Liz Gannes

Recent Posts by Liz Gannes

Don’t Freak Out! Facebook Swears “Timeline” Will Make You Happy

At first, the upcoming Facebook Timeline interface may be disorienting for users, but soon they should see its expressive power, said Timeline product manager Sam Lessin in an interview on Wednesday.

Timeline, which is a strikingly divergent redesign of user profile pages, is due “in the coming weeks,” Facebook has said, though people registered as Facebook developers can already try it.

As of last week, Timeline was already being used by 1.1 million people, with 100,000 to 200,000 added per day, according to Lessin’s testimony in the trademark case.

Though Facebook often redesigns its site rather drastically, Timeline is the biggest visual change the company has made so far. The words Lessin used to describe the product are also different; multiple times he brought up the concept of pride.

“Our whole goal here is to help you be proud of your story,” Lessin said. Inspiring pride is an unusually strong and lofty objective for a service that has long called itself a utility.

But two things are inevitable about any Facebook redesign: Many users are likely to strongly dislike it, at least at first; and privacy advocates will protest that it brings personal information into a new light.

Lessin responded to those concerns in our chat, which has been lightly edited and reproduced below:

AllThingsD: So Facebook had the profile, and then it had the wall, but now those two are gone and we’re getting the Timeline. Why?

Sam Lessin: The profile has always been meant to be how you express yourself and the wall was a way to interact. This is the next evolution. While they serve the same functions, Timeline looks very different. But it’s an evolution, not a revolution.

How do you expect people to react to Timeline when they see it on their own Facebook accounts? What features will jump out?

Going down the page, I think people will be excited about having a place to be expressive with the cover photo. It’s not necessarily a groundbreaking feature, but it’s an important one. I also found it to be a pretty emotional experience the first time Timeline was turned on, where you had the ability to look at this content where in the back of your head you always knew was there, but there was no way to see it or access it reasonably. That expressive power is, I think, something that people are going to latch onto.

Obviously the curation controls are pretty powerful, and then other stuff like the map, for instance, it’s a really interesting way to see your own life and to see other people’s lives. For the first time we’re offering a lot of information, which is fascinating, both from applications — what did I listen to the most last month, what articles did I read — plus your own content. We’re offering a new cut that people haven’t seen before.

Do you expect users’ behavior on Facebook to change? Do you expect people to spend more time on their own profile or surfing other people’s profiles?

There’s a lot more to look at on your profile. Historically you kind of knew what was on your profile — it was the job you listed and the last five things you posted. It wasn’t that compelling of an experience. I don’t think there’s going to be any fundamental huge shift, but we’re giving a dimensionality that hasn’t existed before.

In my initial experiences with Timeline, it’s a bit confusing at first because the sidebar navigation scheme has gone away. It feels very different from the rest of Facebook or the Facebook I was used to, and it almost feels like you’re developing off in a different dimension and when I go back to my news feed I’m in a different place.

We want Timeline to feel like your own place. It’s not like we’re off in left field on everything, but there’s no question that it looks and feels pretty different than a lot of the interface. The whole goal with that was to make this feel like it’s yours. We want you to be proud of yourself and tell your story to the right people how you want to tell that story. So yeah, it’s certainly a change, and I think any change is always going to be disorienting. You’re going to remember to click there for friends, instead of the same place you clicked the last 10,000 times. But I also think that’s part of evolving the product.

I’m sure you’ve thought about how to avoid completely disconcerting people when you roll out Timeline. Are you going to let people switch back and forth between the old and the new?

Initially people will be opting in, they’ll be making a choice that this is the interface they want to use. And then once they’ve done that we have this seven-day curation concept [before you publish your Timeline so other people can see it]. Our whole goal here is to help you be proud of your story, so giving people that ability to understand what this is, and play with it themselves, remove things and change privacy, and star the right things.

When is this coming out? Why hasn’t it launched yet — what are you still working on?

We’re rolling this out to developers first, and there’s a lot to interact with and understand. Applications are a huge part of your story.

It might be hard to anticipate, but how do you think people will use Timeline as a private tool versus a public tool?

I think that’s a fascinating question. I, for instance, use my Timeline for private things all the time, as a journal. It’s not necessarily something that I think millions of people will do on day one, but I think it’s a powerful concept. My fiancee certainly sees a very different version of my Timeline than you would, or than someone I don’t know would, and I think that’s great, because it means that you’re telling your story in context to the audience you want.

Please see the disclosure about Facebook in my ethics statement.

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