Facebook users are not an adventurous bunch. On the whole, they hate change, and are very stuck in their ways. Even though some of them are drawn from the ranks of the early adopters and new technologists, they don’t like it when the Facebook infrastructure changes, and they throw giant wobblers.
About a month ago things were fiddled with as a pre-cursor to the big big change that is coming, which no doubt will upset the feet stamping regulars more than they’ve ever been upset before.
There was much throwing of toys out of prams and spitting out of dummies about the recent slight changes, but, hey, those with a fear of change have much much more to fear with the truly radical change that faces them. The end is nigh!
I think the main reason for this is that Facebook has traditionally been an over-complex environment requiring a certain amount of ‘learning’ before a user can just use it. And as for once requiring over 150 different screens and sub-screens in order to slowly get through all of one’s privacy settings, well that was ridiculous.
In recent times things have got simpler, although 90% of Facebook users still have no idea how to actually change anything, and certainly no idea that the only people who can read anything they’ve written on their ‘Wall’ or see any of their drunken or baby photos, are the hundred or so they’ve added as ‘Friends’.
It’s been a speculation that one of the reasons why Facebook has traditionally been so over-complex is that not only does finally sussing it engender loyalty, but there’s a much greater exposure to served advertising. I like to think of it being more that as aspects of Facebook functionality were added on, they were literally bolted on having been designed by engineers. Engineers don’t worry about the users or how things look and feel. They think from the workings outwards. I suspect this is how the mind of Zuckerberg et al works.
However, as I said, on the horizon the biggest changes ever are a-coming. In simple terms, out go ‘Walls’ (Why were they ever called ‘Walls’? Was it alluding to graffiti or something?). In come ‘timelines’.
Hmmm. How to describe a ‘timeline’. Well, there have been sites like timelines.com and some others who have presented similar concepts, but this of course is integrated into Facebook and is about you.
Basically, a ‘timeline’ exists as a continuous sliding line from your date of birth (there doesn’t seem to be provision to include your date of death, although I guess that might be something for the future), with everything you do finding its place on your ‘timeline’. So, today you might put “I’m eating my breakfast” on your ‘timeline’ and it’ll stick to the precise minute that you announced to the world your mind-boggling breakfast eating news. In ten years time you’ll be able to slide back and read that you had breakfast ‘on this day in history’. Others can come and comment on your revelation, just as they used to be able to when you just had a ‘Wall’ on which to notify your Friends of your breakfast eating news. Also, everything you have ever written already on Facebook is on your ‘timeline’, forever. It never goes away! Hey, when Facebook changes you over to ‘timeline’ mode, do make sure you take the opportunity to slide back and look at any year you like and see what a prat you were on Facebook! I have.
Alternatively, you can retrofit events by sliding back down your timeline to a point, say, back in 2001 when you graduated from Uni and you can place the pictures of your graduation or announcement, “Today I ate my graduation breakfast!” exactly where it belongs in time. Likewise the wonderful baby photos from 2008 of your son/daughter being breast fed their breakfast.
However, as you move forward over the years everything you do is recorded on your timeline. So, when in 2012 you change your relationship status from ‘Married to’ to ‘Single’, it’s there forever against the date you changed it. Then in 2013 when you change it to ‘Engaged to’, that too is there forever on your timeline on the date you changed it. The ‘timeline’ records and displays everything you do or say on Facebook, and you can slide back to see exactly when you did it.
Strangely, Facebook’s algorithm will not always display everything, leaving unexplained dots on the ‘timeline’ which you have to click on to reveal that the dot represents, say, “I’m not having anything for breakfast today” as announced to the world. Well, announced to the few hundred ‘Friends’ you have. There are also monthly dots that will open up everything from a specific month too. Oh, and monthly summaries of what you did during any specific month, including, for example, how many new ‘Friends’ you made.
Different things along the ‘timeline’ can have different audiences. It is possible to make everything ‘Public’ or for specific items along the way to be restricted to just ‘Friends’, ‘Friends of Friends’ or even ‘Just you’. There’s the option to change each item, if you can be arsed. I guess you might want to put on your ‘timeline’, “Today I had breakfast in bed with three naked men and a collection of wet fish. Yum.” but restrict viewing to just yourself, rather than allow your ‘Friends’ to realise what a weirdo you actually are. Then it’s there forever, for you to look back on when writing your auto-biography during your very lonely years.
In traditional Facebook clunkiness, you can control which of the actions and changes you make (such as to your relationship status, employment, etc.) are shown on your ‘timeline’, but it’s a further 8 million privacy settings and clicks until you’ve sorted it to your liking.
Global changes can be made to everything on your ‘timeline’, BUT only locking downwards. That is to say, you could start with everything always visible in ‘Public’, but decide to change everything to ‘Friends’ only. Yes, you can do that in one global sweep. But you cannot do it the other way. If you want everything that’s currently shown only to ‘Friends’ to now be ‘Public’ you have to visit every entry in turn and change it on an item by item basis. Now, that’s tedious if you’ve been on Facebook since it started!
The result is that most ‘timelines’ are locked down to be only visible to ‘Friends’, once again, assuming they can actually be arsed to take a look. As it is, most of what people post on Facebook is never read by anybody (well, except themselves of course). Sigh, all those breakfasts that nobody else knows about, eh?
Plus, everybody gets to feature a main photo at the top of their ‘timeline’, called the ‘cover photo’. You can see in the screenshot up there that mine is an exciting picture of naked snow snorkelling. Lovely. What will you pick for yours?
There’s something very personal about ‘timelines’, in many a way it’s very voyeuristic. Not to mention, sliding back x years to see exactly who you were arguing with on Facebook and when and about what can be a little embarrassing and leave you thinking, “Oh my god, what a complete prat I used to be. No wonder I was so alone for so many of my breakfasts back in those days”.
Anyway, much as I’m a Facebook hater, I have to admit to really liking ‘timelines’, and guarantee they will change how people use and view using Facebook. That change will be for the better. I suspect even the change haters will actually grow to truly love them and laugh about how primitive and confused life on Facebook was back in the days before ‘timelines’.