Facebook Timeline: Same Social Network, New Skin

22 September 2011 08:43 PM CDT

Today Facebook made several announcements at their f8 conference in California.  The most relevant announcement to me is their new feature, Timeline.  They will begin transitioning profile pages to the new Timeline layout over the next few weeks.  What the Timeline does is show a user's entire Facebook experience over time beginning with that user's birth.  The Timeline includes specific items such as status updates, photos, videos, and updates via apps (such as Nike+, Netflix, Hulu, etc.).

Facebook is a social networking company.  They want you to socialize and share with your contacts and with the public.  They want to have the best social experience on the web.  The Timeline is merely an alternate way of viewing your existing information inside the Facebook ecosystem.  Although the user interface has changed significantly, the social network largely remains the same.  Users can continue uploading photos and videos, posting status updates, and connecting with friends.  The only change to the system is how you see this information.  Personally, I'm a big fan of data visualization.  I'm excited to see Facebook embracing a rich, interactive, visually stimulating user interface.  This update is a big departure from the current versions of the news feed and the profile page.

Several months ago Facebook bought a data visualization company founded by a guy named Nicholas Fenton.  As is the case with most tech company acquisition strategies, they were primarily interested in getting the founder.  Nicholas is a genius when it comes to taking data as it pertains to a person and painting a compelling story with that information.  Head over to Nicholas' personal website to see some examples of his work.  Since 2005 he's been generating "Annual Reports" of himself.  His reports are filled with visualizations of the data of his daily life.  I'm excited to see work like this pop up over at Facebook and look forward to using the Timeline.

As far as privacy goes, I probably won't be taking full advantage of the new interface.  I'm still hesitant to share all elements of my life with either my Facebook friends or the public.  There's a lot of data I like keeping to myself.  Regardless, it's neat to see a company embrace data and start doing something with it other than sell it to advertisers.