Walking Through Facebook's New Timeline Profile Layout

A sample version of Facebook's new Timeline feature
A sample version of Facebook's new Timeline feature

If there is one thing we have learned over the years about Facebook users, it's that they do NOT like changes. Mess with the layout of their news feed and they will threaten to murder your entire family. But that doesn't mean Facebookers don't like to screw around with their own profile.

Since Facebook's inception, the unspoken rule of profiles was that they were to remain simple and uniform. This was a direct response to MySpace, which allowed its users to do all sorts of unholy things to their profiles, often turning them into something I like to simply call "death by sparkle." Pretty much everyone agreed that limiting options to users who would do things that would make Hildi Santo-Tomas from Trading Spaces (look it up) say, "What the F***?" was a good idea.

But recently, Facebook has provided its users the option of changing their profiles to a new format called Timeline. It is a much more elegant-looking option with a wide photo across the top and a streamlined set of organizational tools, but after looking it over, I'm still not completely sold and here's why.

I really do like the look and feel of this new profile. The one signature photo at the top mimics what many have been doing to their featured images manually for a while. It also gives commercial or artistic ventures a chance to brand their pages in a unique way.

What I am not so sure about is the whole idea of allowing individuals to organize the details of their profile the way they see fit and do so in a way that forces visitors to click through a bunch of random crap just to see what this person has been doing over the past few months.

I think that most of us enjoy Facebook because it gives us a chance to be a bit of a voyeur, peeking into the lives of our friends and even total strangers. I don't mean that in a stalker-ish way, so much as a way to catch up with a friend or learn something about a potential friend in a very benign and safe way. I know that glancing through the wall posts of a friend I haven't spoken to in a few weeks helps me to get acquainted with what he/she has been up to. It also lets me peer into the lives of acquaintances and family members I don't speak to that often. It may even spark a conversation we wouldn't have otherwise had.

By giving the user total control over how that information is displayed, it puts a crimp in a visitor's ability to stroll leisurely through someone's posts and skim a variety of different topics quickly and easily. With Timeline, there can be a lot more digging required.

More importantly, it turns a news feed of someone's life into a portfolio, highlighting the stuff they want you to see and segregating the rest. It removes the interaction and the free flow of information from the profile, making that the exclusive domain of the news feed on the front page, which isn't always practical if you just want to see information on one person.

I'll give you one simple scenario that presented itself to me recently. One of my friends went through a breakup some months ago. I don't talk to this person frequently and I had been off FB for a few days working. When I logged back in and saw a rather odd post in my timeline from this friend, I immediately went to the profile and found out about the breakup by scrolling down the wall.

Had the Timeline been in place, it probably would have never found the original "X is now single" post and all the comments that came with it. Couple that with the possibility of missing the more recent post and I might have never realized what had happened.

Now, obviously, a user can have Timeline continue to display all the wall posts scrolling down the page, but that clearly isn't the intent of Facebook. The powers that be at The Book want users to have a cleaner, more polished look built around the idea of showcasing oneself as part of "personal branding" that has become some popular online and bothers me so.

And maybe, ultimately, that's the problem. Maybe I'm just another one of those complainers who doesn't want Facebook to change. And if everyone does migrate to the Timeline look, I'm sure I'll adapt, but I hope the change is slow and I hope the dialogue is preserved, if for no other reason than that it makes for good gossip offline.


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