Towards the end of last year, Facebook unveiled its timeline. Over the coming weeks, everyone of its 800 million users will be switched to this new interface. Is it really a “new way to express who you are”, as Mark Zuckerberg says, or a creepy invasion of privacy? Here's five things you need to know about it...
What is it?
Timeline combines your Facebook profile and wall to give you a page that looks like the bastard child of MySpace and Twitter. It tells your life story – your Facebook life story, anyway – in a scrolling, reverse-chronological order. Sort of like a narcissistic Pinterest or really vain visual blog.
If you're not already using it, you daft Luddite, there should be some “Introducing Timeline - a new kind of profile” spiel at the top of your profile page. Click “Get Timeline” and you'll get a timeline.
What's on it?
Status updates, photos, a cover (big photo), apps, friends added, job history, relationship status changes and all the other guff we clutter our profiles with.
From the day you were born right up to the present day, you can relive it all: every embarrassing drunken night out and correlating hangover; all the people you've been out with and subsequently split from; all the thrilling places you've visited and checked in to …. It basically makes remembering things obsolete. (Admittedly there is a gaping hole between the year you were born and the year you joined Facebook, but those years were probably shit anyway. If an event's not worth an update it's probably not worth remembering.)
As far as I can see, Perceptive advertising is the scariest outcome of Facebook knowing a little bit about me
Bit of an intrusion on privacy, isn't it?
“Facebook's timeline feature becomes mandatory for all users - with just 7 days to 'clean up'”, the Daily Mail shrieked the other day. “Facebook's Timeline - a new look for people's Profile pages which exposes their entire history on the site … those who are 'updated' will have just seven days to select which photos, posts and life events they want to advertise to the world.”
Fear and hatred are, of course, Mail staples. But, still, I still don't understand the demi-hysteria surrounding Facebook privacy. Yes, it's all bit Orwellian that our details exist on some omnipotent server somewhere. But this is no new thing. From the coffin to the grave we're numbered and catalogued everywhere we go, in one way or another. And the details of mine Facebook have, I couldn't give a shiny shit about – I put them there in the first place. No new information becomes available when you change to the timeline. Stop being silly, everyone.
As far as I can see, perceptive advertising is the scariest outcome of Facebook knowing a little bit about me – tickets to see Luciano? … Rekorderlig Cider? … Alan Bennett?! … It's like they're inside my mind. As long as I can stop randomers seeing pictures of my much-maligned curtained haircut period – replete with undercut – that'll do me.
I don't want it. What can I do?
Nowt. You're getting it whether you like it or not. Your news feed page won't change, but a timeline will replace your profile and wall. You can still manage who sees your updates or photos, and you can limit who sees what on your timeline – there's a drop-down menu (cog icon) next to each of your entries that lets you change who can see it. You can also hide or delete items (pen icon).
Think of it as an incredibly mundane, haphazard autobiography
Good thing/bad thing?
Depends how you use social media in the first place. To the casual user, it probably won't make much difference – except to cause a slight pain in the arse getting used to the layout, new features and settings.
If you use the service to scrutinise the lives of every friend, relative, ex and people you don't really know but have as Facebook friends anyway, you're quids in. No new updates? Occupy yourself by inspecting old activity. What were they doing on this day, last year? Two years ago? 2008?! Think of it as an incredibly mundane, haphazard autobiography.
Overall, I think the Facebook timeline is good thing. The banner image that stretches across the top of your profile, the ability to change the layout (look at these), branches coming off either side of the timeline – they all give you the option to personalise your page. Think MySpace without the need for a doctorate in computer science.
And, despite my cynicism, I suppose it will be nice to easily look over birthday wishes, congratulations, commiserations and all those things that Facebook's really good for, long after I've misplaced the cards I received on the occasion, and lost touch with the people who sent them.
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