Timeline, the redesigned version of the profile that Facebook launched yesterday at f8, gives users much more flexibility in how they present themselves. Users can customize their banner image, make certain types of content more prominent, and decide what moments of their life they want to feature. Everything users have ever posted to Facebook is now much more accessible, so most will want to browse through their Timeline and ensure all their content is appropriate and has the right privacy settings.
Here we’ll walk-through all the new features available in Timeline, how to control what’s displayed, and discuss how Timeline will impact users and the rest of the site. Facebook has struck a balance between creating a common structure for all profiles but giving users to ability customize the way they present themselves within those boundaries. In this way, the site has become more personal without following Myspace’s mistake of allowing users so much freedom over arrangement of core features that browsing becomes confusing.
Those who want to early access to Timeline can sign up at its new about page. It’s also possible to get a developer release of the Timeline now. To get access, those who aren’t already developers users must have a verified account and install the Developer app, then create an application, click “Get Started Using Open Graph”, edit some settings, then wait a few minutes and return to their profile. They should see the Timeline, and can select to make it visible it to their friends immediately or it will be automatically published on September 29th, 2011.
At the top of the Timeline is the Cover, a giant banner image. Users can select any of their their album photos as their Cover, or upload a new image. Once selected, users can click on their Cover to bring up options to reposition it, choose a new image, or remove their current Cover.
With this option, Facebook has given users more control over the look of their profile than ever before. It may also lead to the rise of applications that let users create collages or other special images specifically for use as Covers.
Below the Cover users see the biographical information that previously appeared on their Info tab. This includes their work, education, current city, and hometown. There’s also an “About” link that expands the Info section to reveal work and education details, a “History by the Year” of a user’s employment and schooling, a user’s Relationships and Family connections, their About Me text, favorite quotes, basic info and contact info. Users no longer have the option to “Feature” certain friend lists, family members, or Groups.
To get users to keep their Info up to date, there are edit links in the expanded About section and a big Update Info on the main Timeline view. By getting people to share as much biographical information as possible, Facebook gains valuable data that it can charge advertisers to use for targeting their ads.
Featured Content Categories
Beside the Info section, the Timeline displays four channels of different types of content. By default, these are Friends, Photos, Map, and Likes, but users can click a drop-down to swap in other categories into the featured slots. When viewing a friend’s Timeline, this drop-down reveal the non-featured categories.
The categories users can choose from include:
- Friends – Displays all of a user’s friends including a overlaid count of their mutual friends. When expanded, friends can be searched through or sorted by characteristic. A privacy control and link to the Find Friends feature appear in a user’s own Friends section.
- Photos – All of a user’s photo albums and videos, followed by their tagged photos and videos. Each album includes a privacy control. As the old photostrip has been replaced with the Cover this this photos section, users must pick one photo to represent them instead of five.
- Likes – A user’s Liked Pages sorted by category, with their Favorite Likes shown first followed by links to see all Pages in that category. Below, a user’s Liked Pages are displayed in reverse chronological order. With access from the main profile view, Pages now have a bigger opportunity to gain new Fans from users browsing the Likes of their friends.
- Map – A Bing map of all of a user’s location-tagged posts and updates.The map can be sorted by categories such as photos, event check-ins, or restaurants. Zooming in and clicking on an individual pushpin displays the original update.
- Subscribers – All of a user’s public and friend subscribers, and settings to control notifications and privacy.
- Subscriptions – The people a user is subscribed to.
- Notes – One column of the Notes written by users, and another of Notes that tag them. There are also links to write a new Note and view drafts.
- Apps – Users can add any of their installed apps into the category channels. When clicked on, they display a dedicated timeline of all a user’s activity within the app. Users can also see the most recently used apps of friends. The ability to display Apps more prominently in the profile could lead to a boom of development of utility apps similar to those that appear in the Profile Boxes a few years ago.
- Certain preferred media partners, such as Spotify and Hulu show a special “All Time” of a user’s most frequently consumed content, such as their one most watched video and a list of their other “Top Videos Watched”. The ability to display Apps more prominently in the profile could lead to a boom of development of utility apps similar to those that appear in the Profile Boxes a few years ago. Facebook also automatically creates categories that aggregate specific types of media activity, such as “Music” category that shows Spotify and Rdio activity together.
Above the featured content categories is a button called View Activity that shows a red counter of posts and info that require approval before appearing on a user’s profile. When clicked, the button reveals the Activity Log, a private log of all of a user’s activity since the joined Facebook. Downward arrow buttons next to each piece of content let users select its privacy and whether its featured on, allowed on, or hidden from a user’s Timeline.
A drop-down in the top right corner lets users filter to only see certain types of activity or content published through specific apps. By visiting the Activity Log after using an app with persistent permission to share a activity, users can hide specific actions such as listening to an embarrassing song or watching a controversial video. As there is no “incognito mode” or way to preemptively prevent certain activity of an approved app from being published, this is the only way to hide specific actions.
Users should considering browsing through all their content in the Activity Log and ensuring they at least know what they’re sharing and with who. As the Timeline makes this content much more accessible to others, users should make sure nothing added to Facebook long ago is visible to the wrong people.
Besides the View Activity button on the Info panel of one’s own Timeline is a settings drop-down that lets users preview their profile from the privacy perspective of a specific friend. There’s also a link to creating an embeddable profile badge for websites.
When viewing another user’s Timeline, this area includes Friend and Subscribe options that let users send someone a friend request, add them to Friend Lists, subscribe to their public updates, and modify the volume and types of that friend’s content that will appear in the news feed. The panel also lets users send a Message to someone, and includes a drop-down menu that reveals See Friendship, poke, unfriend, and report/block options.
A publisher on the left side of the Timeline lets users post new updates. If a user scrolls beneath the publisher, a floating bar appears allowing them to publish without returning to the top of the Timeline. In addition to the standard status update and photo options, a Places button lets users compose an update that includes a tagged location.
There are also five new types of updates that let users share important life events in more detail than a profile info change or status update. When an user indicates they are publishing a life event, Facebook knows to publish this more prominently in news feed, to a wider set of friends, and to those who’ve specifically subscribed to their life events. The types will also give Facebook more data on a user’s identity and behavior that could be used for ad targeting.
The new publishing options are:
- Work and Education: Started a new job, graduated from a school, or military service.
- Family and Relationships: Got engaged, got married, had a child, got a pet
- Living: Moved, bought a home, got a roommate, bought a car (there’s no options for motorcycles or boats)
- Health and Wellness: Broke a bone, had surgery, overcame an illness
- Milestones – Learned a language, got a license, traveled, achievement or award,
- Other Life Event – A free form story
At the top right of the Timeline below the Info section is a panel of a user’s “More Recent Activity” such as Liking Pages, new friendships, subscribing to someone’s updates, installing new apps, and more. Individual activity stories can be hidden from the Timeline, or all past and future activity stories of that type can be hidden. An edit icon lets users manage what story types they’ve hidden.
Panels for a user’s recent Music, Video, and other media types appear in this area as well. This lets a user’s friends get a quick snapshot of what they’re listening to, watching, or reading.
Below all these other features is the Timeline itself, a reel of all of a user’s important updates from their time on Facebook. A set of links in the top right corner of the profile lets users skip to a specific month, year, or the beginning of the timeline. By scrolling to the bottom of the Timeline, older updates are displayed. Previously, users had to scroll to the bottom of a wall to view older content, and couldn’t navigate to different time periods on the profile. Timeline makes content posted even years ago accessible with a few clicks, meaning the history of a user’s time on Facebook factors much more heavily into how they’re perceived.
Hovering over an update on one’s own Timeline reveals options to hide, feature or change its date. By clicking on the center line running down the middle of the Timeline, users can insert new content at specific dates in the past.
In some cases when users scroll to the start of a month or year on the Timeline, they’ll see summaries of all their activity in that time period, such as friendships, wall posts from friends, Event RSVPs, Likes, Places tags, photos. There’s also a special panel that displays all of wall posts a user got on their birthday. At the very bottom of the Timeline, users can edit the story about their own birth.
Facebook preserves the privacy settings Timeline users had previously set for the profile walls. The relatively new “Limit the Audience for Past Posts” privacy control lets users apply the “friends only” visibility setting to anything they’ve published publicly or to more than just their friends. Before the launch of Timeline this wasn’t as necessary, as it was so difficult to get to old content. With the Timeline’s navigation bar making older content more accessible, users may want to use this privacy control to limit the visibility of posts they published to “everyone” years ago.
Users can now grant applications persistent permission to share their activity to the Ticker and Timeline. Therefore, users should occasionally check their Activity Log to make sure they’re comfortable sharing all the things they’ve listened to or watched.
The Facebook user base’s reaction to forthcoming rollout of the Timeline is likely to be mixed. Some will enjoy the customization features and ability to use Facebook as digital scrapbook they can share with friends. Others might feel the Timeline violates their privacy by making their older content so visible. In reality, this content was already available, it was just harder to get to.
It may take some time for users to clean up their Timeline, but once they’re comfortable sharing everything on it, we think it will become popular and make the profile a much more accurate and vivid representation of people’s identities. When users want to get to know a new friend they won’t just browse all their photos, they’ll be able to scan everything they’ve ever shared, which could significantly increase the amount of time people spend on Facebook.