Facebook Makes Bold Bet With ‘Timelines’

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Facebook’s Timelines interface feature allows history information sharing, but could alienate many users

Facebook has risked alienating users with Timeline, the company’s new user interface that surfaces users’ histories online at a time when some of their most important legacy information is buried behind tons of older information posts.

As the UI name suggests, Timeline begins by showing photos of users, from oldest to newest. Newest information is presented in a Ticker on profile page, which will provide “stories” about games that users have played, movies they’ve watched from Netflix, and music they’ve listened to from Spotify.

Bold bet

Users who see this application activity in their friends’ Tickers can click to enjoy the same application services. The News Feed will remain a valuable source for relevant information about a users’ friends. ReadWriteWeb offers a detailed run-through of the new Timelines and corresponding features.

The move is a bold bet for a company which prides itself on constantly tuning its UI – not unlike the way Google tweaks its search engine. Many of Facebook’s 800 million users are digital curmudgeons accustomed to having their information served a certain way from Facebook’s fount of social data.

Indeed, a Wall Street Journal poll of nearly 1,400 people through 25 September showed nearly 85 percent of users were unhappy with Timeline, which is expected to roll out in the coming weeks.

Altimeter Group analyst Charlene Li called Timeline an evolution of sharing.

“Each time, Facebook pushes the envelope on getting people to share what they can share and I think that each time they do it, it shifts what we do in some ways. And it shifts our behaviours and our mindsets.” Li told eWEEK.

Li added that the historical perspective will allow Facebook to target users more accurately with ads based on their tastes, from wine preferences to favourite types of shoes.

Forrester Research analyst Sean Corcoran said Timeline is an important feature for interactive marketers to target users with goods and services, calling it “word of mouth on steroids”. This means changes in targeting users with ads based on new types of behavioural data.

Activity patterns

“This won’t look like the behavioural data some of us are used to in the display advertising market but eventually it could be even better if activity patterns are included – simply because it can be more relevant,” Corcoran wrote. “Just imagine Ticketmaster sending you a custom offer for Radiohead tickets for you and your friend because you listened to their music together.”

He added that user engagement data will evolve to provide more detail about a user’s content and other tastes over several years. That provides a larger target for social ads, which eMarketer said will help Facebook rack up $3.8 billion (£2.4bn) in ad sales this year, with a projected $5.8 billion in ad revenues in 2012.

“Our primary business model and it always will be, is advertising,” Dan Rose, vice president of platforms and partnerships for Facebook, told Wired. “Our platform makes Facebook more interesting so people spend more time on it, because I’m learning about my friends and I’m sharing things about myself and I’m discovering new things. And it also makes it possible for us to put an ad in front of you that’s likely to be interesting to you.”

Google+ falling behind?

Another interesting thing here is that while Google+ appeared to match Facebook in many respects, the incumbent with Timelines will raise the bar on the presentation of information sharing.

“Before f8 it was clear that Google+ was 1 or 2 years behind FB. Now they are 3 or 4,” wrote Echo co-founder Chris Saad, who said Facebook wields the ultimate “attention management platform” online.

eMarketer analyst Debro Aho Williamson told the Associated Press “Google Plus almost looks dated now”.

On the other hand, users who are uneasy about or even despise Timeline could shift more of their attention to Google+, whose asymmetric Circles sharing construct resembles Twitter even as the network enables status post, photo and video sharing the way Facebook has done for years.

Google+ could see its user base of what some say is close to 50 million people get a boost from alienated Facebook users seeking something more familiar.

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