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Facebook’s redesign and the future of social media

By Bre Carter

This week, Facebook started launching a profile redesign called Timeline. While the social media giant is known for constantly tinkering with its product, and although it has often made news for rolling out new features and designs that users initially complain about and then quickly accept, the timeline appears to be different. A traditional Facebook profile gives the most prominent position to updates that occurred most recently; the most recent photos, status updates, and wall posts are all displayed at the top of the page, thus forcing viewers to scroll through years of uploads if they seek to explore someone’s more distant past.

The Timeline, once activated, will completely overhaul this model in favour of a more scrapbook-style approach. Timeline allows viewers to easily scroll through photos and uploads from a user’s distant past. They can choose a year — 2007, for example — and immediately see what the user was doing at that time. Even though Facebook has only been around for seven years, many of its oldest users have gone from high school to college to a career in this time. With just a couple of clicks, this full progression can be surveyed and instantaneously viewed.

Early reviews of the timeline note that it is an attractive design but may be disconcerting to many people who haven’t realised how much of their life has been chronicled on the social media site. Although Facebook will allow users the ability to hide posts and photos from their timeline, the sheer volume of data on most profiles will make this a daunting task for many. Ultimately, then, we can expect Facebook’s cultural lens to morph from one that provides a snapshot of the present to one that acts more as a biography of a person’s life.

While the timeline feature allows users to look back into the past, Facebook implemented it with a keen eye towards the future. The company realizes that, although it is dominant, it operates in a fast-changing social media world. A new competitor could come along, its popularity could wane, and its reign could unceremoniously come to an end. The timeline works to counteract this by raising consumer switching costs; if a person feels as though Facebook is the medium through which their life has been chronicled, after all, they will be less likely to start using a different platform.

Timeline, consequently, is no typical Facebook redesign. Rather, it is an attempt to completely transform social media as we know it. As it currently stands, social media sites operate very much in real time, in the present. They make it easy for you to update your friends at any moment of the day, and then they make it just as easy to bury last week’s updates under a pile of new pictures, statuses, and wall posts. But the current millennial generation is growing up alongside Facebook, and it’s conceivable that its members will have profiles until their death, as they get married, establish a career, grow old, and retire. At this stage in their lives they may only care about the present. But, as is often the case, they will start to reminisce and think more about their past as they grow older. Facebook’s timeline is a long-term strategy for helping people do just that — and for keeping the company relevant for years to come.

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