A fascinating look in Businessweek at Facebook’s data center in a Swedish town of Luleå (population 75,000), located about 70 miles from the Arctic Circle:
The heart of Facebook’s experiment lies just south of the Arctic Circle, in the Swedish town of Luleå. In the middle of a forest at the edge of town, the company in June opened its latest megasized data center, a giant building that comprises thousands of rectangular metal panels and looks like a wayward spaceship. By all public measures, it’s the most energy-efficient computing facility ever built, a colossus that helps Facebook process 350 million photographs, 4.5 billion “likes,” and 10 billion messages a day. While an average data center needs 3 watts of energy for power and cooling to produce 1 watt for computing, the Luleå facility runs nearly three times cleaner, at a ratio of 1.04 to 1. “What Facebook has done to the hardware market is dramatic,” says Tom Barton, the former chief executive officer of server maker Rackable Systems (SGI). “They’re putting pressure on everyone.”
There’s a reason why they chose this place:
The location has a lot to do with the system’s efficiency. Sweden has a vast supply of cheap, reliable power produced by its network of hydroelectric dams. Just as important, Facebook has engineered its data center to turn the frigid Swedish climate to its advantage. Instead of relying on enormous air-conditioning units and power systems to cool its tens of thousands of computers, Facebook allows the outside air to enter the building and wash over its servers, after the building’s filters clean it and misters adjust its humidity. Unlike a conventional, warehouse-style server farm, the whole structure functions as one big device.
To simplify its servers, which are used mostly to create Web pages, Facebook’s engineers stripped away typical components such as extra memory slots and cables and protective plastic cases. The servers are basically slimmed-down, exposed motherboards that slide into a fridge-size rack. The engineers say this design means better airflow over each server. The systems also require less cooling, because with fewer components they can function at temperatures as high as 85F. (Most servers are expected to keel over at 75F.)
Now you know where those photos and messages are stored!
The case is Bland v. Roberts, 12-1671, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit (Richmond), reported by Bloomberg:
Using Facebook Inc. (FB)’s “Like” feature to show support for a candidate in an election is protected speech under the U.S. Constitution, a federal appeals court said.
The U.S. Court of Appeals in Richmond, Virginia, issued its ruling today in a lawsuit brought by former employees of a sheriff’s office who said they lost their jobs because they supported their boss’s opponent, including by endorsing a campaign page on Facebook.
The appeals court reversed a lower court judge who said that simply clicking the “Like” button on a Facebook page didn’t amount to “a substantive statement” that warrants constitutional protection.
“Liking a political candidate’s campaign page communicates the user’s approval of the candidate and supports the campaign by associating the user with it,” U.S. Circuit Judge William Traxler said in today’s ruling. “It is the Internet equivalent of displaying a political sign in one’s front yard, which the Supreme Court has held is substantive speech.”
In simple terms: using Facebook’s “Like” is protected under the 1st Amendment.
I’ve been reading a number of different studies that are in opposite camps about Facebook: on the one hand, Facebook helps us feel more social; on the other hand, Facebook depresses us. So which is it?
Maria Konnikova, writing in The New Yorker, summarizes that the answer isn’t black and white:
The key to understanding why reputable studies are so starkly divided on the question of what Facebook does to our emotional state may be in simply looking at what people actually do when they’re on Facebook. “What makes it complicated is that Facebook is for lots of different things—and different people use it for different subsets of those things. Not only that, but they are alsochanging things, because of people themselves changing,” said Gosling. A 2010 study from Carnegie Mellon found that, when people engaged in direct interaction with others—that is, posting on walls, messaging, or “liking” something—their feelings of bonding and general social capital increased, while their sense of loneliness decreased. But when participants simply consumed a lot of content passively, Facebook had the opposite effect, lowering their feelings of connection and increasing their sense of loneliness.
I would argue that “liking” things on Facebook has become the generic, zombie-like action that isn’t particularly social. Commenting on photos and posts, however, are examples of actively engaging with content.
What is the connection with being active on social networks and being lonely? A lot more than you think. Watch this video below titled “The Innovation of Loneliness”:
Beautifully done. And I hope you didn’t miss the underlying message. It’s even more pernicious than that: not only are we becoming more lonely with frequent use of Facebook, we’re also feeling terrible about it as a consequence.
The ever insightful Stephen Wolfram has another graph-heavy post, this time compiling data on Facebook analytics:
More than a million people have now used our Wolfram|Alpha Personal Analytics for Facebook. And as part of our latest update, in addition to collecting some anonymized statistics, we launched a Data Donor program that allows people to contribute detailed data to us for research purposes.
A few weeks ago we decided to start analyzing all this data. And I have to say that if nothing else it’s been a terrific example of the power of Mathematica and the Wolfram Language for doing data science. (It’ll also be good fodder for the Data Science course I’m starting to create.)
We’d always planned to use the data we collect to enhance our Personal Analyticssystem. But I couldn’t resist also trying to do some basic science with it.
I’ve always been interested in people and the trajectories of their lives. But I’ve never been able to combine that with my interest in science. Until now. And it’s been quite a thrill over the past few weeks to see the results we’ve been able to get. Sometimes confirming impressions I’ve had; sometimes showing things I never would have guessed. And all along reminding me of phenomena I’ve studied scientifically in A New Kind of Science.
So what does the data look like? Here are the social networks of a few Data Donors—with clusters of friends given different colors. (Anyone can find their own network usingWolfram|Alpha—or the
SocialMediaData function in Mathematica.)
It’s a pretty fascinating read.
My favorite graph was this one of the distribution of your Facebook friends’ age versus your age:
The age of your Facebook friends versus your age.
It’s also quite interesting how the marriage statistics from Facebook line up with the official Census data:
Facebook marriage age vs. Census data.
For a lot more analysis, read Stephen Wolfram’s entire post.
Andrew Leonard pens a very good rant on the annoying, intrusive ads Facebook is delivering to users of the mobile version of the app:
And now she’s in my phone. And guess what? In Facebook’s mobile app, there is no option to hide all sponsored ads from a particular advertiser. Your only choice is the basic option you have with any kind of post — you can mark it as spam. Supposedly, reporting posts as spam will decrease the likelihood that you see them, but I’m afraid I’ve seen zero positive change in the frequency or content of Facebook’s sponsored story ads, despite what Facebook claims. Instead I am getting more of the ads I don’t want on my phone, after years of telling Facebook I don’t like exactly those types of ads. This is not an encouraging trend line.
By the time the first trickle of caffeine had woken up my synapses, I realized that I was done. I had reached my tipping point. I no longer want to check Facebook on my phone.
Does Facebook really think so little of me? Am I not man enough to seek my own romantic path without Facebook’s help?
And the money quote:
I’m sorry, Mark Zuckerberg, but my iPhone screen is just not big enough for those breasts.
As a user of the app on my iPhone, I’ve noticed these annoying ads as well. I haven’t quite reached the tipping point of quitting the service, but I am irked enough to highlight others’ reactions to it and am not surprised with Mr. Leonard’s decision.
Writing in the London Review of Books, Rebecca Solnit expresses her discontent at the unstable housing market in San Francisco, driven by new money from the tech boom (Google, Facebook, etc.):
At the actual open houses, dozens of people who looked like students would show up with chequebooks and sheaves of resumés and other documents and pack the house, literally: it was like a cross between being at a rock concert without a band and the Hotel Rwanda. There were rumours that these young people were starting bidding wars, offering a year’s rent in advance, offering far more than was being asked. These rumours were confirmed. Evictions went back up the way they did during the dot-com bubble. Most renters have considerable protection from both rent hikes and evictions in San Francisco, but there are ways around the latter, ways that often lead to pitched legal battles, and sometimes illegal ones. Owners have the right to evict a tenant to occupy the apartment itself (a right often abused; an evicted friend of mine found a new home next door to his former landlord and is watching with an eagle eye to see if the guy really dwells there for the requisite three years). Statewide, the Ellis Act allows landlords to evict all tenants and remove the property from the rental market, a manoeuvre often deployed to convert a property to flats for sale. As for rent control, it makes many landlords restless with stable tenants, since you can charge anything you like on a vacant apartment – and they do.
A Latino who has been an important cultural figure for forty years is being evicted while his wife undergoes chemotherapy. One of San Francisco’s most distinguished poets, a recent candidate for the city’s poet laureate, is being evicted after 35 years in his apartment and his whole adult life here: whether he will claw his way onto a much humbler perch or be exiled to another town remains to be seen, as does the fate of a city that poets can’t afford. His building, full of renters for most or all of the past century, including a notable documentary filmmaker, will be turned into flats for sale. A few miles away, friends of friends were evicted after twenty years in their home by two Google attorneys, a gay couple who moved into two separate units in order to maximise their owner-move-in rights. Rental prices rose between 10 and 135 per cent over the past year in San Francisco’s various neighbourhoods, though thanks to rent control a lot of San Franciscans were paying far below market rates even before the boom – which makes adjusting to the new market rate even harder. Two much-loved used bookstores are also being evicted by landlords looking for more money; 16 restaurants opened last year in their vicinity. On the waterfront, Larry Ellison, the owner of Oracle and the world’s sixth richest man, has been allowed to take control of three city piers for 75 years in return for fixing them up in time for the 2013 America’s Cup; he will evict dozens of small waterfront businesses as part of the deal.
Evictions, foreclosures, and legal loopholes. This doesn’t sound like a city I’d want to inhabit. A must-read for perspective.
The Wall Street Journal has a bizarre story of four grown men who’ve been playing a game of tag for 23 years:
It started in high school when they spent their morning break darting around the campus of Gonzaga Preparatory School in Spokane, Wash. Then they moved on—to college, careers, families and new cities. But because of a reunion, a contract and someone’s unusual idea to stay in touch, tag keeps pulling them closer. Much closer.
The game they play is fundamentally the same as the schoolyard version: One player is “It” until he tags someone else. But men in their 40s can’t easily chase each other around the playground, at least not without making people nervous, so this tag has a twist. There are no geographic restrictions and the game is live for the entire month of February. The last guy tagged stays “It” for the year.
I guess this game beats Facebook pokes, but:
The participants say tag has helped preserve friendships that otherwise may have fizzled. Usually, though, the prospect of 11 months of ridicule overrides brotherhood.