Facebook Timeline: How to Cure Alzheimer’s for Social Networking

Arranging long term posts so as to be more easily accessed and retrieved while making near term posts a cluttered jumble that are more difficult to find, Facebook’s “Timeline” has brought “Alzheimer’s” to social networking. Much like a Picasso, timeline appeals to those who love cubism, and remains moderately to completely incomprehensible to the masses.

By the time of this writing nearly every Facebook user has encountered timeline, whether it is the current format of their profile or a friend’s. Timeline appears to be a combination of the irresistibly attractive MySpace layout and a shameless imitation of the concept of www.Timelines.com, who are embroiled in a lawsuit against Facebook for trademark infringement.

When you consider that Facebook has filed similar suits against Teachbook, Lamebook, Pornbook, and many others, by Facebook’s own actions it appears they believe Timelines.com’s claims have exceptional merit, but that’s another story for a court to decide if they don’t settle first.

Many people have openly questioned why the change in format. It is a pretty safe bet that it all comes down to revenue. There are multiple aspects of revenue generation that come into play, so let’s take a look at a few of them.

TOTS – Time on the Site

Part of Facebook’s pitch to advertisers is the amount of time that users spend on the web site. The more time a user spends on the site, theoretically the more the ad is seen. Facebook attempts to increase the amount of time users spend on Facebook by using a variety of tactics in Timeline. By making it difficult to find what you are looking for, Facebook hopes you will spend more time on their site, hence bumping up the TOTS numbers.

Confusion is far from the only strategy at work here. Facebook also hope you will spend a lot more time back filling your timeline – adding life history to your timeline. This not only forces you to spend more time on the site, but Facebook hopes your friends will also spend more time looking at your timeline AND, of course, viewing advertising on Facebook.

Interactive Real Estate

According to Fastcompany Facebook plans to extend the interaction of apps and advertising to create new experiences in which users unwittingly share even more personal information with advertisers. This aspect of timeline is certain to increase the value of the advertising platform that is Facebook.

Backlash against timeline is not limited to those who feel the new format is a serious step backward is usability. Privacy advocates are warning of many issues. In truth, Timeline itself does nothing to change what information is available, however timeline makes older information infinitely more accessible. The embarrassing pictures and comments you may have posted a couple of years ago were difficult to retrieve and effectively forgotten, but with Timeline these damaging artifacts are quite easily recovered.

There has always been public information that could be found if a person was willing to travel from their location, potentially thousands of miles away, to the city you previously lived in and went to the hall of records to retrieve information about you.

With the Internet much of that information is accessible to an astronaut in the space station if he or she wants to find it. Timeline has made old information that was once difficult to retrieve form a user’s profile quite simple to find and view.  Experts warn users to comb through their entire history and set permissions appropriately.

Because it can take a very, very long time for some users to go through and make sure that everything they have shared publicly should be public, it may be prudent to go to your Facebook privacy settings, then the section labeled “How You Connect” and change or ensure it is set to “friends”. On the privacy settings page there is also a section called “Limit the Audience for Past Posts'.

You can select 'Manage Past Post Visibility,' and then 'Limit Old Posts' so that all of your past posts are visible to Friends-only. After this you can selectively change posts to public visibility on your own time schedule and as desired.

Not everyone is a fan of Timeline

Reaction to Timeline by the user community in general has been divided. Some people genuinely like the Timeline interface, however there is a vocal crown that wants the option to revert back to the former interface. Several protest groups have sprung up on Facebook.

The groups range from the humorous “I Would Stalk You, But you have Timeline”, (about 1,700 ‘likes’ at this time) to “Timeline, FB we don't want or like it. Please make it Optional” (about 4,300 ‘likes’) to the many outraged followers of “UNDO Timeline” (over 13,800 ‘likes’) and, of course, the requisite “Timelines Sucks” cause with over 17,000 “likes”.

Quite obviously, thousands of disgruntled users don’t even make a visible blip on Facebook’s radar screen. Facebook is looking for revenue generation and as long as users who don’t like how Facebook does things don’t interrupt the revenue stream, it doesn’t matter. Conventional wisdom indicates it takes about a million users to get Facebook to notice that there might be some users who are not entirely happy.

Unless a very large number of users quit Facebook (unlikely) or an even larger number protest quite vocally, it is unlikely that Facebook will roll back the changes or allow users to choose the old format for their accounts. There is however a way that users can leverage pressure to affect change.

Perhaps you have heard Bruce Schneier say that when it comes to Facebook you are to the consumer, you are the product. If a filet mignon isn’t happy with the management at the restaurant it is going to be served for dinner at, it doesn’t really have any choices. You however, being a self-aware product, can control your own quality and therein lies the key to successful protest at Facebook. When you are happy with Facebook or any other service that uses you as a product, quality control is in your hands. If you are not a high enough quality product then it becomes incumbent upon the seller to improve your quality.

Simply not clicking on an ad is about as effective as leaving the TV on when there is a commercial. Clicks are nice, but the advertiser knows there is value in simply being seen. With Facebook you can choose to hide ads and give a reason for why you hid the ad. When you place your mouse over an ad a little X appears in the upper right corner and you can use that to hide the ad. You are then asked for a reason why you are hiding the ad, and one choice is “other” where you can write in your own reason for hiding the ad.

Writing in something like “Protest Timeline” or “Undo Timeline” is enough to get your message across. If thousands of people start hiding dozens of ads every day for the same reason, they reduce the quality of Facebook’s product and at the same time let Facebook know what needs to be done to raise the quality of their product. At least in a typical market economy, lower quality merchandise should result in lower value and this is where you as a commodity can step up to the plate and affect the quality of Facebook’s merchandise to make your views known.

There is no denying that social networking has changed our world and will continue to change our world. As evolving products who were once consumers, we are going to need to learn that different tactics are going to be required of products that wish to have a voice.

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