Facebook Launches New Timeline Feature

Dec 15, 2011 3:33pm

Facebook’s much anticipated Timeline feature goes live today, giving the site’s 800 million active users the opportunity to significantly reconfigure their personal pages.

Instead of the current profile format of a picture alongside bulleted information and  posts, the new Timeline format turns a user’s Facebook information into something akin to an everlasting online scrap book.

The format lets users curate events from their lives by expanding or contracting them according to their importance, rather than just having them listed as posts in chronological order.

“The profile page you’ve had is really good at representing the present, and it’s really terrible at representing the past,” Facebook spokesperson, Meredith Chin, told ABC News during a demonstration of Timeline.

Chin describes the Timeline feature as being inspired by the concept of  a book, where chapters can represent different stages of a user’s life.

The Timeline feature reflects this by letting users create their own “cover” with an image if their choosing. Posts become stories in sequence along a timeline down the middle of the page. Users can reformat them to highlight different events.

So, for example, an announcement that you’ve gotten engaged can be expanded into a wide screen format, while your daily jogging update can remain appropriately small.

Users can also highlight favorite memories rather than letting them be buried behind pages and pages of Facebook detritus.

“Who are we to make it go away?” Chin said of early posts. “We definitely wanted to bring those memories back to life.”

The launch of the Timeline feature comes at a complicated time for Facebook. Last month the company settled with the federal government after the FTC reprimanded Facebook for failing to protect user privacy. The FTC said the company turned users’ private information public without adequate warning, and said Facebook allowed advertisers to get data on users who clicked their ads.

Under the settlement, the company will be subjected to  independent privacy audits for the next 20 years.

With the introduction of Timeline on the heels of this settlement, Facebook has the opportunity to prove that it is serious about user privacy.

Facebook will let users give Timeline a trial run. Instead of an instant switch from the current profiles — which could leave people with pages that unexpectedly emphasize posts they might prefer to hide — new Timeline users get a week to “edit” their profiles. During this trial run, users can change or delete any unwanted information before others see it.

While only a fraction of Facebook users have switched (although this fraction does include Lea Michele, Britney Spears, and Tim Tebow), the new Timeline format allows Facebook users a more holistic approach to their online representations.

“Social media is very much about right now,” said Chin. “But the story of who people are isn’t just the present.”

 

ABC News’ Ned Potter contributed reporting.

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