Facebook Timeline: Personalization without all the mess

Facebook Timeline was announced yesterday at the f8 conference. The opportunity to better curate your own Facebook content for your friends and family is here but within a slicker, more controlled interface than MySpace ever had.
Written by Robin Harris, Contributor

One of the reasons I used MySpace for a grand total of about two hours years ago was that I couldn't stand how everyone had something to say or share but they had no idea how to curate it. We can't really blame anyone for that. With a demographic made up mostly of teenagers and not UX/web designers, it was bound to be the case. I remember back when someone would say, "hey man check out my MySpace page." I'd cringe before I even booted up my laptop to go check it out. More often than not, as expected, their page would have seventy-two embedded videos from YouTube and Vimeo, a high-res print-ready image as a tiled background (file sizes exceeding 3-5MB in some cases), and a color scheme that made no sense if you had any interest in reading anything they had to say (small dark grey fonts on a black background, ugh).

I believe that one of the reasons Facebook took off so quickly is that people were tired of the mess. Just like Starbucks, sure all the places you go on Facebook look the same, but at least you were getting a consistent product that was controlled and you knew what to expect. As Facebook Timeline is rolled out over millions of users it will be interesting to see everyone's curation skills put to the test. It's apparent that at least one of the many reasons why Timeline was created is the complaint about not being able to customize your Facebook page to be more reflective of who you are so you can make it as personal as possible. It's kind of a chicken/egg scenario for Facebook though because they know that their controlled consistent framework really is a major part of their success, capitalizing on the bad taste MySpace left in our digital mouths. They also know that if they give their users too much freedom with customization and its integration into their profiles, the content itself could dismantle the Facebook's overall user experience and palpability. In my opinion, Timeline is Facebook making an effort to have their cake and eat it too.

Our lives in the cloud My teenagers are on Facebook. Eventually my eight year old will as well when he reaches his teenage years. This will be, and is the way it works now, until either Facebook goes away (doubtful) or another social network takes its place. Like it or not, Facebook and other social networks have effectively been woven into the fabric of American adolescence and adulthood. I think about how great it will be to go to Facebook 10 years from now and be able to look back at milestones in my sons' lives. I can revisit photos of them when they got their driver's licenses, their high school graduation, when they went off to college, met their first serious girlfriend, etc. just by scrolling through their timeline. Assuming I help them understand the privacy issues and settings, this will be amazing for all of my close friends, non-local family and distant relatives to be able to see what's going on in their lives.

My only concern about this is that if Facebook is the life-documentary platform of choice by the people, what happens when you've trusted thirty years of your life to a cloud platform and they go out of business? What if they change their business model (like MySpace after it train-wrecked)? What if phishers and hackers wipe out someone's entire documented life because either their password was easily guessed or Facebook had a security hole for an hour? It would be devastating to today's younger generations to last that info/time investment decades later. Hopefully Facebook realizes this and continues to simultaneously develop a robust, easy-to-use solution for backup.

In general I'm excited to see it in action because, security/privacy paranoia aside, it's a really cool idea that I know people are going to have fun with and it's a such a great way make the profile experience more rich, creative and interesting.

Also check out

How to get the Facebook Timeline (officially and unofficially)

Facebook is finally getting redesigns right with Timeline

A closer look at the Facebook Timeline and the Open Graph

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