Facebook Turns Profile Into Timeline

New format for Facebook Profiles is a photo blog that's meant to be a visually rich record of your shared online activities that spans years.
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Facebook opened its F8 developer conference in San Francisco on Thursday with Saturday Night Live comedian Andy Samberg doing an impression of CEO Mark Zuckerberg. Apart from demonstrating the difference in stage presence between a professional performer and Facebook's leader, it was a sly argument for Facebook as an identity service.

As Samber put it, his appearance demonstrated "the importance of authenticated identity."

After the real Mark Zuckerberg showed up on stage to end the charade, he acknowledged that Samber's ridicule of social networking was intended to educate.

"Although Andy was joking," Zuckerberg said, "a lot of the points he made were actually right."

Samber suggested in jest that Facebook had grown so large the company stopped counting its users. That's not quite true. Facebook hasn't actually stopped counting: Zuckerberg noted with pride that 500 million people had used the service in a single day. But the numbers have become so large that counting isn't really necessary.

Facebook recently rolled out facial recognition for its Tag Suggestions. Find out more.

Facebook, like it or not, is here to stay, barring a global privacy revival and an unprecedented repudiation of self-expression. And while Facebook's longevity may have been assumed by Facebook fans, Zuckerberg acknowledged that not everyone believed.

"Until recently, people weren't sure how long this would last," he said.

Facebook clearly intends to be around for a long time, through its IPO next year and beyond. And in keeping with that plan to persist, Zuckerberg introduced a new format for Facebook Profiles called Timeline.

Timeline is the Facebook Profile re-imagined as a nicely designed photo blog. It's meant to be a visually rich record of your shared online activities that spans years.

"Timeline is the story of your life," said Zuckerberg. "It's the heart of your Facebook experience, completely rethought from the ground up."

Convincing Facebook users to participate in this deeper level of self-surveillance won't be difficult. Facebook users like to share. And Facebook is greasing the wheels by revising its Open Graph APIs to allow Facebook apps to share activities with Timelines.

"Adding an app to your timeline is like wiring a real-time connection between your app and Facebook," explained Facebook CTO Bret Taylor.

Mercifully, Facebook plans to consign the coming tsunami of updates about meals eaten and other mundane activities to its recently introduced ticker channel, which Zuckerberg described as "a lightweight stream of everything going on around you." Users' News Feeds will be left unpolluted by such posts.

At the same time, Facebook isn't just angling to capture every personal action and preserve it for posterity. It intends to allow its partners to create apps that make such sharing more relevant and meaningful. The social network's partners in this endeavor include a host of music, video, and news companies. These companies hope to provide Facebook apps that promote engagement with their respective products and brands. In many cases, these apps will turn Facebook from a place where people report experiences to a place where they have experiences.

"Today we're making it possible to build a complete new class of apps and to rethink a lot of industries at the same time," said Zuckerberg.

One example is Spotify's Facebook app, which allows Spotify users to listen to the songs their Facebook friends are listening to. Another is Hulu, which is offering a Facebook app to view Hulu content in a social context. Another is Netflix, which will be adding social features that allow Facebook users to see what their friends are watching--a trick that CEO Reed Hastings said would be enabled by the imminent revision of a video privacy law that has prevented the sharing of video data.

Facebook is also introducing a new app discovery and analytics system call Graph Rank, which allows Facebook app developers to see how their apps are being used.

Perhaps the most noteworthy thing about the revised Open Graph and the apps that use it is that Facebook has made social sharing the expected mode of behavior. The app permission process has been simplified and apps, once authorized, won't constantly request permission to share.

Apps made with the new Open Graph "are not asking my permission to be social," said Taylor. "It's a feature of the app."

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