Ian Hill, our social media/web expert, is a very talented guy who knows a lot about companies I’ve never heard of doing things I don’t understand in ways that would probably horrify me if someone let me know. So I figured he’s a good person to ask about all the whoop-te-doo about Facebook’s new Timeline, which you can exult over in this video from the company before you read the interview below and get cranky. Facebook expanded its release of Timeline worldwide last Thursday.

My interview with Ian Hill…

Jon Brooks

Let’s talk about this Facebook Timeline thing they recently rolled out. I personally don’t like it but only because it looks different. I’m one of those people — if it looks different, I don’t like it.

Ian Hill

Yeah, sure. You’re not alone. Obviously whenever Facebook makes major changes there’s a lot of posts on the Internet from people who don’t like it. But Timeline is the biggest change to come to Facebook user profiles probably since they launched the wall in 2004.

I’ve seen it described a couple of ways. The best description I’ve probably seen is that it’s a scrapbook of your life dating back to when you started using Facebook. So if you go into a user profile where Timeline is activated, there will be a line down the middle of the profile and that’s the actual Timeline. There’s dots on the Timeline that reflect when you posted certain things, going back to the very beginning of your Facebook use.

Facebook Timeline goes way, way back. At the very end of Ian Hill's Timeline is a posting about his birth.
When Mark Zuckerberg announced it earlier this year at the F8 Developers conference he showed a photo of himself as a baby at the very beginning of his Timeline. So the overall idea I think is jut this philosophy that Facebook has become so integrated into our lives. And they have 800 million users — it’s not a young person’s game like some people think. The average age of a Facebook user is 38. It’s something we all do, and this change really reflects just how much everyone uses it.

JB

The problem I had when I looked at it briefly was I couldn’t figure out where the updates were. I was looking for my posts like “hey, I’m making dinner now,” or “hey, I just finished my dinner now,” or “hey, I’m thinking about what I had for dinner now.” So where was that on the page — the stuff about the dinners?

IH

Ok, so previously you’d go to a page and there was just a straight news feed. Now the Timeline divides your user profile, and it splits posts right and left so your most recent post will appear in the top left and the post you did before that will appear bottom right then below that to the left, then below that to the right then below that to the left back in time. So it literally is a timeline.

But if you’re going to log in and look at your news feed, where most people actually get their information and their status updates, that’s not changing. Facebook did make some changes to it earlier this year but not because of Timeline. Timeline is what you’ll see if you go to somebody’s profile — that’s what it affects.

JB

Will Timeline be the default page?

IH

Last week Facebook rolled it out universally for the first time so everyone can opt in, and once you opt in you have seven days to go and edit what your Timeline looks like. There’s a new tool called the activity log and you can go back through and determine who you want to see each post in your Timeline.

So you might have a post that says, “I got married,” and you only want your family to see that. You can click on that post and say “family.”

After seven days, once you’ve opted in and done all that, it automatically publishes live. Eventually Timeline will be the standard for all Facebook user profiles. I haven’t read anything that says when that standardization is going to happen, but you can expect it’s going to happen soon.

JB

So right now you can opt in and then can you say, “Hey, get me out of here because this sucks and I want to go back to the old one?”

IH

Well, no. Once you opt in, you’re in.

JB

What do you mean? You can’t go back?

IH

You can’t go back. It automatically publishes once you opt in.

JB

You’re kidding me.

IH

No. You’re in. Let me put it this way: I haven’t seen anything that says you can go back. When it was first announced, some tech nerds like me posted our Timelines immediately. So we played with it for a while and now we’re kind of used to it. But yeah, you can’t go back.

JB

Then this is a rather big decision. You really might need to discuss this with your clergymember before you hit the button.

IH

Yeah! I think what you have to realize is that there was a time when Facebook was one of the only social networks, along with MySpace and Twitter. Now there are many smaller networks out there. Things like Instagram, Pinterest… There are new networks launching every day that people are looking at. Google+

Facebook really has to define its niche in this market and Facebook’s niche is that it’s the social network of your life. It is about everything you do. So this change in that context kind of makes sense. It’s no longer just about news. It’s about everything that you are online.

It’s interesting what people are going to do with this. There’s this idea of a “second self” online: You don’t go to Faceboook typically to post photos of yourself at your worst. You go to Facebook to post photos of yourself at your best, or how cute your kids are or your puppy is. How much you loved your breakfast. Timeline, if people continue to follow this philosophy, is going to really be somewhere you’re going to go to see everyone at their best. You’re not going to get anyone’s faults on Facebook.

JB

Why? Because you can curate your own content?

IH

You can curate your own content, yeah, and you’re going to be able to go out and say I want certain members of the public to see this.

JB

But can’t you do that now?

IH

You can, but a lot of people don’t know how to do it because Facebook didn’t launch it automatically. They either launched it or refined it — I can’t remember, now — around the same time Google+ launched with Circles. Google+ from the get-go had a feature where you could choose who sees your content when you post it. Facebook didn’t have that. Anyone you were friends with could see anything you post.

Facebook then switched it so you can make your stuff visible to groups. So, right now, at this point, most people have been on Facebook for years. There’s all this content out there that’s technically public, and most people don’t realize how public their Facebook profile is. And you can search public Facebook posts.

I went back and looked at my Timeline and my activity log. And I was struck by how integrated Facebook now is. I have Spotify, for instance, which posts every song I listen to, so I’m able to look at two years of everything I’ve ever done.

If I want to delete all that stuff on Timeline I have to go through and select it post by post. It would take a long time for me to do that. I don’t think people realize that. If you have the same Facebook profile for six years, you’ve got thousands of posts. You might have a post that was public before Facebook got into being able to segregate who saw what. You might have a Facebook post from four years ago, and are you going to go back through 10,000 posts to delete that?

Before Timeline you could only go back, I think, something like two months. So if I scrolled back, I could only see two months worth of posts. Now it’s going to be however long you’ve been on Facebook. So if you posted something like four years ago that you don’t want someone to see now, you have to go back to that post and either delete it or change it so it’s private, or whatever you want to do.

JB

Okay, so it seems like the main changes are: Number one if you opt in now you are opted in for good as far as we know.

IH

Yeah.

JB

Number two, at some indeterminate time — we don’t know when — this will be everybody’s default so you may as well get used to it.

IH

Yeah, exactly.

JB

Number three, you can select who you want your posts to go to.

IH

Yeah. But you can do that now. The change is that you’re going to be able to go back and see every post you’ve ever posted on Facebook and select who those posts go to.

JB

So where that might help, let’s say you’ve got your boss as a friend on Facebook, but you’re posting a lot of stuff you don’t want that person to see. So now you can just say OK I only want my best friends to see this.

IH

Exactly.

JB

But the timeline also now goes back forever, since you’ve been on Facebook. So some may see this as more of an obligation than a feature. A hassle to go back and pick and choose who you want to see what.

IH

Yes, Facebook is putting all this information out there.

As an observer sometimes I’m curious as to where we got the idea that information we post on Facebook is private in the first place. There’s such an uproar over this idea that we’re putting all this stuff online. Whoever said it wasn’t public? Where did we get that idea? I tell people when you approach Facebook, Twitter, anything, don’t post anything you wouldn’t want your boss to see. Don’t post something you wouldn’t want your mother to see. You have to be conscious about that. There’s still email if you want to send stuff that’s private. There’s Facebook messages which are private, or more private at least. There’s texting. There’s a lot of ways to communicate with a single person. You can still send a letter with the Post Office…

JB

So are there even more concerns about privacy issues now?

IH

Yeah there’s concern that everything’s going to be public. I mean that’s the thing, all of a sudden you’re just turning on this spigot. Like if you posted four years ago you were drunk at a party. Do you want everyone to see that?

I think that’s the biggest concern right now, but then again it’s just change and getting used to it. Whenever anything like this happens with Facebook the most common criticism is, “I don’t know how to use this.” Once people understand how to use it that goes away and people kind of get used to it, and then Facebook makes the next change and people get upset about that.

I think that’s really what Timeline kind of portends. But it also indicates something really interesting about the way Facebeook is moving into the future. I don’t know how many people are really grasping this, but it really is going to be something where everything you do online is going to be running now onto this social network. And it’s not just Timeline; it’s social apps that were also announced this year at the F8 developers conference.

Right now if you have an app that you tie to Facebook and say, “I have the KQED app. I’m listening to KQED and I want to post it on my Facebook page through that app,” I’d have to click “Post this to Facebook” before it goes on my Facebook page. With social apps like Spotify and the Washington Post social reader, everything you do through that app automatically goes on your Facebook page.

JB

Will you be able to opt out?

IH

You can opt out by not joining. But once you’ve opted in, everything’s out there. So for Spotify, every song I listen to automatically posts to my Facebook page, my Facebook profile.

You don’t have to use social apps. But they’re definitely pushing you to use them. So Spotify wants you to log in and every time you log in to Spotify, if you’re not logged in for Facebook it says, “Find your friends on Facebook,” and asks you to do it. On the Washington Post social reader every time you read a story through the reader it posts and people are seeing that now.

JB

I noticed that. I see a lot of my friends get this status “I read this on Yahoo News.” I wanted to read one of those articles and I clicked on it but I couldn’t read it unless I opted into the social reader. And then I said OK I want to read it but then I saw now everything I read on this source is being posted. And you know I didn’t really want that. I don’t necessarily want people to know every article I’m reading.

IH

There’s a couple of options for people who want to maintain some privacy. One is you really have to start asking yourself, “If I’m really concerned about those things, do I really want to be on Facebook?” There are other social networks for people, like Google+ for instance. KQED news is very active on Google+ and from talking to members there, most people are on it because they despise Facebook. It’s really becoming a community of people who just hate Facebook and that’s why they’re on Google+.

JB

And why do they hate Facebook?

IH

Privacy, for one, and they think that there’s nothing worthwhile, that you have to wade through people’s posts about what they ate for lunch to get to anything substantial.

If you just want to share a photo of something, there’s Pinterest and Instagram. There’s still Foursquare if you just want to tell people where you are, like “I ate at this restaurant.” There’s all these little social networks now that you can take part in, that you can join if that’s your specific interest. Facebook wants to be the one network that will rule them all, that is taking everything you do and putting it online through Facebook.

JB

What’s coming down the pike?

IH

Probably in 2012 the biggest development you’re going to see is the explosion of social apps. So you’re going to start seeing things where, you know someone may post through Nike to someone’s profile, “I ran 12 miles today.” You’re going to see something like maybe Bon Appetit, the culinary magazine, post “I cooked a chicken,” automatically through these social apps. I think next year it’s all going to be social apps.

And I think we’re going to see a lot of those developed in Silicon Valley.

Related:

  • Guest

    Your dude isn’t entirely accurate in his explanations of some of these social features. You can easily disable Spotify’s sharing to Facebook in its preferences. Also, Facebook had privacy features long before Google+ appeared. People just didn’t know how to use them. Limited profile existed years ago, and as friend lists appeared, Facebook allowed post visibility limiting based on them.

    • http://www.kqednews.org Ian Hill, KQED News

      Thanks for the comment. As you note, Facebook has been consistently upgrading and modifying their privacy settings. You’ve been able to hide portions of your profile from the public for sometime. However, the ability to post status updates that were only visible to specific groups of your friends didn’t exist until the latest revision to lists, as I note in the interview. At the time of the interview, I wasn’t sure when that revision occurred. According to http://blog.facebook.com/blog.php?post=10150278932602131, it happened the week of Sept. 13. G+ opened to the public on Sept. 20. You’re also correct in that you can click off your preferences to stop Spotify from sharing what you listen to your profile; I should have clarified that in the interview. However, Spotify’s going to do everything they can to encourage you not to click off, as I noted above. They want you sharing as much as possible to your profile, And you’re going to see the launch of many more social apps pushing for the same thing in 2012. Thanks again for checking out the interview!

  • Guest

    There’s also an easy way to avoid being pegged by the “I Read This” Yahoo news app. Simply take the key words in the article mentioned and search for it through Google News. 95 times out of 100, you’ll find the same (or a similar) story from a non-app source.

Author

Jon Brooks

Jon Brooks writes mostly on film for KQED Arts. He is also an online editor and writer for KQED's daily news blog, News Fix. Jon is a playwright whose work has been produced in San Francisco, New York, Italy, and around the U.S.

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