The new Facebook as a virtual autobiography

The above-the-fold portion of Facebook's new Timelines profiles.

Yesterday, at its f8 developer conference in San Francisco, Facebook unveiled the future of its platform — an entirely new profile methodology it calls Timelines, allowing your previously-posted information an opportunity to live again rather than be forgotten at the bottom of an impossibly-long “more posts…” window. This new profile is active today, but limited to Facebook developers; however, this is the future of Facebook, and at some point in the near future all 750 million profiles on the network will be converted to this new format.

Today, I took advantage of a tutorial posted at TechCrunch that showed how you could easily be classified by Facebook as a “developer,” and therefore have early access to Timelines. That’s a screenshot of my new profile on the right. The huge masthead photo is a new feature Facebook calls a “Cover Shot,” allowing you to select one of your images to appear in this lead area as the front door to your profile. I suspect people are going to be doing some amazingly clever and creative things with this space once it is live.

Other key elements you’ll see in the new profile are boxes to browse your friends, your photos, a map of places you’ve been tagged using check-ins or other geotagging, an archive of everything you’ve “like”d, links to your notes, a list of people subscribing to your updates, a list of people you’ve subscribed to, and a box to add new apps. Facebook’s new apps are worthy of another post entirely; visit the links I posted in the lede regarding the f8 conference if you want to know more.

The nav bar for my timeline.

The main event for this new profile is the Timeline. It’s exactly what it sounds like; your wall posts are arranged chronologically on a vertical line that extends from “today” at the top all the way down to the date of your birth at the bottom. That birth date, along with other key dates like when you graduated from high school or college, are culled from existing information in your profile. There’s a nav bar to the right of your timeline that allows you to easily navigate back to any point in your past and see what was going on. A grab of my nav bar is to the right. If I want to see everything I posted in July of this year, I just click on July, and the timeline scrolls down to July. If I click on “2010s,” the menu expands to include each year in the decade; as with months, I simply click on a year and the timeline scrolls down to posts from that year. The years and months also contain some boxes with aggregate information – how many pictures you posted that month, how many friends you added, how many videos you posted, etc. I grabbed my “Friends” and “Likes” summary boxes for August of this year; they’re included below.

As you scroll backward through the timeline, you’ll discover that you can click at any point in the timeline and add a new event. Facebook gives you some built-in categories for things like work & education; family; where you live; health & wellness; and education and experiences. You can use these, or just add an uncategorized post as a status message, and date it at any point on your timeline.

When this change rolls out to everyone, Facebook will have converted itself from a social networking site to something that can potentially be as complete a record of your life as you wish it to be — from the day you were born to today.

Facebook started as a social network. Google+ jumped into the fray to provide competition for Facebook in the social network arena. Facebook responded by completely reinventing itself and its core purpose — it’s now a virtual home for as complete a copy of your memories and experiences as you wish it to be.

Two of my summary boxes for August 2011.

The timing of Facebook’s announcement could not have been more interesting to me. Not two weeks ago, I read a brilliant article at The Next Web about Evernote, a piece of note-taking software that I’ve been using for a couple of years now and find more to love about every time I use it. In this article, Evernote’s creators and curators talked about their vision for the future of the software – for it to evolve from a note-taking device to a virtual memory of its user. Here’s a quote from the end of the story:

Now, fast forward 100 years. I started using Evernote at age 26. Now, I’m 126 and I’ve been physically dead for 20 years after a bike riding accident in Provence at the age of 106. But for years after my death, for an eternity, my children and their children, could pour through my memories in a multimedia fashion, revisiting my life in a way that the present day diary keeper could only desperately imagine.

Evernote envisions this as its future. Facebook launched this yesterday.

Andy Bartlett

By day, I am the executive director of communications and marketing at Bemidji State University. The rest of the time, I'm a husband, father of three, and proponent of super heroes, lasers, space ships and explosions.

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2 Responses

  1. Chris says:

    Honestly, I’m thinking about leaving Facebook… it’s getting far too complicated for me to figure out in the limited time I have. Twitter… gah. As I follow more people and more follow me, I wind up feeling like I’m stuck in a room with twenty people all yakking away on their cell phones – some with each other, but most with people I don’t follow myself. (You, at least, I can understand, mostly!) And I just don’t have it in me to try GooglePlus.

    Foolish dream – a digital life that is easier to manage than my REAL life!!!!

  2. There’s a delicate balance here that Facebook, Twitter, etc., have yet to really hit. They can either become more complex in terms of how much of the experience of sharing what you do is automated — which gets them into trouble with privacy advocates — or they can try to add features that aren’t automated — which leads to a steep learning curve for those unable or unwilling to spend the time to figure it out. Twitter’s the same way; I follow about 360 people, and if I get busy and don’t pay attention to it for two hours, there’s so much content backlogged that I don’t even make an attempt to sift through it. The Twitter users who are following 7,000 people cannot possibly be having meaningful interactions with any significant portion of them. So they buy TweetDeck, which presumably will give users the ability to have separate streams for lists – which immediately adds to the complexity for average users.

    I’m not sure where the balance between complexity and ease of use lies. Facebook and Twitter haven’t found it either. There will likely be a lot of confusing changes as they roll out things to test and try to figure it out.

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