Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Technology Lesson: Facebook Timeline (by Bryan Dennis)

Today's lesson is by Bryan Dennis, who heeded my desperate plea to explain Facebook Timeline, a recent and divisive change. I am stubbornly refusing to make the change, but Bryan and nicer and braver, and smarter, and therefore able to help Old People everywhere. 

The screenshot below is used with permission. Thanks, Marty!

There has been significant buzz about the new Facebook Timeline feature since it
was announced in September 2011, when Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg called
it as “a way to tell all the important stories from your life on a single page.” It is a
significantly different way of looking at your Wall and it provides opportunities to
remember your life in new ways and learn more about your friends and family. As
with anything that Facebook does, there is much hand-wringing about privacy and
stories about how your Timeline will keep you from getting a job. Plus it does get
tiring trying to keep up with interfaces that change all the time. These concerns
may or may not apply to you. Think about your life situation and do what you
think is best. Apply the same level of thought and care online as you do in person,
and things should be fine.

How do you get Facebook Timeline?

For now you have to opt into Timeline. To do this just log into your Facebook
account, open a new browser window, and go to this link:

This page shows you what Timeline will look like, how to customize the
information that shows up, and which friends have made the switch. Go look at
some of your friend’s Timeline pages (just click on the profile picture). This is the
best way to get a feel for Timeline. I find the new format rather elegant. At the
top you will see a profile picture sharing a “banner space” with an image that
you pick – landscapes, art, or nothing at all. Access to friend lists, photo albums,
likes, etc. are across the top in this “banner” area. The timeline starts below. The
key thing to spot is the rather unobtrusive timeline on the right side of the page
below the ads. It defaults to “Now” and by clicking on the years you can move
back in time to explore earlier posts (or you can just scroll down). Navigation is
confusing and jumpy and you don’t always end up where you want to be. I am
sure navigation will be smoothed out soon.

Want to Switch?

Timeline will be the default soon – so you will end up dealing with this now
or later. Go back to the Timeline page. If you want to make the switch now
click the “Get Timeline” button at the bottom right of the page and follow the
prompts. There really isn’t much more to do. Facebook will automatically decide
what to show on your timeline. Pick out a banner picture following the prompts.
You will be done in about five minutes. You do have the option of having your
timeline in an “unpublished” state for 7 days so you can customize what is shown
and what is isn’t. I accepted the defaults, which I think will be fine for most
people. If you want to customize your timeline go to the Timeline Help Center for

Note that once you switch to Timeline you can’t switch back.

What Does It All Mean?

Before Timeline I spent almost no time on my friend’s Walls. I just posted
and viewed everything in the “Newsfeed.” With Timeline I find it much more
interesting to explore my friends’ Walls. Some have said that Facebook Timeline is
a resume of your life. Depending on how you use Facebook, this may or may not
be true. It certainly does document the present and provides historical depth. Old
posts have always been there but they were hard to access, so most people never
bothered. Now it is easy to look back, which can be practical, nostalgic, painful,
or embarrassing – just like life. The power of Timeline is described well by Don
Draper (the lead character in the AMC series Mad Men) in a clever video:

As always with Facebook, share what you want to share and make sure your
privacy settings are the way you want them. On my account I have almost
everything set as either “Friends” or “Friends of Friends.” Do what feels
comfortable and enjoy this new way of remembering.

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