Facebook to unveil website’s next phase

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Facebook will unveil a new timeline in the next few weeks. (Screen grab courtesy of Facebook)

Last Thursday, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg revealed a slew of new features for the social network at the company’s annual F8 developer’s conference. Throughout the presentation, Zuckerberg could hardly contain his enthusiasm for his site’s next evolutionary phase. Indeed, Zuckerberg’s speech could be characterized as zealous and for good reason — if things all go according to Zuckerberg’s plan, Facebook will have superseded its omnipresence and become a sixth sense.

The site’s new features, set to become available to all users in the forthcoming weeks, will dramatically restructure the way in which people connect themselves (and to others) in the social network. Some are made not necessarily for the better and others are bold projections of the kind of company Zuckerberg would like Facebook to become.

This starts with the new Ticker, which collects all the behavior Facebook deems unworthy of your News Feed (status updates with little response, your interactions with people who are not mutual friends of your friends) and places them in a live stream. It’s like Twitter but twice as fleeting. Part of this is Zuckerberg acknowledging that Facebook suffers from a surfeit of information, some of it more inherently interesting than the rest.

It also a partial acknowledgement that Facebook can be annoying. It takes all the behind-the-scenes housekeeping involved in maintaining a Facebook profile, such as tagging yourself in photos and “liking” items, and shoves them in a corner you can ignore or just turn off. Great. But after Thursday’s reveal, the Ticker emerges as a surreptitious way for Facebook to double-down on “sharing.”

Zuckerberg describes the Ticker as being designed for “frictionless sharing” — and combined with some of the features announced last week, this is absolutely true and not at all good. Thanks to partnerships with developers, such as Spotify and Hulu, Facebook can now turn more verbs into hyperlinks: Now instead of just “liking” a song or a TV show, you can “listen” and “watch” them.

Many of these features are automatic — unless you tell Spotify otherwise, your friends’ feeds will be inundated with your Avril Lavigne kick. This instantaneous transmission of your behavior is not only occasionally embarrassing but completely defeats the purpose of the original “like” function.

For most, “liking” something on Facebook is very purposeful. You “like” a band, movie or person because you not only want to keep with their own feed but also because you want your friends to know you like them as well. This not only tells others about your taste but is also a viable recommendation engine. If we share every interaction we have with every cultural object we come across, then “sharing” will have lost its self-expression and usefulness.

These new features will all be incorporated into Facebook’s new Timeline, which will redesign the profile page for a digital scrapbook of your entire life. It’s a visually striking new aspect of the site that portends to digitize your life from the day you were born. As you move up the timeline, you can see a summation of the status updates you made, the things you liked and the friends you made.

This is Zuckerberg trying to retroactively insert Facebook into your life, to make it as if Facebook always existed and was always a part of your life. Facebook has even created a voiceless, sentimental promotional video tracing one man’s life through his Facebook Timeline. It proves more alarming of the new features awaiting users in a few weeks than poignant, but it does firmly assert Zuckerberg’s endgame: To have your entire life take place in the social network. 

Printed on Monday September 26, 2011 as: Facebook site unveils layout, takes sharing to extremes