What is Timeline?

Facebook's new interface explained

by Chris Vandergaag



Facebook’s new user interface, dubbed ‘Timeline’, is already available to the public on an opt-in basis, but at this stage, only a segment of the Facebook population has made the switch. Understandably, many users aren’t eager to implement a new interface and set of tools they don’t understand, and which they’ve heard constitute “a major change.” So what is Timeline and how is it different? Is it useful? It it terrifying?

What is Timeline?

In short, Timeline will replace profiles. That is, once Timeline is mandatory for all users (and this is happening soon), you will no longer have a 'profile', but rather a ‘Timeline’.

Things will look different under Timeline - see above. Your page will have a large space up top for an image—this becomes your Timeline ‘cover’. Also, photos, links, friend’s posts and all of your updates will occupy 2 columns rather than one. Photos in your feed will be larger as well, so expect things to seem busier, with your eyes moving back and forth as you look over your friend’s Timelines, rather than just scanning down a list.

Are there new features?

Yes, a few. Timeline is essentially Facebook’s attempt to provide album, yearbook, scrapbook, and diary software all in one, and in fairness, it does a pretty good job of it. It provides you greater control over which posts are highlighted, and how prominently photos appear. It will allow you and others to jump around in your timeline by month or year (and in doing so, laugh at ridiculous things you wrote in 2007.) Essentially, Timeline aims to make your experience akin to flipping through the pages of a ‘yearbook’ of your life. Isn’t that quaint?

But (and here’s where the controversy comes in), Timeline also encourages users to share unprecedented detail about themselves, in the form of ‘Life Events’, a brand-new class of update (joining ‘Status’, ‘Photo’ and ‘Place’ in the text box at the top of your feed) and you’re encouraged to fill in as many blanks as you can. After all, for most of us, our Facebook existence goes back only as far as high school or college. Under Timeline, you can go back to the moment of your birth and “like” it, if you so choose.

Predictably, Facebook’s unveiling of Life Events, and the prospect of all of this candour has been met with mixed feelings; are you eager to post about the demise of all of your relationships, every job you ever had (even those you kept for 4 days) and the 'diseases you overcame'? Facebook is going to suggest you do just that. That, and new languages you learned, tattoos you got, your first kiss, bones you broke, who died - the good along with the bad. There are Timeline checkboxes and drop-downs making it easy to share all of these things (read: the term ‘too much information’, or tmi, is about to experience a renaissance. Especially if the diseases you overcame involved sacs of fluid).

What do the people already using Timeline think of it?

Like with any development on a major social platform, some love it, and are already enthusiastically cataloging their back stories and making full use of the new options, and others are worried, lamenting the inevitability of Big Brother pillaging their personal info, via their Timelines, and are vowing to boycott. For under Timeline, it's easier to dig into the past; it's just a matter of clicking "2009" to bring up everything someone posted that year.

Which brings us to perhaps the most important consideration with regards to Timeline: all of this is optional - you may keep using Facebook more or less the way you do now, and continue to share only what you’re comfortable with. Also, with a couple of clicks you can limit the visibility of past posts—understandably, not everyone is comfortable with the thought of potential employers and jealous exes having quick and easy access to their entire posting histories.

The TL;DR version of “What is Timeline?”

A new, more visually-oriented, scrapbook-style layout for Facebook, making your personal space more like an album, and less like a feed. It’s filled with new checkboxes encouraging you to share deeper, more personal and further-back life events. Of course, you can skip all that, and just continue using Facebook to maintain imaginary farms, and post photos of drunk friends and videos of cute cats.

'Side Mission' Chris Vandergaag covers tech and games for a number of outlets, and loves hearing from readers. Find him on Twitter: @ButNoSeriously


Please Tweet or share this page if you find it useful! You can also visit Facebook’s official Timeline help pages here.