Friday, 23 September 2011

F8, Timeline and Open Graph

Yesterday Facebook revealed its Timeline feature at the F8 conference.  This feature will allow you to chronicle every significant event in your life with an accompanying date, photograph and description.  Videos can also be uploaded.  You can choose what you want to share and with whom.  It's a lovely feature I think, like an online scrapbook of your life that will never get worn out like a physical scrapbook does.  Digital lasts forever.

Many people complain that Facebook mines data about you based on your activity with them, and these folks will point out that the Timeline is an opportunity for Facebook to extract even more information about you.  Personally I am tentatively OK with this.  If all they use the mined data for is to target more relevant ads to you, then nobody is losing out.  Advertisers get to direct their ads to interested parties and Facebook users get to see ads that are relevant to them.

The part where I became uneasy was when mention of Open Graph protocol was made.  Mark Zuckerberg (Facebook CEO) was obviously touting this as the next big thing.  Open Graph will share with your friends the movie you are currently watching, the music you are listening to, the book you're reading, the food you're me a social dinosaur, but if I wanted people to know what I was up to I would put it up as a status update.  Now for the first time people are going to know about what I'm doing without me expressly and consciously choosing to share it.  All it takes is for me to grant permission to some apps once and next thing anything about me that can be tracked or recorded is going to be made public.  Facebook is automating sharing and I don't like it.

I was already uncomfortable with these location-aware plugins and apps like foursquare that tell people where you are and the places you check into.  This was largely pointless to me and now Facebook is encouraging people to share more useless information about themselves.  Soon when I log on I will get to read the usual status updates from people, plus see where they're going, what they're eating, what they're watching and who they're doing it with.  Even if I don't choose to disclose this info about myself, I will get the annoyance of seeing other people share stuff I don't want to see.  Ultimately this is going to cause me to log on less to Facebook, I sense.  Social is becoming just too social for me.

From a marketing perspective, I believe that this is not just about benevolent sharing and caring among friends, as Facebook will punt it.  It isn't even about targeted ads.  This sort of information is designed to make you feel a bit less secure and a little less happy with yourself and what you're doing.  When you log on you will now get to see your celebrity wannabe friends checking in at Ibiza for the Timbaland concert.  You will also be updated when your other friend just bought the new iPad 7, which you will learn is so much better than the iPad 6 or any archaic six month old laptop.  Suddenly you aren't so content with playing Scrabble and surfing Facebook on your laptop.  You want an iPad and you want to go overseas.  Then you too can put these things up on Facebook.  

Of course there will always be settings that allow you to toggle what you share and with whom.  But with sites like Facebook these settings are purposely convoluted and frustrating to use.  I hope that the settings for Timeline and Open Graph are distinct and easy to switch on AND off, because I for one don't want to prostitute everything I do.  In fact, I hope that I don't even have to waste my time de-activating something I didn't activate in the first place.  Further, I have better things to do than to see what other people are doing with their lives at any given time of the day.  I hope you do too.

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