I still remember how much controversy the Facebook Newsfeed created when it was released several years ago. People worked themselves into frenzies about privacy and threatened to deactivate. Few people actually did, and ultimately the Newsfeed became one of the most dynamic (and addicting) elements of the whole Facebook platform. Could the uproar about Facebook’s new “Timeline” feature be the same type of issue?
I don’t think so. The Timeline concept is flawed – and not because of privacy, UI, or anything even remotely technical. The problem is simple – people, and their online identities, change. The Timeline, by capturing and cataloging all of our past activity on the site, prevents us from ever cutting loose and starting over.
In the past, you could change your profile picture. You could delete that tacky album you posted during Freshman orientation. Even if you didn’t actively delete content, your activity – drunk photos, inside jokes, midnight rants – faded away with time. You graduated from college, and your profile became more professional, and your online identity evolved with your actual identity.
Guess what? With the new Timeline, all that content is back. And if you have been even partially active on Facebook for the past few years, there is simply way too much of it to possibly delete manually. There is no button to simply “delete all” (trust me, I’ve looked). For better or for worse, your whole social network – friends from middle school, coworkers, extended family – can now see everything.
With one click, your former boss who you now get drinks with can jump to 2005 and be immersed in your teenage melodrama. The person you’re dating can jump to the year of your last relationship and see exactly what you posted to your former lover. Sure, you could access these old posts before Timeline, but it was much harder, and most people didn’t.
The Timeline is interesting from a personal perspective – it is funny and entertaining to click back and relive a memory – but sharing this so easily with Facebook friends is weird. And because the Timeline catalogues everything, it makes changing your identity impossible – it is simply too difficult to go comb through years of content.
And identities do change. People grow up, change opinions, become more mature. Facebook should represent our current identity – the one that is relevant for the people who we interact with today. The events and people who shaped our current identity can’t really be represented on the Timeline, and even if they could, we don’t need to share this with all of our Facebook friends.
The Timeline is too much. Facebook, by making our content so easily accessible, has made our online lives a lot less manageable, and this will ultimately turn many people off to the service. I don’t want everything I do to be catalogued forever. I just want to be able to share things with my friends, and then move on with my life. Thanks to Facebook, my online identity won’t be moving on with me.