Facebook Timeline and The Cult Of Me

Sep 23, 2011
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Mark Zuckerberg is a clever man. Facebook's f8 expo was as all-singing - with Spotify - and all-dancing - with Hulu - as we could've hoped, but at its core it was All About Me. Timeline may be the natural evolution of each user's profile page, but it's also the perfect stage for our self-obsessed times. Don't just tell people where you are now, but let them scroll back through the years to see how you got there.

The concept is enticingly straightforward. You already upload galleries of your adventures, and updates about what you've eaten, where you ate it and who you were sharing ketchup with, and the minutiae of your lovelife. Why not go one step further and make that into an interactive timeline, a permanent record of your past - fleshed out with video and photos - and a continuously evolving journal of your future.

There was plenty else to talk about at f8. Facebook is making a noticeable push, away from being merely the online version of your yearbook. Still, the new music, video and news integration - wrapping services like Spotify and Color up in the social network - is all really just to keep you locked to Facebook a little longer. Zuckerberg & Co. don't want you to get distracted and wander off, not when you could be fleshing out your Timeline.

But look. You're a special person. Really special. And I like you a lot. But I'm not particularly interested in browsing through my own baby photos, nor my partner's, and unsurprisingly that means I'm really falling short when it comes to enthusiasm about seeing yours.

[aquote]I'd far rather talk about what you did, find common ground and the places we agree to disagree[/aquote]

I use Twitter and Google+ more than I do Facebook because they're about a conversation, not a slide-show. Paging through your galleries - whether they're of your weekend clubbing or your 5th birthday - isn't of much interest to me; I'd far rather talk about what you did, find common ground and the places we agree to disagree. Show me a link to something that excites or intrigues you, not yet another video clip of graduates flinging their caps in the air.

Is Facebook's new Timeline feature right for the market? When it comes to the self-obsessed "brand me" zeitgeist, yes, certainly. Over-sharing is big business now, and Timeline means everyone who cares to can now curate their own, personal Wikipedia page. We needn't even keep to those pesky editorial guidelines: Facebook has sensibly made sure that we can pick and choose what's public and what isn't, portraying ourselves in the very best way possible.

After the UI furore has died down, then, people will flock to Timeline. Just as Chris Burns wrote yesterday in our f8 2011 wrap-up, "Your profile page has become a destination again, much like it was when Facebook first began." Facebook has recognized exactly what makes it so valuable - user self-interest - and capitalized on that.

There'll be questions to answer as Timeline rolls out. Context will be everything, and it remains to be seen whether users are willing to invest the effort in whatever granular access controls are on offer, if they don't want every facet of their lives laid bare. Until now that's been as straightforward as policing your timeline and deleting the occasional tidbit by an over-sharing friend; soon it'll be the monumental task of editing your entire history into different versions.

Then again, perhaps we won't need to bother. In all the hurry to document, detail and commemorate our fascinating lives, maybe we'll never get around to reading about everyone else's.


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