Archiving and searching old Facebook status updates with Google Reader

I often find things on the web that relate to conversations I have had on Facebook, and if those conversations took place a long time ago, it can be murder to go back and find something. One can only click on Older Posts so many times.

Facebook alleges you can search status updates, but clearly they sunset things after some interval. There are all sorts of observations one could make about the ephemeral worldview Facebook assumes, and encourages, among its users to behave in this manner, but we all know that kids these days are falling apart and that our culture is dying, so I will not beat that horse further.

If one does want to be able to retrieve past information, it is easy to do using the ever-fabulous (and free) Google Reader.

First, head on over to Google Reader, and sign up for an account there if you do not already have one. What is Google Reader? It is a feed reader, or aggregator. What is that, you say? Here is a nice video of what this does and how it works. I do not know if a Google Reader account has any content in it when it is created, or if it is blank. Mine is subscribed to hundred of feeds and I chew through thousands of items a day, but I am way on the weird end of the bell curve.

When I set this up, Facebook made this much easier. They still enable one to subscribe to Notifications, Links, and Notes very easily, but status updates are harder than they used to be, and I apologize for that.

The easy link is gone from the obvious places one might look, but some googling turned up the answer here. I hope very much that the advice there will still work. Ready?

  1. Follow this link: http://www.facebook.com/notes.php?friends
  2. Once you are on that page, look for the link with the title Friends’ Notes. It is at the bottom of the image to the right.
  3. Right click on the Friends’ Notes link. If you are a single-button Mac user, that is a control-click (and go crazy and buy yourself a multi-button mouse; they are great).
  4. Paste the link you just copied in some place where you can edit it – an email, Word, Notepad, Simplenote, etc.
  5. It will look like this: https://www.facebook.com/feeds/friends_notes.php?id=xxxxxxxxx&key=yyyyyyyyyyyy&format=rss20 (except there will be other characters than the x and y series I have here).
  6. Replace the five characters that spell notes, and replace them with status. Make sure the _ and the . on either side are still there.
  7. Copy this modified link.
  8. In Google Reader, click the “Add a subscription” button in the upper left.
  9. Paste in the link from step 7.
  10. Click the little add button to the right of the text field where you pasted in the link.
  11. There is no step 11.

I suspect if you have never done this before, that can seem a little opaque, but I am sure you will get the hang of it quickly.

You can also add feeds (without having to edit anything) for your notes, your friends’ notes, notes from Pages to which you are subscribed, notifications, and your friends’ links. If anyone can find a feed for new photographs from your friends, please let me know.

Now that you have added this link to Google Reader, what next? Google updates, or refreshes, your feeds approximately every three hours. You can read them in Google Reader if you wish (I do), or you can ignore them and treat them solely as a repository for future searches. There will be no history in Google Reader before you begin the subscription, so searching is not very useful immediately, but once you have accumulated updates over time, it is a very quick and easy way to get back to an earlier discussion. Just type in a name or a keyword, click search, and then Google will show you a list of matching statuses which you can click to open them right up in Facebook where you can comment as you wish.

I hope this is a useful, not too frightfully nerdy suggestion for how to overcome Facebook’s amnesia about the past.

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