It's been over a month since Facebook launched a "Developer Release" version its new profile page, the Timeline. The new design was supposed to have been made available to all of Facebook's users in "a few weeks," but it's now almost two weeks overdue. There's been no official word from Facebook on the delay, but my guess is that it's due to mixed feedback from early users.

I have been using the Timeline since Day 1, September 22. Personally, I love the new design. But for other early users, Timeline has messed up their main reason for visiting a person's Facebook profile: to quickly scan recent updates. While Facebook is used to mixed feedback for its re-designs, Timeline is a radical change from the old profile and so Facebook needs to be confident that its mass audience will easily adjust to the new design. Unfortunately for Facebook, Timeline does appear to have some usability issues.

Timeline essentially turns your profile into a colorful, easily searchable timeline of your life - at least the parts of it on Facebook.

The Differences

Before we discuss the pros and cons of Timeline after one month, take a look at the two screenshots below. The first shows my Timeline profile, which currently only a small portion of my Facebook friends see (those who also implemented the Developer Release). The second screenshot shows the profile page of RWW Channels Editor David Strom - that's the design which the vast majority of Facebook users still have. But Timeline is what Facebook promised to roll out to all of its users by now, so the first screenshot is what all Facebook users will soon have.


My Facebook Timeline


RWW Channels Editor David Strom's Facebook profile

You can see the immediate differences even from these somewhat blurry screenshots:

  • Timeline is organized via a timeline navigation bar, which divides your status updates into two panes (see the vertical bar down the middle of the status updates area; there is also an extended timeline bar in the top-right corner of the page). By comparison, the old profile is organized as a chronological list of status updates in a single pane.
  • Timeline is much more colorful, thanks largely to the "cover shot" image (mine is a photo of a John Baldessari art exhibition in San Diego). As you begin to use Timeline, you also notice the extra pizzazz in larger images, better video integration, the Music sharing center, and more.
  • The list of friends has been de-emphasized in Timeline. In David's profile, you can clearly see a list of his friends in the left pane. You can easily click through to each of his friends. In my Timeline, however, my friends are squeezed into a small rectangular box and I cannot click on individuals. This difference is the most obvious evidence of a key change in Facebook's design philosophy for your profile: the Timeline is much more about YOU.

There are other differences not immediately obvious, such as new options for the status update field (called "life events"). See our original review of Timeline for a full list of the new features.

How Early Timeline Users Have Reacted

Some Timeline users have loved the changes - and I count myself in this category. It's been suggested that people who love Timeline are narcissistic, because Timeline makes it a pleasure to design and curate a digital timeline of your life. Given that my professional life is played out entirely online, I have to say "guilty as charged" on the narcissism count.

One of the biggest complaints so far from early Timeline users is that the duel pane organization of status updates makes it difficult for users to scan recent activity on your profile. This is likely an execution problem by Facebook's design team.

Here's the gist of the problem: when you make a series of updates on Facebook, your Timeline gets shuffled around randomly. Previous updates shift disconcertingly from the left to the right pane (or vice versa), while other updates are pushed down the page haphazardly. Perhaps most frustratingly, some updates don't appear at all. For example, I had one instance of adding a new photo album and it showed up on Timeline; but the next time I added a photo album, it didn't go into Timeline.

The Timeline shuffle is further confused by the new "frictionless sharing" feature. The most prominent example of this is having every song you listen to on apps like Spotify and MOG go into your news feed. That causes a Music center box to display prominently on your Timeline, but which songs display is at the whim of algorithms. Also if you don't listen to anything for a while, the music box drops down the page. Again, the layout is something that may confuse many people ("what happened to the music thingie I saw on your profile yesterday? It's disappeared!")

Scrambled Eggs

One word I heard when gathering feedback for this article sums up how many people feel about the layout of status updates in Timeline: scrambled.

Arguably, most people just want to see recent activity on a Facebook profile. While some will enjoy regularly exploring the history of a friend's life (this activity is also known as 'stalking'), most of the time you probably just want to see the most recent updates.

But Timeline makes it difficult to know what is most recent and there is no guarantee that all of the activity you seek - for example an event that a group of friends is organizing - will even show on the Timeline.

As RWW webmaster Jared Smith observed, with Timeline you are "looking back and forth and back and forth," whereas with the old design "the social stream is neater and more scannable." Jared isn't a fan of the Timeline and it looks like a lot of people agree with him.

Personally, I still think Facebook is on the right track with Timeline. But there are clearly issues with its implementation, particularly in the layout and organization of status updates. It's my bet that this has been the cause of the delayed rollout of Timeline to Facebook's entire user base.

Let us know in the comments if you've been using Timeline and if so, what you think of it compared to the old design. If you're still using the old design, does what you read here make you nervous about having Timeline thrust upon you?

Photo credit: Nina Matthews Photography