At first glance you might not be sure what it is. An entire page of broken pixels? One of those optical illusions where you have to cross your eyes and then focus to make the image pop out?
What is it? It’s every single face on Facebook.
“The Faces of Facebook” is a project from creative technologist Natalia Rojas that maps all 1.26 billion Facebook users’ profile pictures on a single Web page. The result is an array of photos so tiny they mesh together to look like the spackle of static fuzz you see on an untuned television. There’s a zoom feature that lets site visitors hone in on certain sections of the vast photo collage, and the photos change from a speck of blue or red into a distinguishable picture as they come into focus.
The photos are arranged in chronological order, so the most recent Facebook users are at the bottom of the screen, while those first Harvard joiners sit at the top right. To find where your profile falls into this grand scheme, there’s a button in the top corner that allows you to link to Facebook and discover your place, as well as where your friends fall in the lineup. I’m face number 1,826,075, while my dad is 1,231,821,020, so I finally beat him at something. Scrolling all the way to the top, you’ll discover Eduardo Saverin is listed as the twenty-third person to join the network, and the first face, of course, is Mark Zuckerberg, followed by Chris Hughes and Dustin Moskovitz. At the top right, it’s all Ivy League alumni, while if you check out the most recent additions, it’s a more varied hodgepodge of ages and socioeconomic strata.
Rojas spent a year and a half working on the project in her free time, and the result is impressively comprehensive and easy to use. The project doesn’t store any private Facebook user information, and she created it by staying within the privacy boundaries Facebook has set up for developers. “I was playing around with Facebook API and I discovered that there is a way to access everyone’s public information with a very simple, but not obvious, algorithm. At that time I though I could do something beautiful or interesting with that, like showing them all together. Then I started to write the code or software to achieve it,” she says.
“The hardest job was to show all the images that are actually photos and not silhouettes – like default pictures, or inactive users or invalid users. Imagine that there are more than 100,006,823,023,579 IDs and only 1.3 billion of them are actually photos,” she says. The vast collage doesn’t include these users, so Rojas had to filter them out by turning them into colorful blocks. “Fortunately for me, there is some public data for each Facebook profile, no matters of how restricted are your settings, and the profile picture is one of them.”
The project vividly illustrates Facebook’s massive scope, and Rojas plans to keep it running as long as there are a substantial number of visitors, although she may take it down eventually since it is expensive to host the project (which is why there’s a donation button at the bottom of the page).
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