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: