The Zuckerberg Files

Over the weekend, Michael Zimmer (my advisor!) launched The Zuckerberg Files – “a digital archive of all public utterances of Facebook’s founder and CEO, Mark Zuckerberg.” The archive contains “over 100 full-text transcripts and nearly 50 video files are available for researchers to download, analyze, and scrutinize.”

The project grew out of a conversation Michael, Kate Raynes-Goldie, and I had (over drinks, of course) during the Association of Internet Researchers annual meeting in Gothenberg, Sweden in 2010. At the time, Michael was embroiled in writing about privacy and social networks, Kate was critically engaging with “the Californian ideology”, and I was looking at how Facebook frames its users’ personal information as property (users “own and control” their information). We were all frustrated with how difficult it can be to track down the comments of important figures like Zuckerberg—comments central to our attempts to analyze certain discourses around persons, privacy, and technology.

Of course, this immediately struck us as amusing: we scramble to gather Zuckerberg’s statements for our work while, at the same time, Facebook holds much of our personal information in centralized databases. Wouldn’t it be funny, we thought, if we could turn the tables a bit? More than that, wouldn’t it be immensely useful?

Michael took the idea seriously and set out to build the archive. I’ve not been involved too much since those early conversations (save for the bare bones logo/header I whipped together for the site) but I’ve been hanging around, waiting to see what became of the project.

In light of all that, it’s super exciting to see the reaction the archive has gotten—coverage has ranged from the Chronicle of Higher Ed to Gawker to Ars Technica to Forbes—in just a few short days. If you’re a scholar interested in discourses surrounding privacy, personal information, and social networks, get in touch! Or, if you’re feeling particularly cheeky, you can like it on Facebook!

[The above image comes from animalnewyork.com – my favorite use of the logo so far.]

I played a small part in this project, as well. Considering it’s an archive that’s restricted to academics, I can’t imagine Michael ever expected this level of mainstream attention. It’s been fun to watch the various angles that reporters have attempted so far. I particularly admire Kashmir Hill’s Forbes piece in which she cleverly gets around her limited access to the full text by analyzing the metadata.

It’s been fun watching news of this spread.


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