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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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