Facebook is offering an extended opt-in period for Timeline and promoting discovery through friends. The company has taken learnings from past launches and shown a new level of PR outreach that should serve it well through such a major change, but there is more it could do to support the press and everyday users.
Since December 16th, Timeline has been widely available to anyone who wants it, but instead of thrusting it on users with a homepage notification, Facebook is showing prompts on the profiles of other users who have switched to the new look. People are likely to be more receptive to a change presented to them by their friends than by the company. A Facebook spokesperson tells us users will also start see News Feed updates when their friends get Timeline. The company has not provided a date when Timeline will be mandatory for all users but said it will be within weeks.
This is similar to the previous profile redesign that began in December 2010. After the new profile was announced, users had five weeks to opt in either from the profile of a friend who had upgraded or from an About page. The News Feed displayed stories about friends who converted their pages before the site-wide migration in January.
With Timeline, Facebook is offering a seven-day curation period, during which users can test the new features and edit their profile before publishing it to their friends. The company also made it a point to have Director of Design Kate Aronowitz appear on NBC’s Today Show the day the feature launched worldwide. Additionally Facebook provided early access to celebrities including Britney Spears to promote Timeline.
Highly publicized how-to efforts help get the message to the masses, but can be a problem if reports get things wrong or position changes in way that is unfavorable to Facebook. A recent story on BetaBeat, for example, has spread misconceptions about the connection between advertising and users’ Timelines. And many media outlets produce sensational stories whenever privacy controls come into question.
On the user side, Facebook provides a site tour that will walk people through the latest profile changes. There is also an About page with key features and a video overview. Within the Help Center are frequently asked questions and a more extensive “Explore Your Activity Log” section with photos and video. However, Facebook should consider adding more prompts directly on the Timeline and giving users the option to take the site tour again. Advanced users could indicate that they don’t want to see these tools again, but others should be able to get details about different features directly on their profile.