narratives, coming to understand ourselves better and opening ourselves up to the outside world.

Facebook’s story of me?

Whether Facebook had any of this stuff in mind when they designed their Look Back videos I don’t know, but you can assume that personal stories are quite a big part of their aim.

So why, when watching my video, did I get a feeling that it had misfired?

The big difference is that this wasn’t a story that I chose to tell. All these “moments” were extracted as data by an unseen digital hand. Of all the major life changing things that have happened to me since joining Facebook in 2007 (!) precious few of them featured as part of my video.

It’s completely understandable. Facebook has to use surrogate measures such as number of Likes to judge the big moments but in the end it gave a very different impression of, not only the life I’d lived over the last seven years, but also of what I thought I’d been putting into Facebook.

It had even managed to almost erase one of my children from my life, making me want to go back into my photo albums to check I haven’t been subconsciously ignoring one. (I haven’t. My conscience is clear!)

It is possible to edit your movie, but you’re still only presented with a limited range of options for what photos and status updates you can include.

If watching your own Look Back movie has left you feeling similarly dissatisfied, take a look at Animoto as something that will help you tell a similar style of personal story but with more control over what you include.

Alternatively, just think of it as one of those “bright ideas” that Facebook has from time to time to increase engagement and watch some of these parodies instead.

An honest look at Facebook

Darth Vader looks back on an awesome career

A bit political this one…

2 thoughts on “Look Back: Facebook’s take on personal digital stories

  1. Carl Vincent

    I found this interesting, though not from a storytelling point of view, but because I read it just after reading an article about Big Data – and how humans find it hard to work with because of “Confirmation Bias” and our tendency to ignore data supporting ideas we don’t agree with – and that echoes with your thoughts on Facebook’s version of your story (based on cold hard data) and your own (based on warm squidgy human emotions). And of course, your whole approach of the importance of the human aspect in engaging stories.
    I think we’ll see more tension between the facts based on data and what we perceive to be the truth – and we’ll have to learn to cope with the fact that they’re not the same and how uncomfortable that might be.

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