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Facebook isn't claiming that stitching together meaningful portraits of hundreds of millions of people out of billions of data points is going to be a cakewalk. At F8, it trumpeted the work of recent hire Nicholas Felton, an infographics wizard whose visualizations of his own world helped inspire the Timeline. Attendees received copies of a beautifully printed booklet in which Felton enumerates the facts of his father's life. Much of it is revealing. Some of the items, however, like the elder Felton's favored Golden Gate Bridge tollbooth (Lane 6), mostly show how unenlightening it can be to grind a person down into numbers rather than a life.
Bison-burger fan Zuckerberg seemed positively giddy at F8 over the prospect of getting an annual tally of every meal he'd consumed and recorded using an app called Foodspotting. But what do Facebook's new features offer those of us who are more interested in what's on our friends' minds than what's in their bellies? Very little, it seems. Twitter already has Facebook beat for stimulating conversation: it's more relaxed, silly and surprising. And instead of attempting to inventory our entire existences, it forces users to get to the point by limiting every thought to 140 characters.
I know better than to scoff when Zuckerberg tells us how we're going to want to share things. Since the moment he invented Facebook, he's been reinventing it in ways that nudge people to open up more of their lives. Privacy advocates and a noisy minority of users always squawk, the service adjusts as necessary, and then most members come around to Zuck's way of thinking. Odds are that will all happen again. I just hope Facebook doesn't become so transfixed by big numbers that it loses the human touch that made it big in the first place.