Facebook's new Timeline profile feature is great, even if it is a little strange. It's narcissistic, but that's a big part of the fun of it, and I'm not sure that other peoples' timelines are nearly as interesting as mine is to me.

It's an incredibly feature-rich new type of social network profile. It's a re-imagination of what a profile can be. It makes me want to use Facebook more, to share more data with Facebook so that it can be preserved and displayed so nicely, years into the future. While other Facebook features have pushed users into posting publicly by default, or posted their activities from other places they didn't understand would become part of the public record, I think Timeline is a genuine value add to incentivize users to share more. I think it's great.


Data is at the heart of the Facebook Timeline, your data - about your life, about your activities as recorded on Facebook and about your social connections. The music you listen to, the places you go and the things you do. Insights and experiences built on top of data are going to be a big part of the future of human/computer interactions. Facebook Timelines are a great first look at that idea for hundreds of millions of people. They are also something that Twitter can never do, for both technical and cultural reasons.

It's one thing to see this data all in a News Feed as Facebook has long showed it, it's fundamentally different to see Yourself and Others presented like a work of art in this new Timeline layout.

By highlighting the content you've published that has received the most social engagement, in the form of comments and Likes, your Facebook Timeline takes its best shot at presenting your Best Self to the world. The mundane updates are hidden in the background and the highlights of your life, if you posted about them on Facebook, are programmatically discoverable and now displayed in an attractive page layout.

It doesn't work perfectly, my Timeline says that I married my wife 3 times on 3 different dates, but generally speaking it works really well. It looks great on m.facebook.com too.

The Facebook Timeline represents the Instrumentation of Your Life, making things measurable and then building on top of those measurements. It's a big deal in the world of social software.

That Facebook launched such a bold new implementation of every user's data about themselves just months after getting slapped with a 20 year privacy audit requirement from the US government is bold.

As Not Seen on Twitter

Meanwhile, over on Twitter, that competing social network can't remember what you did two weeks ago. It does remember, it just won't let you remember. Historical content on Twitter is severely limited.

The company has said officially that's because Twitter is all about the here and now, it's real-time. Unofficially it's said though that the root of the problem was in a series of database creation decisions that were made years ago. It would now be super expensive to change that.

There is something about Twitter that's more conversational, more News focused and less conducive culturally to something like Timeline.

For the vast majority of its users, I'd also guess that Twitter accounts post fewer messages and get fewer responses that can be measured to determine highlights than is the case on Facebook.

Facebook also has a lot of structured data in the user's profile and changes to that become events, which social activity swarms around and which then become notable points in your life. You changed your marital status? That's probably going to get a lot of discussion. There is no equivalent on Twitter. Were Twitter to highlight your biggest tweets, they would likely be the wittiest quips you've made over the years, not the real life events.

Twitter is working on convincing people that tweets are great for reading, that it's largely a reading experience. Facebook, on the other hand, has always wanted you to share, share, share.

Many of us are doing things outside of Facebook, though. A lot of that is being shared back into our Newsfeed, but not all of it. I am very impressed with what Facebook has done, but I wish there was some more effective competition out there. There are various startups who have tried to do this, though none anywhere near as well as Facebook's hired and acquired team of world-beating design pros.

I joined Facebook 5 years ago this Fall, according to my Timeline. It's cool to see all that history presented so nicely and it makes me want to put more content into Facebook so I can see it later. I imagine that's the point.