Everyone has a “story” to tell, according to Facebook.com developers introducing “Timeline.” The leading social network announced the profile change back in September; now they're telling users it's up to them to display their lives how they see fit—or at least that's Facebook's story.
These stories are built into pictures, statuses, life events, relationships, births, Facebook events and recent activity that users may hide or highlight. (Click here for more information on Timeline.)
Sounds like a great idea, right? And as with nearly all of Facebook's innovative ideas, users have the choice to either join the growing ranks or let their profiles die. As of 2012, all 800 million users worldwide will be using their new retroactive timelines to display individual life stories.
But let's think about Facebook's main goal: to get you on the site as much as possible, and to increase its revenue. The network's success depends on your dependency, as much as it depends on its advertisers.
I looked at the example profile that was featured to introduce users to possibilities. And what is splattered all over it? Apps—and a lot of them.
The example shows “Matt Brown” being a runner (his favorite running routes are mapped in case someone wanted to plot his demise, but that's a separate issue), watching Super Size Me on Netflix, and listening to Keegan DeWitt on Spotify. He watched seven movies on Hulu as of August 4, and recently read a book on filmmaking.
Who cares? Advertisers, the makers of many popular apps, do. Matt Brown's profile is just a sample, but expect them to be paying good money for this sort of tailored marketing information about you.
BetaBeat.com noted that Facebook reps have been convincing advertisers that Timeline is “re-conceptualizing users around their consumer preferences.” Or, in the words of Facebook: “brands are now an essential part of people's identities.”
How do they plan to implement this idea? Exact chronological order no longer matters when it comes to what's displayed; “sponsored stories” do.
Sponsored stories are disguised ads that masquerade as your friends' updates in your feed and sidebar ads. That's right, your likes, purchases, activities and preferences are displayed to your friends with your picture and name beside it. “When people hear about you [the brand] from friends, they listen,” Facebook says in marketing materials. They say the effectiveness is seen in the ads' accuracy of 90 percent, compared to 35 percent industry average.
To advertisers, Facebook says these page posts ads create “a seamless experience between interactions on your Page, in your ad, and in the News Feeds of fans and their friends.” In other words, you aren't really sure what's an ad and what isn't.
These are so accurate because you are feeding the information yourself. With every app that you “allow” to access your information, you are giving away your birth date, e-mail, stats, interests and even political views. With every page you “like,” advertisers have more of a handle on how to reach you. The question is, do you want them to?
Facebook would like us to believe that we're in control of the information we put out, that this Timeline feature gives us more control than ever. It's ingenious, really. Our friends are unknowingly making several advertising pitches to us daily with each profile activity.
I don't blame the site; it's just doing its money-making job. At the end of the day it's a business. But it's better not to be naïve about who may really be writing your timeline.