Last week was Facebook’s much anticipated f8 Developer Conference where they announced a huge number of changes to their site and their APIs. I expect it will take a while to fully realize the impact of these sweeping changes, both good and bad.
I opted into the developer pre-release and I’ve been playing with timeline a fair bit. This feature is both well designed and elegant. The two-column format provides an information display that is visually dense and rich, but easy to consume. Unlike the traditional news feed, the timeline tells a story and that’s where it succeeds. Here’s a screenshot of my timeline from this July:
I suspect the timeline will introduce a psychological need for many people to “complete the set” of personal information, prompting them to add things they might have otherwise left off Facebook.
What’s really interesting is that Timeline will prompt users for a lot of information that may pre-date the existence of Facebook itself. Facebook is now directly prompting users to enter information as personal and varied as “Add a pet”, “Add a roommate”, “Had surgery”, “Overcame an illness” and “Lost a loved one” (don’t be too surprised when people start creating Facebook profiles for the dearly departed). The amount of additional personal data Facebook is poised to collect is just staggering. What Facebook chooses to do with this data will be very important. While it may be a boon to marketers, it obviously raises some serious moral and ethical questions for Facebook.
On the positive side, there is finally a really robust solution for curating your own life — something I’ve been very interested in for a while now. If you want to capture your life story in electronic form, Timeline is hard to beat. While I’m certainly not convinced I want to give Facebook all my intimate details, I’d definitely pay to have my data kept private. In general, I don’t think people will mind having a facebook representation of their lives as long as it makes them look more interesting than they are.
Adding custom “verbs” is a brilliant move for Facebook. Now there is so much more to do than “Like”. Sharing music is one of the cooler possibilities and it seems Facebook could really give iTunes a run for its money.
The ability for apps to publish on the user’s behalf, in the background, will create a lot more activity. It will also be a huge source of controversy, as we are already seeing. Once you give permission, participating sites will begin to report on what you read, watch, or listen to without your intervention. Convenient? Yes? Creepy? Also, yes.
While I’m not crazy about the design of the “ticker” feature introduced a few days ago, it’s clear now why they need it. The sheer volume of activity that OpenGraph will generate would have overwhelmed the news feed. But it feels a bit like a bolt-on and I expect them to tweak the ticker a lot over the coming weeks and months.
App & Content Discovery
Facebook appears to have the discovery problem nailed. You discover apps and content through your friends (via GraphRank). This will be huge when they introduce an HTML5 app store. But I wonder if they’ll even need a store in the traditional sense. The news feed could effectively become the store. This is a big advantage over Apple’s App Store and the Android Marketplace, where app discovery is a significant problem.
Changing the Web
You’ve got to hand it to Facebook, they certainly are prolific and they are not shy about taking risks. The additions and changes they are making will have a tremendous impact on the Web. Whether those changes make for a better Web remains to be seen.