I’m sitting here testing out Facebook’s new timeline feature, and a couple things jump out at me:
1. For a platform that has, for years now, promoted a false sense of ephemerality in order (I’m assuming) to get us to share more, they are now actively trying to reinvent themselves as a personal narrative platform (think 21st century version of the family album or scrapbook) as opposed to a serialized communication platform where you don’t worry about what you posted 5 years ago having an impact on how people perceive you now.
2. Towards this end, the timeline’s UI asks us to participate in life annotation by highlighting certain posts, photos, etc. as well as actively choosing to annotate particular life events in our past. (I include screenshots of suggested life-events in a follow up post here.) The emphasis here is decidedly on human-annotation as oppose to algorithmic analysis, which is somewhat surprising considering the extent to which algorithmic analysis of our data figures in Facebook’s business model. I’m guessing they have killer data visualizations available but they’re keeping them behind the curtain. It would be interesting, for example, to be able to see posts that achieved “top story” status graphed on a timeline, or even to see how different kinds of user-activity have ebbed and flowed over time. When do I spend most time uploading photos, for example, vs. doing other sorts of activities? How has this distribution evolved? I would also love to be able to see general data on how much time I’ve spent on Facebook at different periods in my life. Can you imagine a visual representation of your last 6 years of procrastination? Scary! There are reasons why revealing this kind of activity (even if it’s private) might be detrimental to Facebook’s business model because it helps us to see ourselves as marketing agencies see us. But, it’s not clear yet whether this emphasis on human-annotation vs. algorithmic analysis is just a matter of developers wanting to grab low hanging fruit for the beta version or whether Facebook plans to actively encourage us to think of timeline as something human rather than machine authored.