(Kelley Vendeland) Scanning my Twitter feed this morning, you could be forgiven for thinking the only thing going on in the world was the launch of Facebook’s Timeline profile at the company’s F8 Developer conference.
Aside from having my own personal “you know you work in tech when” moment and possibly needing more diverse Twitter friends, Facebook’s Timeline is very, very cool. A Timeline profile is essentially one page – a tile – that catalogues your entire life since birth. The concept is a little 1984-esque, but I doubt that will matter to Facebook’s now 800 million users - the site’s infamous skirmishes with privacy watchdogs haven't dented its growth thus far. And Mark Zuckerberg is right on the mark that gorgeous visuals are crucial on today’s web. Facebook’s decision to hire non-coding graphic designers to work on profile layout has resulted in a stunning user interface; no other social networking site, not even Google+, can hold a candle to it.
What I find most interesting though are the implications of Facebook’s very blatant mission to assemble a digital diary of every user’s life. If you’re above a certain age, chances are you don’t have digitized photos of your high school, college and immediate post-college days. You might have hard copies that you could theoretically scan, upload and tag on Timeline, but are you really going to do that? Probably not.
But for users like myself – borderline digital natives – or younger – full fledged natives – who joined Facebook in college or high school, Timeline means that it just became even easier to find and chronologically sort our growing pains.
Does that mean we have to be even more vigilant about policing what ends up on Facebook? I’d argue yes. In an ideal world, if 800 million people use a service and a sizable fraction of them have silly party photos from college, those silly photos wouldn’t be a source of ammunition for HR departments and political campaign teams. If everyone has them, why do they matter, especially as the digital native generation gains seniority in the workforce?
Unfortunately I doubt it will play out like that. Instead Facebook’s Timeline rollout and the Timeline copycats that will inevitably follow will likely be a boon for the online identity management industry. In highly competitive industries, people will always look to leverage the skeletons in the closet of the next guy. Now that Facebook has made your past even more searchable, management is more important than ever.