Facebook’s Timeline: Memories Are More Complex Than Algorithms

Facebook's Timeline: Memories Are More Complex Than Algorithms

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Yesterday, Facebook announced the launch of their product, Timeline, a way to “tell your life story with a new kind of profile.” Much has been written and much more will be written in the coming weeks, and I can’t stop myself from pointing out a few things myself.

The Design
First up is the design, which is both beautiful… and confusing. The designers in the details and the work done in Timeline are pretty near perfect. It’s based on a beautiful grid, the spacing is crisp, the size of the type, it’s all rather nice. The introduction of a cover image of is interesting, bringing some personality to the standard Facebook profile, but it’s aspects like that, which to me, make it feel a lot like Myspace. It’s not a bad thing, but it’s certainly ground that’s been tread before.

My problem with the design though is that it’s a bit disorienting and somewhat noisy. Before it was easy to scan your profile because it had a single column that lets you absorb all the information easily. Now that information has been split into two columns, both are equally weighted, information moving back and forth freely. In my opinion this free movement makes it really hard to scan the page, yours eye have to go back and forth on the page, absorbing random pieces of data. Imagine reading a book from left to right and the story keeps changing as you go.

The page also feels rather noisy because of a few key pieces that are smattered all over the page: your user icon, your name and a timestamp. These three things exist on every single update you have, which makes for a whole lot of visual clutter. I’m not sure what the point is of having all that information, either. When you click their profile pic or their name, you just go to their profile.

The Concept
More than the design, which I honestly think is a bold idea, I’m not a fan of what Timeline really means. Facebook is trying to become so much more than a social network, it’s your life in serialized form, from your noisy beginning to quiet end. Facebook wants you to “input” your memories, your favorite songs, the things you cook, the movies you watch. That by doing all of this stuff, you can show people who you really are. But is inputting yourself into a mainframe a true representation of yourself?

Hell no.

I’m pretty morally against what they’re trying to do for a few reasons. The first, and obvious, is that they want you to input all of this information to sell ads against. That’s the way the world works in 2011, and though it sucks, it’s not my biggest problem. What I really hate is that they want to input your memories, but memories are so much more than some photos or a song you were listening to. Sure, those things can bring up memories, but there’s so much more to what a memory is. There’s smells, there’s taste, their’s touch and feel, and none of that can be experienced through a dump of information which Facebook is calling your life.

Your life is more than a bunch of information. Your life is more than songs or photos, it’s experiences, it’s friends, it’s things that can’t ever be replicated. Real memories live inside you, in your head and heart, made with real people in real life. It’s sad and scary that a company is trying to redefine what a memory is, that all we are is data in a cloud somewhere. Is there an answer to this problem? I don’t know, I’m kind of feeling pessimistic about it, but I can try and be hopeful that people are smart enough to know what’s real.


10 Comments Facebook’s Timeline: Memories Are More Complex Than Algorithms

  1. gummifer September 23, 2011 at 6:14 AM

    I agree. This leaves a bad taste. And that video! The way they try to portray a “generic” life is just awful. So little interest for the real human experience.

  2. Animalclub September 23, 2011 at 6:28 AM

    That was beautiful,bobby.

  3. Ryan Snelson September 23, 2011 at 7:15 AM

    Bobby, nice breakdown. Disorienting is a good way to put it. When I first heard they were doing a timeline I imagined it as a horizontal feed instead of the standard vertical stream. That might have been a more interesting way to view it since we typically think of a timeline going from left to right. This would obviously break the model of the FB stream we all know, BUT then it might have been ok to split the columns above and below the actual line. And the line itself could have become the navigation or the scrolling.

    I applaud them for biting some of the Myspace concepts. Regardless of the outcome, it’s obvious that users want to have more engaging ways to visualize information. Streams are pretty boring.

    One of the reasons the Timeline demo video works so well (besides it being a demo video) is that it tells a linear story of a couple meeting, going through ‘milestones’ and having a child. That’s a very simple story to understand. Timeline attempts to make us feel similar to the way we do watching that video, but the execution is awkward for all the reasons you previously mentioned.

  4. Mike September 23, 2011 at 8:55 AM

    Totally agree with this. Well executed design with an unsettling concept.

  5. Liz September 23, 2011 at 8:57 AM

    Couldn’t agree with you more! Totally going to share this.
    I have a question though, I was fiddling around with Timeline yesterday hoping to test what it would look like but I couldn’t figure out how – so, is it possible for the average person to preview their timeline, and how do I do it? (How I do facebook?)

  6. Mike September 23, 2011 at 10:33 AM

    What I don’t understand is that Facebook is a free service to regular users and no one is forcing anyone to be on it, why do we need so much commentary on something that updates twice a year if we complain or not?

  7. Glenn September 23, 2011 at 4:57 PM

    Mike – because they’re worth over %50 billion dollars from people using their free service. Don’t be fooled, the only reason they do anything is to keep you on their site longer to make more and more money.

  8. owen September 23, 2011 at 8:48 PM

    facebook has always been evil, this timeline thing changes nothing. And who ever believes that facebook is a free services is clear drinking the facebook koolaide. a free service doesn’t have ads and trick you in to divuling information

  9. Michael Franco September 24, 2011 at 1:10 PM

    I like what you had to say about memories in the Facebook timeline. I could definitely see this shaping not necessarily your memories, but the memories some may have with you or will end up creating about you. Thus one will have to be super stringent about what ends on and off the timelines. http://bit.ly/oECz0r

  10. Stephen September 24, 2011 at 2:06 PM

    no amount of technology or design will ever be able to replicate the emotions, friends, smells, etc of a memory. with that in mind, whats so bad about recording your memories online for the sake of evoking them later? it’s not like it’d be any easier to replicate memories through a written journal (probably debatable).

    i’m actually really excited about the cover picture feature because it gives fb profiles some much needed personality. but where myspace gave users full customization, facebook limits it to one definitive image. it looks great in the previews since tasteful photos were chosen, but i can see it looking shitty once people start using instagram and photobooth for cover pictures.

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