Last September, Facebook slowly rolled out their latest redesign – the Facebook Timeline. Although, there was the usual uproar over the optional change, many Facebook users have finally embraced the new look that dramatically alters the appearance of users’ profile pages.
Starting with the enormous image at the top of each profile page, the most obvious change is that the Timeline is a lot more visual. The simple addition of an image adds a welcome element of personalization to the ordinary blue color palette. Facebook seems to be entertaining the idea of customizable profile pages, without deteriorating to the disorder of MySpace.
Another change is the consolidation of anything that isn’t an important story. Wall posts, comments, links, and pictures are emphasized while basic information, friend lists, and old photos are moved to their own pages. Longtime Facebook user Arthur Esteves-Ferreira Fordham College Lincoln Center (FCLC)’ 13 says, “I like the new Timeline, it’s much more convenient and it looks much nicer. When you first open the page, everything is laid out for you. But then when you scroll down everything is definitely more organized.”
However, somewhat strange was the decision to place the timeline in the center of the page, forcing content to alternate from side to side as one scans down the page. Finally, one of the most notable additions is the list of months and years at the top right of the page. Clicking on a date scrolls the Timeline backwards to the selected period. Unfortunately, this is usually a time where bad hair, braces, and general awkwardness were unavoidable; but the feature is a welcome one nonetheless.
But aside from the trendy cosmetic changes, the life-encompassing Timeline forces users to consider the deeper, long-term implications of having a Facebook account. Assuming Facebook retains its popularity after its multi-billion dollar IPO, eventually a user’s profile will actually come to reflect their entire life. Anything the user publishes during their time at Facebook will be visible for generations to come. A user’s children and even grandchildren will be able to click through their family members’ profiles, and for just that instance, see life through their eyes. As a son or daughter, imagine being able to see a parent’s childhood through a Facebook page. Imagine, being able to see the youthful banter between the parent and their best friend back in grade school, move through pictures of high school parties during their ‘glory days’, and see how that young squirt grew up to be the person now known as mom, dad, grandma, or grandpa. It’s a hard thing to imagine.
But is that what users want? For some, the thought of having one’s entire life easily accessible on Facebook’s Timeline is a scary thought. Natalie Loh FCLC’ 13 gave up her Facebook account long ago and suggests, “Facebook’s Timeline could never really represent a person’s life because it only includes stuff they choose to include. That candid photo they chose to delete? That’s raw, that’s their life, and not having it up there makes for an incomplete picture.” To many users, Facebook is a home for all that is fleeting; a place for brief thoughts, spur of the moment ‘likes’, and passing photographs. To turn those momentary ‘likes’, wall posts, comments, pictures, and links into something more profound is an unsettling thought. To present a human being’s whole existence in such a manner, beginning with the date of their birth, doesn’t seem right. Having a lifetime of fleeting content on display could prompt unwanted judgements about an individual and their temperament. An older Facebook Timeline could paint an inaccurate picture of a person, or alternatively, form an uncomfortably candid portrayal. And after all, should a Facebook Timeline really be used as a judge of character?
The Facebook Timeline design does introduce some novel elements to profile pages. But the Timeline also forces users to consider some of the ramifications of what it would mean to live in a world where Facebook has existed for decades, and what it would mean to be able to look back on a lifetime’s worth of friends, memories, and status updates.
This post originally appeared in The Fordham Observer.