Whether you're ready or not, Facebook has begun the Timeline rollout, and your lowly, simple profile page will soon be transformed into a glorious two-column scrapbook documenting every facet of your digital life. It's the most radical change in the history of the site, so unless you opt to shut down your account, we recommend going into this with the knowledge of what to expect and how to deal with it, whether or not you agree with Zuckerberg that a life-spanning scrapbook best represents humans in the digital age.
Wired reports that the project initially grew out of the "Memories" hack, an idea developed at one of Facebook's spring 2011 hackathons. Timeline represents a desire to give you a "rapid-fire summary of all the best things that happened to" you in the course of a year. Designer Nicholas Felton, known for his own delightfully thorough infographics and personal reports tracking everything from friends and relationships to workouts and coffee consumption, joined Facebook and helped to spearhead this new design that brings a bit of that attention to detail to your daily life. Remember the uproar that happened when Facebook flipped on News Feed in 2006 for the first time, revealing all of your friends' updates in one, easily-consumable feed? This is even bigger.
A big change
Remember when Facebook flipped on News Feed in 2006 for the first time? This is even bigger
You're going to have to deal with it sooner or later — Timeline will be a mandatory change in the coming months — so get a jump start on the inevitable by heading to facebook.com/timeline. The point here is to help you manage the shock of a new design that makes your history more visible and easily accessible than ever before. Once you begin the process, you've only got seven days before your newly redesigned personal identity is published live, so enable when you've got some free time to tinker with your profile. It won't be visible by others until you hit publish or hit your seven day limit, and once it's published, there's no way to revert to the old profile. If you're like most of us, you — and your friends — have logged hundreds or thousands of status updates, photos, videos, events, and check-ins over the years, and Timeline throws it all onto a single page.
It's both exciting and terrifying. Facebook's built a browsable, visual history of your life without much effort on your part — aside from providing the content — and it's got much more of an immediate impact than any previous version of Facebook. Our friends, jobs, break-ups, late nights, hard times, great meals, and everything else we've documented will soon be laid out in reverse chronological order on what will be the world's biggest digital scrapbook — 800 million users strong — that we've been posting to and tweaking all along. It might feed late-night narcissistic binges where you spend hours highlighting your favorite photos and hiding questionable status updates from 2006 in order to present the best "you," or, as Zuckberg said at f8, "It's a new way to express who you are." Regardless, you'll probably need to consider how you want the new digital you displayed. Where in the past photos buried in galleries may have been shared with your friends, your data has never been this accessible. Let's dive in.
After clicking 'Get it Now,' you'll be asked to add a new Cover image. We've found uncluttered, full-screen shots work best, and you can choose from your pictures on the site or upload a photo from your hard drive. The Timeline redesign shuffles around your friends, photos, and other activity, placing it all directly beneath your Cover Photo. Clicking through each section reveals your photos, friends, likes, and other activity chronologically.
At the top left of your Timeline, you can add more events, status updates, and photos. A click on the blue line running down the middle of the page invites you to share more photos, "Life events," status updates, and locations, especially among the the pre-Facebook days. Yes, Life Events, which give you the option of adding everything from home improvements and new roommates to first kisses and new hobbies. Navigating Timeline is pretty simple, if a bit click heavy: scroll down to move back in time, and persistent calendar at the top right slides down the page with you so you can hone in specific years and months. Additionally, once you scroll down far enough where your Cover image can't be seen, a new navigation bar appears with dropdowns to jump to different years and more options for quickly posting status updates.
Things might get messy here
Take note of the gear in the set of menu buttons on the right side of the window; the 'View as' option will be your most essential tool for getting your profile into shape. It lets you view your profile from the perspective of family members, friends, coworkers, or anyone else on Facebook, letting you fine tune what other users can see.
Tweaking the visual display of your profile is surprisingly intuitive. Tap the star button on a photo or video to "feature" it on the Timeline, causing it to spread to the full width of the window. To minimize, click the star button again, and completely pull it from the Timeline by clicking "edit," and "Hide from Timeline." Note that this doesn't totally remove it from Facebook or from your friends' feeds. For that, you'll need to permanently delete a post or untag yourself from a photo or video to remove yourself.
Things get messy here. If you hide a post, it will disappear from your Timeline, but it's still discoverable through traditional, pre-Timeline means. That is, depending on your privacy settings for that post. Other posts on your Timeline will be visible to others based on your sharing settings for that specific status update. So, while your mom may not see your dinner party photos in your Timeline, your Close Friends will. Got it? More on this later.
Privacy and old posts
If you want some subtlety to your digital life, this is going to take a while
If you're content with everything out there, you can probably skip the next section. Live in public! If you want to lock it all down, or have some subtlety to your digital life, though, this could take a while. You've got a few options, and unfortunately, there's no magic button that lets you hide or share everything in bulk. Just hope you've been happy with how you've dealt with your sharing privacy settings in the past, or you've got a lot of clicking in your future.
It's a great time to get intimately familiar with your Privacy Settings
Of course, you can go through and manually hide, delete, or adjust the sharing settings on every piece of shared information in your Timeline, but that could take weeks. More immediately, you can considerably limit visibility by heading to your Privacy Settings. The Limit Audience for Past Posts option quickly changes everything you've posted publicly or to 'Friends of Friends' to only visible by Friends. Unfortunately, there's no way to start fresh and set everything in your past as visible only to you. Still, it's a great time to get intimately familiar with your Privacy Settings, and reintroduce yourself to how tags work and filter through Facebook.
Double check your default sharing settings: Everything you post on your Timeline going forward will be posted under those same permission levels. And, we recommend turning on Timeline Review, a feature that prompts you before posting pictures your friends have tagged you in on your Timeline.
Let's just agree that Facebook hasn't solved the friend issue. Should you give your ex, grandmother, and boss the same level of access to your profile? Or would you open up to a close old buddy as much as you would to a new friend? Unfortunately, you've got to make that call here, and the easiest way to define what information gets shared with which people is through Lists. Granted, it's kind of gross explicitly sorting your contacts into different piles by how much information you want to share with them — something we unconsciously do in real life interactions — and Lists simply can't reproduce the subtlety with which we structure face to face discussions, but it's the best you're going to get for now.
The point here is to set up groups like "Family," "Close Friends," "People who would like to see my music rants," or "Coworkers." Facebook also has smart lists — think iTunes's smart playlists — that update automatically based on your friends' profiles. For example, all your friends who you went to college with are automatically sorted into that Smart List. The same thing happens with people who identify themselves as family members. Facebook lets you use Lists to target who can see your updates, photos, app activity, and other data. You can also manage who sees new status updates using these same lists; if you share with a specific group, it appears in your Timeline sorted accordingly.
Lists simply can't reproduce the subtlety of face-to-face discussions, but it's the best we've got
The activity log shows everything you've ever done on Facebook
The Activity Log, accessible only to you, shows everything about you that's been logged on Facebook, from the first wall posts new college friends added to beach photos from last summer to apologetic comments you left for someone's event that you couldn't attend. Fortunately, this level of detail is visible only to you, and you can browse your firehose of personal data by year, month, day, and minute. For example, I've already got months of listening data from Rdio pulled into my account, so I can jump back to October to see the songs I was listening to at 3:56pm on the 31st. Low's "Try to Sleep," if you were wondering.
The Activity Log also lets you tweak your Timeline: clicking the circle to the right of each status update gives you the option to feature, allow, or hide it on your profile, or to delete it entirely from your account.
Apps and the Open Graph
Zuckerberg is after every verb you can think of
Get ready for a flood of data
Finally, your apps also feed their data directly into your Timeline, so if you've given Facebook access to Rdio, Netflix, Spotify, Nike+, and many other apps, their data will be tied to your profile. With Facebook's Open Graph initiative launching in "the coming weeks," bringing with it a flood of new apps — or as Zuckerberg explained, verbs — that log data to your profile, take a moment to consider just what this means. You probably see a regular stream of Likes each day already, and it will soon evolve into everything people watch, run, cook, photograph, and more — Zuckerberg is after every verb you can think of.
Fortunately, dealing with who can see this data is mostly clear cut, and to Facebook's credit, is a process that's far easier to understand than it used to be. Head to your Apps settings (Account Settings > Apps), and you'll find a list of all the apps you've authorized to work with Facebook. If you've set up Lists, you can go through each app and set your sharing limitations, ranging from "Only Me" or specific lists to "Public." This lets you share your flood of Rdio and Spotify listens only with trusted friends that you can safely burden with your taste for slow jams.
Remember, once you start the process, there's no going back. With years of status updates, photos, likes, videos, not to mention Events, Notes, location check-ins, and Wall comments, there's a lot here to deal with. Timeline is Zuckerberg's vision for the future of Facebook, and there's nothing else like it on the web in terms of scope or reach. Aside from bailing on Facebook altogether, your best course of action is probably carving out an hour (or three) of your own time to make sure the your new Timeline-enabled personality is secure and beautiful.