Liz Gannes

Recent Posts by Liz Gannes

Hey Facebook, Where’s That Timeline and Open Graph You Promised?

Two and a half months after Facebook promised that a huge revision of its self-expression and sharing tools were coming soon, users and developers are still waiting.

Way back in September, Facebook told the world it was launching two major changes to its service: A revision of user profiles, called Timeline, that would make them more substantive and beautiful records of people’s lives; and “Open Graph” tools for developers to automatically share activity by logged-in Facebook users to their Timelines and friends.

Facebook didn’t give a firm date for the new launches, though it indicated they would be ready soon. “We’re going to roll [Timeline] out widely over the next few weeks as we polish all the edges,” Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg told developers and press attendees in his keynote at f8 on Sept. 22.

But we’re already in December, and those tools have yet to arrive. Why the delay?

“We wanted to let developers build on the platform and to give users more time to get used to the idea of change coming,” a Facebook spokeswoman told AllThingsD, noting that Facebook has been criticized in the past for rolling out products in a hurry. Would she offer a launch date, or even an estimate? Nope.

Developers told AllThingsD that they are eager and ready to launch their Open Graph tools, but that Facebook keeps pushing its dates back. In recent developer communications, Facebook’s promises to launch “before the end of the year” have segued to January, the developers said.

Developers also said they’re worried that Facebook has told them it will likely run a staged rollout, where all users might not receive access at the same time, and where users would have seven days to review their Timeline before publishing it.

Those various states of deployment could be a chafe for app makers to support simultaneously, and could potentially confuse users.

At f8 in September, Zuckerberg had promised that Facebook would soon be filled with a cornucopia of verbs — like “watch,” “listen,” “read,” “cook,” “run,” “throw sheep,” etc. — building on the more static “people,” “places,” “things” and other nouns the site had supported in the past.

He said users could look forward to automatically sharing and collecting records of their culinary and athletic adventures through social cooking and social running apps, for example. Facebook also named a list of developers who had already agreed to create Open Graph applications, including Blockbuster, Flipboard and Mashable.

But only a chosen few — including Spotify, Rdio, the Guardian, the Washington Post and Netflix (though the social version of Netflix is not available in the U.S. yet) — got to launch in September; to my knowledge, no other partners or any other developers have since been allowed to release their “frictionless sharing” apps to the masses.

Meanwhile, more than a million Facebook users are already trying Timeline through a preview version for developers.

Months later, it seems rather odd that some users have an entirely different Facebook aesthetic. Personally, as a user with many connections in the tech industry who have activated their Timelines, when I happen on an older-style profile, with no glossy cover photo, the layout feels dated.

Here are some of the reasons Facebook, developers and conspiracy theorists gave for the delays:

  • From the Facebook camp, we hear of efforts to rewrite Timeline to make it faster, to sync up mobile versions, and to fully ensure the product is ready. There’s also some chatter of internal conflict over the Timeline concept.
  • Based on my own observations, early response to beta versions of the new features has been mixed. The new real-time Ticker, built to show Open Graph activity and every other action taken on Facebook as a sidebar on the site’s main page, was initially unpopular with many users. Anecdotally, I’ve seen very few Timeline beta users scan in their baby photos to tell the backstory of their lives. And new automated sharing features — like Spotify and especially the social news reader apps — can be annoying.
  • There are also some external factors. A small company called Timelines, with trademarks on its brand, sued Facebook right after f8. A judge denied Timelines a temporary restraining order against Facebook, but said he would reconsider if Facebook opens Timeline to a larger audience. As of Oct. 8, 1.3 million people were using the Timeline beta, and tens of thousands were signing up per day, according to court documents. Also, Facebook recently agreed to settle with the FTC over privacy complaints. While the settlement specifically prohibits Facebook from retroactively changing any user privacy settings, it’s not as explicit about how Facebook must introduce privacy features for new products. Given that Facebook is likely to go public soon, people at the company are probably especially interested in surviving a major launch with as little privacy backlash as possible.

Please see the disclosure about Facebook in my ethics statement.

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