Numbers on Facebook’s exponential growth often get thrown around, but it can be hard to comprehend what those numbers mean. The site is becoming the repository for huge quantities of information about the daily lives of its users, and it can be easier to understand how significant this is when listening to company executives discuss how Facebook struggles to manage all of this information. Bobby Johnson, director of engineering at Facebook, spoke this morning at the Usenix WebApps ‘10 conference in Boston, where he outlined how the company handles the technical and organizational problems created by its rapid rise.
The site’s 400 million users have an average of 130 friends each, and just this social graph data is tens of terabytes in size. What’s more, this data has to stay accessible at all times, since it’s used to respond to almost any action that a user takes. For example, when a user logs in, data about that person’s social connections is used to figure out what information to display in the user’s news feed (the first screen shown after login).
On top of keeping track of users’ connections to each other, Facebook has increasingly become the archive for users’ personal memories. The site has long been the largest photo-sharing site on the Web, and virtual photo albums have in many cases replaced the paper albums that used to sit on people’s shelves.
But while the accumulation of photos and videos may become an issue for the site in the long run, Johnson says that for now the main issue is dealing with new data. More than half of the data currently on the site was added this year, he says. Facebook plans never to delete old data, but even if they did, Johnson notes that it would do little to relieve the challenge of storing the flood of new data.
The company obviously takes the responsibility of storing all this data seriously–it routinely replicates information at least three times to ensure it is safe from hardware failure and bugs. It’s stunning, however, to contemplate how large a responsibility the company has for information belonging to a growing number of people around the world.
Forget dating apps: Here’s how the net’s newest matchmakers help you find love
Fed up with apps, people looking for romance are finding inspiration on Twitter, TikTok—and even email newsletters.
How AI is reinventing what computers are
Three key ways artificial intelligence is changing what it means to compute.
These weird virtual creatures evolve their bodies to solve problems
They show how intelligence and body plans are closely linked—and could unlock AI for robots.
We reviewed three at-home covid tests. The results were mixed.
Over-the-counter coronavirus tests are finally available in the US. Some are more accurate and easier to use than others.
Get the latest updates from
MIT Technology Review
Discover special offers, top stories, upcoming events, and more.