Joanne Garde-Hansen again:

Facebook is a database of users for users; each user’s page is a database of their life.

I disagree. Facebook does have a huge database, but it’s how it uses that data that is important.

Its real strength is using context to create meaning. Check this out.

A user (in this case, my bro!) types something into the status update box. Just one simple line of text.



On its own, that text is pretty meaningless. A short string of characters sitting on a server somewhere.

So let’s look at how Facebook connects pieces of information to create context.



Here that string of text has been connected with other info: the user’s name and profile pic, the time he posted it, and the method he used to do so.

There’s also the opportunity for other users to interact, and they do:

So now there are two Likes, so there’s social info connected too – info generated by other users of the site. So that one simple string of text has been put into context by Facebook, and re-presented to Sam and his friends along with a whole load of other information which, in sum, creates an engaging experience for users of the site.

And when you start to see Facebook like that – as a connector of small snippets of information – then you can see just how clever and complex it is:

Facebook connects many small things to make one big thing – and that big thing looks different to everyone, depending on the context Facebook creates for all those millions of small things.

So Facebook is not a database. Databases don’t offer context. Facebook connects information to create context, and context creates meaning.

Facebook is a meaning machine.


Garde-Hansen, J. (2009). My memories? Personal digital archive fever and Facebook. In Save as… Digital memories, ed. Garde-Hansen, J., Hoskins, A., and Reading, A.. London: Palgrave Macmillan, pp.135-150

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