I’m not an easy guy to get presents for. I’m old enough that I don’t need the essentials, I have plenty of tech gadgets, and I’m generally not an object-oriented person.
But last weekend, my wife, Nicki, surprised me with a birthday gift I never saw coming: a gorgeous hardbound book of my life, as recorded on Facebook.
It’s called MySocialBook, and it’s from a company that does exactly what it sounds like: With a few clicks, it lets you order a physical book that is, in essence, an attractively designed printout of your Facebook history, as far back as 2007. It contains all your posts and all the comments on them.
It’s such a cool idea, with so much potential appeal to so many people, that I thought I’d review it, flaws and all (with Nicki’s encouragement, I should add).
You have a good amount of control. You can specify the time range included. The average Facebook member generates 100 pages a year, but you could restrict it to the dates of, say, a honeymoon or a vacation.
You can choose hardcover or softcover. And you can omit posts that don’t seem worth including. The resulting prices range from $11 (softcover, 25 pages — the minimum) to $162 (hardcover, 500 pages — the maximum).
What’s fantastic for the sender is that the whole thing is automatic. You don’t have to spend hours laying out the book; it’s done for you, in a handsome, magazine-style, two-column format.
The design includes different fonts and colors for your posts, photo captions, and friends’ comments; it really looks great. (Messages, chats and notes don’t appear.) It’s divided into chapters by month, with the most-liked post appearing as “pull quotes,” just like in a magazine.
You can choose which photo appears on the cover (or which appear in a collage), and what color the background of the cover is. You can limit the number of comments included with each post. The inside spread features the headshots of your most frequent commenters, or you can substitute a mosaic of photos you’ve posted.
You can also print a MySocialBook for someone else, as my wife did for me. In fact, you can incorporate up to four people’s Facebook output into a single book, which opens up some interesting possibilities for couples or families.
Your book about you
I’ve seen some criticisms online from people who find the option to make books of other people’s Facebook lives a little creepy or plagiaristic. “Wait, you’re printing a book of my photos?”
But for heaven’s sake, you posted them on Facebook. If you didn’t want the world to see them, perhaps you shouldn’t have posted them publicly. (Your book can include only posts and photos that the privacy settings already allow you to see.)
The site’s Frequently Asked Questions points out that a MySocialBook might be a thoughtful way to remember a Facebook member who has died, as long as that account hasn’t been “memorialized” (frozen).
There are some flaws in the MySocialBook, though, and they stem from its automated layout.
For example, there seemed to be a lot of duplicated photos. The website says that’s a result of a photo being in more than one album, but that wasn’t the case in my examples. You can remove the duplicates by hand during the stage when you’re previewing the book before ordering it, but that shouldn’t be necessary.
The bigger problem is the two-column flow of text. When there are too many comments to a post to fit on the page, they flow onto the following page, which is fine. Unfortunately, the columns don’t flow the way you’d expect, like this:
They flow instead like this, which is hard to figure out every single time:
I also noticed that multi-paragraph posts lose the blank line between them when they appear in the book, which makes them harder to read.
Those seem like sloppy programming oversights that should be easy to fix. You could say the same for the typos and misspellings that litter the company’s website.
Even so, the MySocialBook is an amazing record of your life. Don’t give me that thing about, “But it’s the same material that’s on your Facebook page!”
It’s actually not the same thing, for many reasons:
• There are no ads in the book.
• The book is in chronological order. (Facebook shows newest first.)
• The book doesn’t hide anything. (Facebook conceals both comments and posts beyond the first few.)
• The book is permanent. Goodness knows what will happen to Facebook or its posts or its policies.
• The book is offline. You can leave it on your coffee table. You can read it on planes, in bathtubs, in church.
• The book is readable by non-Facebook members. I’m absolutely itching to show mine to my parents. They’ve never even seen Facebook and have no inkling of the rich journal of my life that I leave there.
Above all, the book really is a spectacular gift: personal, fairly priced, one of a kind. The lucky recipient would need a heart of stone not to be delighted and moved.