Facebook Timeline Is Here For All: Creepy But Beautiful

Facebook created a stir earlier this year by saying it would replace its profile page with a chronology called Timeline that is created from everything a user has ever done on the site. The feature is now here and, frankly, it looks good.

Facebook announced late last night that anyone in the world can now get the feature (which has till now been used only by hard-core tech types) by going to their profile and clicking “get Timeline.” If you click it, the result is jarring.

The long-familiar Facebook page is suddenly re-arranged into a month by month history of your life, replete with photos, friends and comments from long ago. The effect is much like the ready-or-not feeling of nostalgia that comes with an unexpected encounter with an old book of photos. Everything from forgotten faces to lost loves are suddenly staring back at you. Let’s just say that those in a fragile mood may want to wait before hitting the on button for Timeline.

Overall, the design is elegant and intuitive. The top of the page now consists of a “cover” or banner that stretches across the screen into which users are invited to insert a personal photo (Facebook says this is supposed to be sacrosanct, non-commercial space but already dozens of companies are clamoring to sell designs to plunk into the “cover”.)

Below the cover is a horizontal navigation box that provides easy access to familiar Facebook features like friends and photos. After that, the real fun begins. When a user scrolls down, she will see a month-by-month compendium of what Facebook has decided are the highlights of her life and, yes, they stretch right back to the very beginning.

Privacy implications: Today’s development of course has enormous privacy implications. Do you want your current amour scrolling through your back pages to meet your best memories from 2008? Do you want office workers you’ve “friended” to see those drunken New Year’s pics from 2009?

Facebook appears to have gained at least a minor awareness of how intrusive the damn site can feel. With Timeline, it is letting users have a week grace period to tweak and review the page before they spring their entire life on the rest of the world. I strongly recommend everyone use this one week to understand how Timeline works before hitting the ‘Publish Now’ button.

The social networking giant appears to have a hit on its hand which is probably thanks in part to its decision to roll the product out slowly, garnering feedback from a relative handful of users and revising the feature accordingly. Timeline will also provide a world of new advertising opportunities and even more money in the bank for Facebook.

In the longer term, Timeline will also provide grist for the great data debate. The new feature feels incredibly personal and, sooner or later, will force many users to confront the fact that the story of their life doesn’t actually belong to them. Facebook users have essentially placed their letters, journals and photos in a locker they don’t own and can’t keep. This will one day be a problem but for now most users are likely to simply enjoy the elegant new display.