Facebook took a year to develop the advanced profile currently called timeline, but I see it as part of a much longer evolution — dating back to Vannevar Bush’s Memex vision from the 1950s.
The Memex was a hypothetical machine that would record everything; now Facebook stands to be the first realized version of the Memex, recording everything (well almost) and allowing us near-instant recall of the minutest details of our lives – or at least the ones we posted on Facebook.
Since around 2002, I have been a big fan of timelines, culminating in the Nokia Lifeblog project in 2004 — the first commercial timeline application.
The Lifeblog automatically collected text and MMS messages, as well as photos, videos, and sound-clips, and compiled them into a searchable diary.
The problem is, Nokia’s Lifeblog was platform-specific, and so a very limited number of users could see the full potential of a timeline-like interface.
Being platform-neutral, Facebook timeline can deliver that experience to all its users, not just users in possession of a certain device.
What’s more, Facebook timeline offers an intertwined social history of relationships. This was not possible with Lifeblog, as it was a standalone diary, limited to one user’s data.
What we’re seeing with Facebook is a logical next step that should drive up engagement significantly.
The challenge, however, is that young people, the majority of Facebook users, live in the present – or at best, in the immediate future. The past is generally not that interesting to them. It only becomes interesting with age, and then at a mature age, most people spend all their time looking back.
What will be crucial for Facebook is designing serendipity algorithms that bring to the surface the most contextually relevant information, not just a detached sense of nostalgia.
Getting the past to inform the present and, on the converse, getting the present to trigger memories will be crucial.
It will also be essential to adding more features that are akin to a time machine (that might also be a good name for timeline if it turns out that Facebook has to rename the advanced profile).
Merely aggregating the data already adds value; but if you have the data, you can make it useful for the users.
Guest writer Christian Lindholm is partner and director at .Fjord