27
Sep 11

Why the Facebook Timeline doesn’t suck

Facebook Timeline is much more than just a redesign.  After using Timeline since the F8 announcement, I’ve had a great time getting to understand this product and what it means for Facebook users.  Here’s why I think it’s so great:

It takes your current data and makes it beautiful

The out-of-box experience for Timeline is great, because it takes data you already have in Facebook and instantly transforms it into something much more compelling.  Nick Felton, the designer behind Timeline, made his name creating beautiful visualizations of his personal data, and Timeline doesn’t disappoint.  Instead of prompting users to add more content, Timeline creates the right incentive to be more active on Facebook- making your content look awesome.

Your data is less ephemeral

Most Facebook users have been on the site for years, accumulating countless photos, status updates, and check-ins.  The current feed only exposes the tip of this data to users, relying on an infinite scrollback to view history.  You can see the problem- while there are widgets for things like Photos, it’s hard to rewind your life more than a couple of months, and the most active profiles are penalized by being the hardest to navigate.  With Timeline, it takes a few seconds to jump to a specific month, and simple to jog back and forth a month at a time.  Compare this to Flickr, where navigating older photos is unwieldy and annoying, especially if you forget to organize your photo into a set for easy access.

Friction matters

For Jig, it was important that we got out of the way of our users.  For instance, unregistered users can do virtually everything on the site, and we don’t ask for a login or registration until after you submit something.  With Timeline, new classes of apps will be able to automatically publish interesting data to a Timeline in an easily consumed morsel of data.  Humans are lazy, and great products act as agents for their users, quietly doing good things as their masters go about living their lives.  “Frictionless Sharing” is not without its perils, so it will be very important for Facebook and the app ecosystem to provide easily understandable privacy settings.  In a world of Nike+ and Fitbit, it would be awesome if my 25 mile mountain hike got published to Facebook, but not as awesome if my 14 hour power nap was put there as well.  Still, personal metrics are a growing industry, and people enjoy showing off how active and interesting they really are.

A stalker’s paradise?  No.

Critics have dubbed Timeline a “stalker’s paradise”, because it makes it that much easier to view specific dates in the past.  To those people, I’d say this- Timeline doesn’t expose additional data about a user, it just makes it easier to navigate.  I’d argue that the criticism of Timeline is a semi-dangerous position to take, because it makes people believe that the old profile is safer than the new one, even though any motivated creeper can use ‘show older posts’ to view another user’s entire Facebook history.  The ease of use of Timeline can also make it much easier for users to find content that they don’t want around anymore and delete it, so this argument goes both ways.  In the future, Facebook could even launch a feature that allows users to block content for specific time periods, now that there’s a UI that makes it easy to navigate.  The moral of the story is this: any tool can be used as a weapon, but that’s hardly a reason to ban it from existence.

To the tl;dr crowd, just watch this video:

 


20
Sep 09

netbooks are the new notebooks

I have two netbooks, a Dell Mini 9 and an HP 5101.  One is my personal machine, purchased back when the netbook segment started to appear, and the other is a machine on loan from Mozilla, as we’re always striving to better understand our users by using hardware that represents what’s being purchased today.

There have been three generations of netbooks since the Asus Eee first appeared in late 2007.  That machine had a repurposed portable DVD player screen and a flexy white chassis.  The Dell was one of the first Intel Atom machines, a computer that packed early 2000’s processing power into a very low power package.  Build quality was markedly better than the Eee, and the screen retained a 16×9 aspect ratio (belying a portable AV device origin) but with a web-usable 1024×600 screen.  Still, with a small keyboard and plastic construction, the machine feels more like a casual device than a real computer.  The HP, recently released only a month ago, has a magnesium chassis and a much larger keyboard.  Its six cell battery and 80GB ssd make it a perfectly usable Vista machine with an 8-9 hour battery life.  The 1366×768 display packs more pixels than a 13 inch macbook on a 10 inch screen.  The entire machine is about 2 lbs and a base configuration is $400.  The machine I’d buy would have the HD display for $25 and the standard 160gb 7200 rpm drive, as the SSD almost doubles the cost of the machine.  I’d go to Fry’s and get a 2GB SO-DIMM for another $20.  I might go with the standard battery for the slim form factor.

If nothing else, the usability of my netbook (even with Vista!) illustrates that there is no Moore’s law analogue in software.  Firefox 3.5 runs faster than Firefox 1.5 does on older hardware, and even operating systems are doing more with less these days.  Windows 7, when it goes on the HP, will be a nice performance upgrade for a machine that seems perfectly fine for everything my parents would use a computer for.

If anything, my netbook experience has shown me that for general purpose computing- the facebooking, twittering, blogging, sharing that most people do- a netbook is a full computer running a full “desktop” operating system.  While I like the room and power of my Macbook Pro, I’ll probably use the netbook for travel, especially once I get a 3G SIM card for it.  My prediction- the netbook/notebook divide is going to disappear as people will be able to do more with less.  I think phone capability will increase, and once they get to the point where they can run cloud based productivity apps, that’s when you’ll start to see netbook form-factor sleeves that add keyboards and better displays to your phone.  In other words- the phone becomes the new netbook.