Last night at the f8 conference in San Francisco, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg revealed the company’s ambitious plans to change the social network – and the internet – once again. Spotify integration made its expected appearance, but top of the agenda was the Facebook Timeline, a rejigged profile page which summizes your entire life in chronological order.
It’s an interesting and staggeringly controversial idea, but for me, it missed one absolutely crucial option: the ability to print it out.
I have a feeling Facebook Timeline could prove a huge hit with swathes of the earth’s population, keen to show off a This Is Your Life book to all and sundry. Personally, I find it rather depressing that Facebook is essentially now in the business of backing up people’s lives in the same way you would email.
I hope this is just the start, and that it could do much more. Nicholas Felton is one of the key Facebook employees behind the Timeline. In design and sociology circles, he gained fame some years ago by intricately recording the details of his life, compiling them and breaking them down statistically in a series of annual reports. So much so in fact, that his start up, Daytum.com, was snapped up by Facebook.
You can view them online, but they’re also beautiful, glossy analogue records of what he did in a year, as you can see below. They’re works of science, they’re works of statistics, they’re works of art, and they, more than a blown out series of pictures of you with your arms around your friends in a nightclub, capture what it means to be alive far more gracefully.
Right now, Facebook Timeline does not offer this. But with all the information we willingly (and unwittingly) submit to Facebook each and every single day, would it be so hard to? I don’t think so. You can already tell Facebook what you’re reading, what you’re listening to (The new Spotify integration adds songs, playlists and most listened information to the Timeline), and even what you’re cooking. With all the talented engineers Facebook has assimilated, it’d be perfectly feasible.
There’s a precedent too. For all Apple’s exponential success as a hardware and software company, it still makes money printing off digital photos and cards you’ve designed, and transforming them into wonderful hardback albums, calendars and coffee table talking pieces.
Would it be so hard for Facebook to do the same? You can already upload pictures at print quality resolutions. And as unlikely a fit as it is with everything else the platform does, the ability to have your Timeline printed off as a glossy album or beautiful brochure to rival Felton’s initial reports could prove a wonderful keepsake – and a private one, not something open for all your Facebook “friends” to see (One of the reasons I’m not hugely interested in Timeline as it is).
Sure, it’d be the term Facebook going completely full circle – originally, it was an American expression for a university yearbook – but I don’t think I’d be alone in embracing it.
Zuckerberg’s performance at f8 yesterday was in every other respect about imitating Apple and its keynotes. I’d like to see Facebook mimic Apple in this too: as I’ve said before, digital records can sadly be the most fleeting. The human life is far too important to be recorded solely in the cloud.