09.21.11

What Did Facebook Change Now?

Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg announced a slew of new changes to the social network. From Ticker to Timeline, see what changed.

Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg took the stage Thursday at F8, the company’s annual conference for developers and entrepreneurs, to introduce a suite of changes to the social network that will likely excite and terrify the 750 million-strong community.

When implemented, these changes will lead to an entirely new Facebook than the version familiar to you and I that was launched nearly eight years ago. So what should you know? We cut through the hype to bring you the essential takeaways from Facebook’s F8.

So what’s changing?

A lot. Get to know these three terms: Timeline, the Open Graph, and serendipity—the process of stumbling toward discovery. Today, Facebook launched the social network of tomorrow, where everything we do is broadcast to our friends, all packaged in a reverse-chronological autobiography that—through pictures, stories, and Facebook activity—conveys the stories of our lives.

What?!

Let’s break it down. There were two major features launched on stage today: a new product called “Timeline” and a relaunch of the “Open Graph.” Timeline is the reimagined Profile. It’s a summary of every photograph we’ve ever taken, every significant action, our engagements, our weddings, our music phases—good and bad—and summaries of the way we use Facebook’s bevy of applications. It’s laid out in a beautifully designed reverse chronological format of life’s most significant moments, topped by a “Cover,” a large photograph you select “that represents you best.” Zuck calls Timeline “the story of your life,” and “a new way to express who you are.”

How does it actually work?

Whenever you take a photograph, post a story, or find yourself suddenly in a relationship, Facebook takes note. These recent items will appear on the top of your Timeline, telling the world just what you’re up to these days. Over time, algorithms begin to summarize what the robots deem our most significant moments, and present them as boxes cascading down the screen. Cue the outrage. Robots selecting life’s most significant moments? No way that will fly. But Zuckerberg says you’ll have complete control to tinker with what winds up on Timeline, meaning users can swap in significant photos or swap out those I-would-rather-forget events that the robots may have callously highlighted. Scroll down far enough, and you’ll find Timeline tracks everywhere you’ve been, and everything you’ve done—“all the way back to where you were born,” says Zuckerberg. It will offer a timeless stroll through the history books, polished, most likely, to reflect our lives in photos, apps, and stories. Then, “If you need to get back to reality,” VP of Product Chris Cox later explained, “all you need to do is scroll back to the top of the page.”

Well what’s with the Open Graph?

The Open Graph is built for a new class of apps that are meant to help us discover new things through our friends. Zuckerberg says it will work through frictionless experiences, real-time serendipity, and patterns found through friends. But already, there’s friction. On Wednesday, Facebook users revolted when the company rolled out a series of changes to the site a bit early. Among them: the Ticker, a feature Zuckerberg calls “a light-weight stream of everything that’s going on around you,” and says it moves by so quickly that you’ll never be annoyed. “You don’t have to ‘like’ a book, you can just watch a book. You don’t have to ‘like’ a movie, you can just watch a movie. You can just eat a meal. You can hike a trail. You can connect to anything in anyway you want,” says Zuckerberg in explaining how Open Graph will broadcast our activities to the world. Concerned about privacy? Such seamless integration will require user sign-off before it goes into action. “You’re never surprised,” Zuckerberg explains. All this will make it so people can express “an order of magnitude more things than we could before.” A simple idea, but with powerful implication. Ticker will enable an entire new generation of applications—games, news apps, music tools—that are built atop the social network. Luckily for, well, all of us, he acknowledged more private things like health care and our finances won’t be built into the social graph for some time. But he didn’t rule it out completely.

How are apps changing?

In this first round, there are two major types of apps that will be affected by the Open Graph—everything to do with media (books, videos, music) and lifestyle (cooking, exercise). These apps are now tied into Timeline, meaning our activity on these apps (miles run on Nike+, dinners photographed on Foodspotting) will show up in the Timeline to tell mini-stories, presented, Zuckerberg explains, as weekly, monthly, or annual reports. The idea is that a summary of what you have done is far more interesting than a detailed line-by-line activity stream.

Did I hear Facebook launched a music service?

Not as hyped, but through the Open Graph they’ve signed on a slew of third-party music services that will work seamlessly with the Facebook platform the make listening to music a far more social experience. Take Spotify, for example. A user listening to Lady Gaga, with Open Graph plugged in and turned on, will broadcast their status on her albums, song by song, directly in the Ticker. Want to tune in for “Paparazzi”? Simply click the Ticker update, hit play, and you’ll be immediately taken to your friend’s point in the song.

What other industries will be affected?



Well Hollywood, for starters. Netflix CEO Reed Hastings took the stage to apologize for Qwikster and announce the DVD-only plan was all a joke. Just kidding! Hastings and Zuckerberg introduced the Netflix application, where a user can see all the top movies and television episodes friends have watched on Netflix: “A great way to discover new movies and TV shows.” There’s that serendipity again. When these shows are clicked, they start playing directly in NetFlix. “If you can help people discover an order of magnitude more content than they discovered before,” Zuckerberg explained, it could unlock waves of new pay models, helping to rethink these entire industries.” But there is one little problem. Due to a current privacy law in the United States (which Netflix CEO Reed Hastings says is being addressed in Congress)—Netflix and Facebook integration won’t be available for Netflix subscribers stateside anytime soon.

So Americans are left out?!

Not entirely, that’s just for Netflix. A whole slew of social news apps were launched today too, meaning you’ll soon be discovering far more news stories through your friends. And when Facebook detects a pattern, say, everyone’s reading about Sarah Palin on participating news sites, it will alert you directly in your News Feed of the trend.

Should I join the outrage over all these changes?

Depending on your desired level of privacy, that’s up to you. Zuckerberg’s belief that human nature feels compelled to share everything it does will continue to put Facebook on a crash-course with privacy advocates. There will be concerns over Timeline’s near-obsessive record-keeping of our lives. There will continue to be concerns about Ticker, like those spelled out in this thread (“The ticker is DANGEROUS. I feel my privacy has been compromised, and will not be posting any new statuses or activity.”). There will be concerns over a Timeline-specific mapping feature that tracks everywhere we’ve been on a large map of the world. Users unaware of their Ticker broadcasts will be upset, for some time, that Ticketmaster told the world they’ll be attending Boyz II Men’s reunion show. But so it goes. If history is of any indication, give it a few weeks and the hub-bub will have quieted down—or users will have fled to Google+.

Did Facebook take any ideas from Google+?



In this round of updates, not really. From all indications many of these changes have been in development for months, long before Google’s social network took the early adopters by storm. The closest thing is the new homepage prevalence of Lists, which like Google’s Circles, let users break their friends into subject-specific groupings. But today wasn’t about lists—today’s announcements were much bigger than that—and with them Google+ looks like last year’s news.

So when do all the changes announced today launch?

Some of these are already live. Ticker was rolled out Wednesday. Timeline, the all-new profile that tells the story of our lives, goes live in beta on Facebook today. (You can tell Facebook you’d like to join the Beta.) It will be rolled out publicly in the coming weeks as Facebook “polishes the edges,” says Zuck. The Open Graph tweaks, with all the new apps, were built with Timeline in mind, so they’ll roll out after Timeline takes hold in a few weeks. A handful, however—mostly those featuring music, movies, and news services—are live today. You’ll probably begin seeing them in your Ticker today. Facebook’s like that now. It’s serendipitous.