For a company that has long prided itself on being ahead of the curve as far as introduction of new features and innovative methods of access were concerned, the announcement of Facebook Timeline at the recent f8 conference was by itself a momentous event.
Introducing the feature, Facebook’s legendary founder, Mark Zuckerberg, described it as “a completely new aesthetic” for the social networking site which is the world’s most popular site going by the number of users as well as the number of hits that it gets on a daily basis. It also came to light at the conference that the site now boasts of 750 Million active users and recorded half a Billion unique visits in one day in the week prior to the f8 conference.
Though numbers tell only half the story, the remarkable growth of Facebook from a site intended for Harvard alumni to a “game changing” one in the social network space has indeed been a saga of upping the ante whenever the need arose. The launch of Google + which was seen as Google’s answer to Facebook might have prompted Zuckerberg and his team of developers to take Google head on and hence spurred the addition of the new feature. With this feature, Facebook does not bear any similarities to Google + or vice versa (depending on which side of the fence you are on) in its features and Facebook Timeline might just have raised the stakes in the all out war between Facebook and other competitors like Google, Apple and Microsoft.
The f8 conference on Sep 22, 2011 like in previous years was expected to have a major announcement to do with new features or other path breaking ideas from the Facebook developer team and they did not disappoint this time around as well. When Zuckerberg took the floor for the keynote address, there was a hushed silence in the auditorium in anticipation of this year’s big bang announcement. When the Timeline feature was introduced, attendees at the conference scrambled to find out more about what it meant and how innovative the feature would be in comparison to other social networking sites. Some commentators went so far as to proclaim that the new features can rival the YouTube offering by Google and iTunes feature of Apple. While there was no comment forthcoming from the Facebook team about whether Zuckerberg intends it that way, it was obvious from the proceedings of the f8 conference this year that Facebook is pursuing a strategy aimed at capturing the market space for digital media consumption along the lines of the offerings cited above. The big question on everyone’s mind was whether this new feature would justify the stratospheric valuations that Facebook has (upwards of $60 Billion at the moment). This is something that one has to wait and watch and see how the users react when the feature is made available to all at the end of the month.
The Facebook Timeline feature itself is a combination of the data aggregation that the company does from individual users and the sleek display that it intends to do with the data. Considering that Facebook does indeed collect a lot of personal data, there are concerns over whether we would see a “Big Brother Redux” though the company is at pains to point out that the Timeline features displays data that the users voluntarily provide. Hence, the inference that one can draw from this is that unless the users don’t want their friends to know particular aspects of their lifestyle and other personal details, the rest can be viewed in a way in which a chronological depiction of one’s life happens in a virtual sense. As one observer put it, the Facebook Timeline is akin to putting an “auto” in the Autobiography where the unique algorithm that Facebook pioneered would aggregate the personal information and display it according to the relative importance that a user and his or her activity on Facebook would indicate. So, if you watched a movie or went to a restaurant that was not an enjoyable experience and you indicated it as much on Facebook, the Timeline feature would not display that on a priority basis whereas something that attracted quite a few “likes” and is deemed important according to other variables would find a place of pride on your Timeline page.
Talking about “likes” on Facebook, Zuckerberg’s contention that “adding verbs” to tell stories was the raison d’être behind the introduction of the feature that would provide us with an inkling of what inspired Facebook to introduce this feature. The point here is that when one introduces “narratives” on a “chronological” basis, then one’s story becomes meaningful and easier to relate to. And this is precisely what the new Timeline feature is all about i.e. tell stories about people and help them relate to each other. Though whether one finds this new feature insidious or thrilling depends on individual preferences, the overriding feeling is that Facebook has done it again in its quest to be the social networking site of choice and to connect people virtually, in a way that has not been done before. When the doors are thrown open soon for people to start using the feature, we would get a better idea of whether the new feature finds acceptance or not. Till then, the expert reaction which is overall on the positive side would provide us with early indications as to the feature’s acceptance.
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