Facebook's Timeline: What it's All About

By K. A. Laity

Not long after it introduced the friend ticker on the right hand side of your screen, Facebook began to roll out another innovation, albeit in a much slower wave: the Timeline. While clever clogs using Chrome and Firefox figured out that you can block the ticker, most people still have not been given the option for Timeline, although they should be able to access the demo.

The new Timeline offers a way to give more of a stable identity to your Facebook profile. Their tag line embodies the vision they have for this newest innovation (or irritating new feature, as it will inevitably be called): "Tell your life story with a new kind of profile."

That statement demonstrates that Facebook has begun to look at the long term. I'm not necessarily saying it will be successful to do so (and Google+ has grown at least in new members if not in actual activities), but it shows a development avenue that counters the nervous tick of the ticker: a desire for continuity.

The whole set up of the new Timeline offers a chance to create a narrative of your life (according to Facebook, of course, but that's content you have created). This appeals to a fundamental human value: telling the story of our lives. We have an ancient thirst for turning the chaotic events of our life into a story with a beginning, middle and end. At every important milestone we reassess the story we have told so far: the story of the ugly duckling who turned into a swan or the visionary who kept going toward the treasure when everyone doubted. The permutations are myriad, but we recognize the touchstones.

Facebook's developers (or at least their PR wing) recognize this thirst for narrative. The descriptions point to that: "Share and highlight your most memorable posts, photos and life events on your timeline. This is where you can tell your story from beginning, to middle, to now." People constantly bemoan the "death of the book" but it's telling that the image you chose to set the tone for your Timeline is called your "Cover." This is your life.

Doubtless there will be those who complain yet again about changes in Facebook if they full rollout commences, perhaps not as many as there have been at some innovations. There have been a few people actually willing to voice the fact that they like the ticker and most of the rest seem to have adjusted while still grumbling. The same folks might burble about the Timeline as well, but the rest of the crowds will probably be busy decided what to highlight in the story of their lives.

K. A. Laity writes so much that she had to create some pseudonyms to keep her colleagues from thoughts of murder. A tenured medievalist at a small liberal arts college, she mostly tries to find ways to avoid meetings in order to write more . Find her on Facebook or follow her on Twitter where she details her glorious new life in Galway, thanks to the Fulbright Foundation.

Thu, 29 Sep 2011 10:00 (GMT+01)
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