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.


September 23, 2011