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Change is hard for me. I find it very difficult to decide on a new brand of socks to wear if an old one I like isn’t available at the store. It’s a long and painful process that usually doesn’t impact anything at all, since most socks feel about the same after a few weeks.
Imagine what happened when I saw Facebook’s new Timeline feature. I’m still freaking out. I think it is annoying and unnecessary. Here’s why.
I Don’t Need It
One of the most interesting things to watch is what happens when a business embarks on a project that isn’t built with the customer (or user) in mind. Usually the company in question tries to justify it by making grand statements about how the new feature will enhance the life of its customers.
Take it away, Mr. Zuckerberg.
“Timeline is the story of your life.”
That’s great! I mean, wait. What? I thought this was Facebook. The place I go to check up on my friends and see who is dating who and sometimes check up on people I knew in high school. Now Facebook is the story of my life?
“All your stories. All your apps. In a new way to express who you are.”
Huh? I guess Facebook is about expression, in the same way as any other form of communication is about expression. But I don’t have any stories on Facebook. I don’t use many apps. And the apps I use certainly aren’t meant to be an expression of who I am.
“Here are all the years of my life, right here.” (made in reference to his timeline).
Uh-oh. I wish I could see the advertising data they’ll take from that. Which is, let’s face it, the most important feature of Timeline.
Look, seeing people’s lives throughout time is kind of nifty. But is it why I’m on Facebook? No. I don’t want this to be my profile. It doesn’t do anything for me. Do. Not. Want.
I Don’t Like The Dueling Walls
Here’s my biggest design issue with Timeline.
Ever since I was a kid I’ve been taught, like almost everyone else in the western world, that items to be read are scanned from left to right and from top to bottom.
Timeline starts out with one big column that has a lot of information, and that’s fine. But below that are two columns of information that at first seem to be spat out almost at random. Soon you’ll realize that there are very small arrows on each area of information pointing to a dot on the timeline, and you’re supposed to parse information by jumping box to box in a sort of diagonal zig-zag pattern. Also, the two upper most boxes of information on the right side – well, they’re not actually part of the timeline. The designers just couldn’t figure out where else they could put them.
What I find strangest about this is the fact that it’s entirely unnecessary. A list of single items can be chronological. Wall posts are already organized in that way, more or less. The only reason for this annoying two-column format, so far as I can tell, is so that you can see it’s a timeline. Ooooooh. Fancy.
Fortunately, some intrepid developers are already making extensions that reformat the page so that there is just one column. But really – Facebook? What are you thinking?
I Don’t Like The Privacy Concerns
Timeline is yet again asking users to put in more information about themselves. Ostensibly it helps users express themselves – but it certainly doesn’t hurt Facebook’s bottom line. In doing so, the company is also asking people to provide more information to strangers and friends. That is information users may not want to have visible.
Yes, there are tools that can be used to make sure information remains private. There are ways to remove content. The burden of privacy is, however, consistently placed on the user. In the eyes of Facebook, there doesn’t seem to be any assumption of privacy. It’s all out there – unless you say otherwise.
I’m not sure why we should trust Facebook, either. They’re a company that is on the verge of an IPO (it may have happened by the time you read this) and despite the success of the site, they are as a business still young and still unproven. What happens when someone else is in charge? What happens if the IPO flops and Facebook’s investors start asking for them to make big bucks, no matter what? The pressure for profit has time and time again caused companies to take actions that were unsafe, immoral and sometimes illegal. We shouldn’t expect Facebook to be any different.
I Don’t Have A Choice
Timeline is out there. You may have already noticed it lurking on the pages of friends. Perhaps you’ve been taken by it already. But even if you run – you can’t hide. Timeline is coming, and there’s nothing you can do to stop it. Why? Why can’t I stop it?
That’s a hypothetical question, of course. I know why. It’s because Timeline is designed from the ground up as a way to make Facebook money. Increased app integration and increased data collection translates to more opportunities for profit. Making it optional doesn’t make sense – at least not to the accounting department.
I get that, but it doesn’t make the change any easier for me.
The new Timeline feature may be what turns me off from Facebook. Though I have a Google+ account, I don’t use it as my primary social networking tool. That may soon change.
What say you? Am I off the reservation, or are you feeling the pain of change as well? Let us know in the comments.