When Facebook rolled out its “Timeline” to replace their Profile pages, it seemed like a neat gadget. It seemed like an odd move to get rid of the activity stream that had been on Profiles before, but it was kind of neat to see an overview of the person’s life, along with the large picture they could choose to show at the top. The Timeline is more visually interesting and distinct than the Profile, but over time something about it bothered me, and I didn’t really get get my mind around it until now:
The Facebook Timeline is morbid.
Where are we used to seeing the “timeline” paradigm? History books. Timelines are used for tracking progressions of significant events chronologically, events that usually have an explicit beginning and an explicit ending.
When I look at my Facebook Timeline, I feel it is a weird mesh of the profound and the trivial. It lists a string of mostly insignificant events, things I’ve liked, comments I’ve posted, photos I’ve uploaded, songs I’ve listened to, and other nuggettes of daily life. Alongside these minutiae, at one end is my start (birth), and at the other end…my end. That’s pretty heavy for a social network profile page.
The timeline therefore becomes an online tombstone in progress. Someday, nothing I do will show up on it anymore, and my friends and family will come to my Facebook Timeline to see what happened in my life, and they’ll see that I liked this viral cat video, or listened to Lady Gaga on Spotify. Maybe a few significant events will be sprinkled in between, but how much of what we do every day on Facebook is really significant or worth remembering for more than a few hours?
It is this unintentional memorializing of the trivialities of life that I object to, and why I wish Facebook would bring back the old Profiles. I liked them when they felt fluffy, when they were fleeting, and changed constantly based on my whims, and captured the essence of now rather than documenting my existence for future generations to peruse and be amused by.
If I wanted to create a memorial to myself, a summary of my life, a memoir, I would do so on my own. There are probably sites dedicated to this. But why force this morbid paradigm onto my daily communications with friends and family, without giving me a choice in the matter?
Most design decisions Facebook are very much about living in the moment. The News Feed, the Ticker, Chat, Messaging, Open Graph, Places – all have been built to spread information about NOW, about what I’m doing, where I’m doing it, and whom I’m doing it with, so to slap a layer on top of this that turns my Profile into a living document of my life is intensely off-pitch.
As it stands, the morbidity of the Timeline has largely turned me off from using Facebook. Hopefully Facebook will realize the error of their ways and rebuild Timelines to be more temporal and less monumental. Time will tell…