Since it’s Friday and I’m in the mood to slack off, I took some time today to try out Facebook’s new Timeline feature on my personal profile. I approached the Big Change with fear and trepidation, expecting to be outraged by how much of my life was now available to my (not-always-so-close) friends.
Instead I got a big surprise–I actually like the new Timeline. First of all, there’s nothing on it that wasn’t already available on Facebook by endlessly reading older posts. Facebook still can’t mystically publish information about me that I didn’t put out there myself. If some are horrified by what they read on their own timelines, it’s probably long past time they reconsidered their posting habits.
Second, the algorithm being used to select items for the Timeline isn’t half bad. It seems to choose relevant updates, photos, etc., in a similar fashion to how Facebook presents updates from friends on the home page, which appears to depend on how many people liked them or commented on them. Pretty reasonable. The algorithm also seems to like pictures quite a bit, which is fine by me since they make the timeline visually interesting.
Third, you can choose to feature certain posts, which displays them across the entire screen so they’re more readily noticed. I have a separate page for my professional persona, but many writers I know use their personal profiles to promote their work. For these people–or anyone wishing to promote a product or idea–the ability to feature certain posts on their profiles is going to be a big plus, particularly combined with the ability to hide other less-relevant posts. Sure, it will take some time to get it set up right for all the stuff that’s out there from the past five years or so, but going forward I think the Timeline is going to be a nice marketing tool for writers. (From what I can tell, the Timeline is not available on Facebook pages, which is a bummer.)
Having said all that, I have to add that the Timeline is pretty buggy at the moment. Posts I tried to hide won’t stay hidden, and the timeline itself tends to uncontrollably scroll back up to the top. But I’ve come to expect “enhancements” rolled out without exhaustive testing being done, so I’m not surprised. And I’m sure that these issues will be addressed over time.
In the end, of course, it doesn’t matter much what I or anyone thinks of the Timeline. Facebook plans to convert everyone’s profiles eventually and all the complaining in the world isn’t likely to alter that plan. At least this is one feature I find useful.