The New Facebook: A Timeline for Personal Discovery and Storytelling

“For the first time ever in a single day we had 500 million people use Facebook” – Mark Zuckerberg

For those who focus on the debate between Facebook, Google Plus and Twitter are missing the true story. Today at Facebook’s f8 developer conference we were reminded about what the story really is…you and me. No, it’s not about features, capabilities, or the number of users. We were reminded about the power of something much more important, our experiences, relationships, the content we create and share and how each paint a picture of who we are as individuals.

Today Facebook introduced features for its users and developers alike that position Facebook not as a social network, but instead as a platform for storytelling and meaningful engagement. How is this different than the profile you’ve come to know over the years? The team at Facebook explains…

Back in the early days of Facebook, your profile was pretty basic – just your name, a photo, where you went to school…stuff you’d cover in the first five minutes you met someone. Over time, your profile evolved to better reflect how you actually communicate with your friends. The way your profile works today, 99% of the stories you share vanish. The only way to find the posts that matter is to click “Older Posts” at the bottom of the page. Again. And again. With timeline, now you have a home for all the great stories you’ve already shared. They don’t just vanish as you add new stuff.

Timeline is a new kind of profile, one that lets people tell their story in a visually-rich and artistic fashion. In addition to aesthetics, Timeline is essentially a social home page for all that moves you, from media to experiences to people. The biggest difference you’ll notice is presentation. Starting with the substantial image that you choose to depict your persona, the new format essentially turns your profile into a Flipboard-esque (magazine) pictorial rich with updates, content, and connections…all designed to tell your story, your way. Don’t be confused by the name however, Timeline is much more than that, it’s essentially a storyboard for your digital and real life as told by what you share and what others share with you.

“Timeline is the story of your life,” said Mark Zuckerberg “All your stories, all your apps, express who you are.”

And according to Chris Cox, Facebook’s VP of Product, “Facebook is a platform for human storytelling.”

As with any cover, it’s up to you to give it a title, to set the stage for what your friends, family, peers, and viewers will experience.

As the curator of your life’s experiences, you choose what appears in the timeline regardless of date to let your story unfold as you see and feel and in turn what you want others to see and feel.

As my colleague Charlene Li observed, “Facebook Timeline reveals the future of sharing.”

Opening Up the Open Graph

Content, updates, friends and activities only tell a part of your story in the new Facebook Timeline.  Apps will also help add color to your world based on what you use and how you use them. Prior to the event, rumor had it that Facebook would introduce new buttons such as “Watched,” “Read,” and “Listened.” Instead, we would learn that Facebook believes that buttons are are a thing of the past. At f8, Facebook announced that it is giving apps a voice, your voice, to contribute contextual activity to the Timeline automatically through action verbs. Yes, you read that right. Facebook apps will populate your storybook, based on the permissions you set of course, further pushing (or inspiring…you choose) to live more and more in public. Smart apps are another product of the company’s news machine at f8 and are the latest incarnation of Facebook’s Open Graph development platform.

Why? Why would you, in your right mind, let apps tell everyone what you’re reading, listening to, watching, or doing? Because that’s what at the core of what makes social networking so special…it’s all about YOU. Facebook is becoming the center to your EGOsystem, helping you put the “me” in social media in all you do while making it irresistible to those who follow you or visit your profile. Mark Zuckerberg isn’t trying to transform users into digital exhibitionists, but he is giving everyone the tools and platform to better tell their story.  We are social creatures after all and we are becoming human media networks with each of us building an audience with an audiences of audiences. As another colleague from Altimeter Susan Etlinger shared, “Timeline turns everyone into a curator, a media property and, at its most basic level, an activity stream.”

Facebook claims that the algorithm powering these Open Graph will not overwhelm friends but instead unlock “frictionless experiences,” “real-time serendipity” and the ability to help developers and brands “find patterns.”

For brands, your day will come. But in the meantime, this is about people, and Timeline is the primer for sharing more of ourselves online to make the rest of the world, media, business, friends, co-workers, and the experiences of others try to catch and compel us.

Surfacing Relevance Over the Rank and File: Graph Rank

Users add intelligent apps to their Timeline and in doing so, power a set of beacons that fundamentally broadcast preference. Yes, the beacon reference is both a pun and a reference to what we are becoming. We are sharing preferences with people, app developers, Facebook and ultimately the businesses that hope to one day reach us.

It is how this information triggers the network effect that is most interesting to those who either wish to amplify their content or those seeking to discover it. Distribution through News Feed, Ticker, and Timeline is based on what Facebook calls the Graph Rank. This is the underlying system that manages discovery of Open Graph activity in Facebook. Graph Rank is designed to identify and promote engaging activity, thus placing prominence on anything that promises to resonate within the social graph and ultimately within interest graphs.

Examples include…

Watch: Netflix rolled out a new app that shares what people are watching.

Listen: Spotify is bringing free music to Facebook and will share what people are listening to.

Read: Washington Post introduced Social Reader, an intelligent app that shares what you read and shows you what your friends are reading and builds a custom home page with stories around your interests.

Please click here for other examples of how apps verbify your Timeline.

Graph Rank is also personalized. As Facebook notes, “Graph Rank isn’t a global score, but a personalized view of you and your friends’ tastes.”

As a content producer, as a brand, designing engagement or content with resonance as a metric is more than likely to pull all of the right levers with Graph Rank to propel your story with great velocity and reach.

The Story is Just Beginning

At the end of his presentation today, Mark Zuckerberg exclaimed seemed  “We exist at the intersection between technology and social issues.” It’s interesting because at the launch of the iPad 2, Steve Jobs stated that we (Apple) lives at the intersection of technology and liberal arts. I believe that in a social world, we live and thrive at the intersection of technology and sociology.

Before leaving the event, I had a moment to catch up with Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg. I asked her about the significance of the news today but also if indeed we were witnessing the migration of Facebook away from a social network and toward what I’ve referred to as a personal or social OS. Her response echoed the news of the day and reinforced the current mission of the company, “That’s just too techie for most of our users. Today, we are a platform for storytelling and bringing people together around the stories that matter to them.”

The “new” Facebook is about causing real-time serendipity, triggering actions inside and outside of Facebook because of what we do and share. Through technology and human curation, we are giving substance or meaning to experiences and as a result, the future of the social web is defined by shared experiences, not just in sharing experiences.

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  • http://twitter.com/LadyBizBiz LadyBizBiz

    #FB is now giving the ‘Mormon Repository of Family History’ a run for it’s money!

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Prachi-Desai/100002704672517 Prachi Desai

    I seriously feel this will be a totally new experience for users of Facebook. An Experience which will be more on emotional side, briefing friends and people around you “This is my life story”.  
    New social apps will allow us to do things what we could not do earlier. Listen to music, watch movies, read news and lot more at one place only and that too a social platform. Great way of sharing just begun.

    • http://twitter.com/DannyDee Digipendent

      I agree, this has been such a landmark week for the new digital landscape, lets not forget the headlines that both Netflix & Google made. Exciting times indeed.

  • http://www.twitter.com/clairehs Claire Hunter-Smith

    While I like this, I like this because I like Memolane- this is a complete rip off of Memolane and I hope that they are either working with Facebook or have got massive credit for this update?! I feel very defensive of them because they had this idea first and made it brilliant already!

    • http://twitter.com/DannyDee Digipendent

      “being too early is the same as being wrong….” – @jason 

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  • http://www.convinceandconvert.com jaybaer

    It’s an amazing leap forward, but I can’t help but thinking it’s a bridge too far. How many of those 500 million people want to be real-time curators and information streams? 

    • http://www.briansolis.com briansolis

      I hear ya. By default people are curators of the story they tell, some just do it better than others because either they’re mindful of what, when and how they share or it’s inherent in how they naturally communicate. I believe this is a move that helps people realize the importance of online sharing and hopefully teaches people to be more thoughtful about what they post. That’s the hope anyway :)

    • Anonymous

      i am convinced that most of the people who do curate are convinced that they are doing a great job doing so. it is a disconnect that we are (or most of us) suffering (maybe not) from. That’s why we have all that engagement going on, not just on Facebook. What really should come out of this is that people need to learn to think twice before they post things. i agree with that completely.
      It is against the human nature to live like robinson crusoe isolated on an island and social networks are the ideal places to avoid that (feeling) in real life. One just has to learn to check the rear mirror before making a turn.

    • http://twitter.com/DannyDee Digipendent

      If Steve Jobs & Zucks have taught us anything, its that we the people are not yet aware what we want ;) 

  • http://disqus.com Peter Mullen

    Quite possibly the complete and utter end of privacy.  And we are running full speed toward it.  Bad or good?  As always, it depends.

    • http://dool.in Dave Doolin

      Peter, even more: it’s the end of private privacy. Now, if you want to be private, everyone knows. How curious that is.

      Up until fairly recently (~150 years), privacy was a luxury of the very rich, or the very poor. Everyone else, not so much.

    • Fretlessart

      This fascinates me.  Its like a narrow-cast mediated reality show of ourselves,
      and an inventory of our humanity at the same time…Hmm.  

  • Koningwoning

    I think slate has it right when they say that not being able to curate anymore is a problem. For instance – I want to be able to log in to Spotify to share music when I want. I don’t need everyone to listen to each song I listen to. Sometimes I want things to be private, sometimes I don’t. This choice has been taken away the way things are put now (frictionless sharing) – you either share everything you do on a service… or nothing at all. The person as curator – telling you what is important enough to listen to / read / watch – that function is being taken away 

  • Koningwoning

    BTW – just so people who do not use Spotify understand: I HAVE TO log in using Facebook in order to listen to lists of others / share my music& lists with specific people. 
    So if I want to do that…. I’ll have to share frictionless.This is where the choice is being forced

    • http://www.briansolis.com briansolis

      What’s unclear is the algorithm that shares what and when. Zuck mentioned that your updates would not overwhelm your friends, but I would like to see exactly how this is going to work.

  • http://www.ferreemoney.com/ Video SEO

    I wonder what this really means… “The “new” Facebook is about causing real-time serendipity, triggering actions inside and outside of Facebook because of what we do and share”…

  • Xian Caldwell

    There was this one time when I was at a huge concert close to the stage. People were crushing in on all sides, but the music was fantastic and we were all having such a great time. At one point the band played my favorite song and my heart swelled. I reached for my wife who had been a little bit behind and to the right of me. I clutched her hand put my head back and mouth right next to her ear and screamed “I love this!” in the ear of a complete stranger. 

    I get the feeling I’m going to be doing that a lot. 

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  • http://www.wasimismail.com Wasim Ismail

    A new experience for Facebook users, I guess it was necessary
    for a change after Google launched Google +, and also twitter updating their
    website, It was time Facebook came up with a change, and it loos good.

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  • http://twitter.com/JohnProano John Proano

    So Brian, where do you think this is all going?? I really think life as we
    know it is going to be essentially duplicated online via a social media
    platform such as facebook… all of our experiences – entertainment, education and work can and will be recreated online. Just think about it, the new Netflix app in due time will become the Netflix movie theater!
    You’ll be able to invite your friends, watch the movie in a “virtual” movie theater, the app will then update your timeline and notify the rest of your friends who weren’t invited! What a great new world we have ahead of us :)

  • Annoyed

    This reads like a compendium of cliches.

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  • catlover

    Though this new facebook may seem very cool. I wonder what our society has turned into? Facebook is already very addicting as it. I understand it is a fun way to connect with your friends and co-workers, but this new facebook timeline almost appears to be taking it to far. Will people now prefer to sit home on facebook rather than having actual human interactions? Why should people meet each other when they can read everything they would ever possibly want to know about you on facebook. Right now on facebook you can get an idea of who someone is by seeings their likes and interests, which might help people become interested in meeting each other based on certain mutual likes. Rather the new facebook seems like a person can find out someones whole “life story” by simply reading their profile or “timeline”.

  • http://www.businessfromthekitchentable.com/ Gwyneth.H

    There’s still one feature that I’d like to have in Facebook, the ability to edit your post on someone’s wall, just like in Google+, so there’s no hassle of deleting and re-posting your messages in case you mispelled or forgotten a word.

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ABOUT ME

Brian Solis is a digital analyst, anthropologist, and also a futurist. In his work at Altimeter Group, Solis studies the effects of disruptive technology on business and society. He is an avid keynote speaker and award-winning author who is globally recognized as one of the most prominent thought leaders in digital transformation.

His most recent book, What's the Future of Business: Changing the Way Businesses Create Experiences (WTF), explores the landscape of connected consumerism and how business and customer relationships unfold in four distinct moments of truth. His previous book, The End of Business as Usual, explores the emergence of Generation-C, a new generation of customers and employees and how businesses must adapt to reach them. In 2009, Solis released Engage, which is regarded as the industry reference guide for businesses to market, sell and service in the social web.

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