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Facebook on Thursday opened up its platform to a whole new category of applications. These apps will allow Facebook users to enter almost everything they do into the social network — what they cooked for dinner, what book they're reading and what page they're on or what bike trail they just biked.
Facebook has long served as a sort of recommendation engine. We could see which restaurants our friends were at or where they vacationed through their photos.
The new Facebook will work to make this process even more obvious.
Through streaming music services like Spotify, Facebook users can update their friends with each song being sent through their earphones. This kind of lesser, perishable update will quickly pass through the new Ticker on Facebook, a realtime stream of updates from our friends.
Friends can click the update to listen along. And if Facebook notices a pattern, such as three friends listening to the same album, it will create a news feed item telling users just that.
That's a powerful proposition.
Six friends downloading the same app, four friends checking out the same new restaurant, two close friends watching the same show on Hulu. One can imagine how helpful this information could become.
That's where Facebook holds its power — the connections we've all made there. No other online platform can boast such a rich set of data about our personal relationships.
Timeline a powerful look back
The centerpiece of the new Facebook is the redesigned profile, which Facebook calls Timeline.
Facebook has long known a lot about us. Each status update we enter, each friend we connect with, each place we check in to helps Facebook learn more about us.
Facebook has now taken all that data (you didn't think it would forget all that, did you?) and presented it in Timeline, which allows users to scroll back through time.
Users can see what their status updates were, dating back to the day they joined the social network.
As users scroll down the page and back in time, Facebook tries to surface only the updates that will still be relevant years later. Using clues like keywords (big job news) or the number of likes or comments a post received, Facebook can attempt to know which updates will still mean something to us years later.
I've enabled the Timeline view on my profile and it's an incredible peek back in time.
It can be a bit unnerving (I said what?), but also very sentimental. I can quickly see when I first met friends with whom I'm now very close.
I can see wall posts from friends after nights out in college and posts I made earlier in my career about the stories I was writing or who I had met that day.
This is where Facebook starts to scare people.
It's important to know here that Facebook isn't showing our friends any information that they couldn't have already seen by scrolling back in our current profile view. A friend who isn't allowed to see your photos or wall posts now won't be able to see them in your forthcoming Timeline.
But something that Facebook still seems to struggle to understand is that when all those tidbits of information are grouped together over the years, it can paint a clearer picture for our friends than we originally intended.
It's hard to blame Facebook here, though: This is all information we willingly entered into the social network.
And Facebook has decided for us that the powerful experience we can receive when all this information is grouped together is more advantageous than closing ourselves off to it.
The good news here is that Facebook does allow users to control what is displayed on the Timeline. As users scroll back, posts can be zapped from the Timeline (or deleted from Facebook altogether). Stories can also be promoted to appear larger.
Doing this allows users to curate the posts what will undoubtedly color people's views of us going forward.
With Timeline, Facebook is only furthering its grip on our online lives. A platform that knows this much about its users will continue to be an incredibly powerful force in their digital lives.
But with each Facebook change comes the predictable uprising over privacy concerns. Facebook is becoming Big Brother, they say.True: Facebook knows a lot about us. But with the new Facebook, we'll see what a powerful and exciting proposition that is.