Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Facebook's Timeline, A Welcome Change or Perpetual Annoyance?

If you’re on Facebook, chances are there are features you love on the site, and features you hate.  Prepare to be shaken from normalcy once again, as Facebook readies their launch of Timeline in the coming weeks.  Dreaming Genius co-editor Tony Nunes asks; Is this the end of Facebook, or a new chapter in our online lives?   

Just last month the web was ablaze with complaints about the newest changes on Facebook.  Wall posts in the tens-of-thousands reprimanded the company for changes many felt were limiting the design of the Facebook newsfeed, a feature that millions rely on for sharing with friends and family on a daily basis.  The complaints were so rampant even, that they ironically devised a worldwide trending topic on social networking rival, Twitter.  These complaints resulted from a minor change, which allowed Facebook to single out “top” stories from your friends and automatically place them atop your feed.  It’s an idea Facebook describes as their version of a newspaper headline, choosing the story that they think you would most like to see based on the algorithms of your use.  They've also launched a ticker of real time updates from your friends activities shown on the right hand side of the feed.

You would of thought Facebook had became Holocaust deniers with all the embattled cries people unleashed onto the world wide web.  Of course, most of those cries were posted on Facebook, because, after all, without Facebook most of us have nowhere to complain about Facebook.  It’s this fact that’s most striking about the great Facebook debates that seem to pop up from time to time.  As of last month, Facebook reports that  they cater to “more than 800 million active users,” over “50%” of which “log on to Facebook on any given day.”  It’s easy to complain about change, but when you look at how much technological change is occurring each year and at such a rapid pace, isn’t it heedless to be so increasingly adverse?  

As soon as a new technology is released, people are already lining up to complain about it the first chance they get.  No longer do people seem to really enjoy the innovations that are moving our times, but rather expect them as if they were nothing more than the air they breath.  What they don’t expect, or appreciate are changes within those technologies that in any way alters their daily lives.

With over 400 million people logging onto Facebook daily, its really no wonder that the sites changes cause such an uproar.  Facebook is a part of many peoples daily schedule, a means of communicating, sharing, and collaborating that fuels business, lives, and even revolutions.  Facebook has always had its little bugs, but the site delivered and has become a familiar destination.  But now, Facebook may have taken what has worked so well over the years, and Myspaced itself.

At Facebook's F8 conference this past September, CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced Timeline, a new layout to the Facebook profile that catalogs each users posts, shares, likes and photos in a more user-controlled environment.  With the upcoming launch of the Timeline display, the original profile, currently in list form from newest to oldest posts, will transform peoples profiles into a space where they choose what posts take precedent.  Under a banner image that users select from among their uploaded photos, there is a space reserved for each month from the current date all the way down to the users birth.  This is the point of Timeline, a virtual real time view of your life, on the site most people use primarily to share that life with friends and family.  While Timeline sounds a bit like social networking site Myspace's profile feature, it is far more sophisticated in the ways it catalogs users posts.

One flaw however, is that unless you go into your profile regularly to update which posts take prominence, Facebook will automatically arrange your posts as they see fit using the same algorithms used to select "top" stories in your newsfeed.  Another flaw is the visual chaos that this can create on ones page.  The layout consists of two columns that separate each post into a block in one of the columns.  You do have the option to expand posts so that they are featured in a larger space on your Timeline, however, looking at it all seems a bit much, and adds a level of chaos to the simple list format Facebook once offered.  I understand the decision to remold Facebook into a more personal outlet of expression, however I feel that Timeline may in some ways be overbearing for the many casual, low-tech Facebook users (like my parents) who simply like to connect and share.   Simplicity should be the peak of Facebook's priorities.

The official launch of Timeline is held up in courts as a legal battle between Facebook and Timelines.com plays out over naming rights.  If all goes their way, Timeline, perhaps the boldest update Facebook has launched to date, should take over the current profile appearance within the next month or so.  Will there be a mass exodus, or will the legion of Facebook users who post complaints at every turn simply light up the interweb with yet another week of  rampant Facebook complaints posted on, well, Facebook of course?
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