Last week Facebook presented its latest iteration and updates with fanfare unusual even for Facebook. The changes were announced just as Google+ wanted to open its services to everyone who wanted to subscribe, so clearly the two wanted to land some PR punches against each other. Now that Google+ has been out long enough for a broad array of users to find what they (don’t) like about the platform, the criticisms have grown sharper. For example, Google+ finds its clientele strikingly young, male, and white. Moreover, the platform still is stressing the ‘real you’ user (no pseudonyms and no organizations), so nonprofits and socially-engaged groups on Facebook have made no efforts to get on board the Google+ train.
We wanted to offer our audience a few opportunities to walk through the new features, and we want also to follow public reactions to the changes. So far, the updates are being treated with greater excitement and anxiety than often accompany FB updates.
The buzz is all about the Timeline: FB’s efforts to bring a narrative account of each user’s (individual’s or organization’s) profile. It is in beta at the moment, so not available to everyone (you can launch it early by following these directions). But it will be opened up soon. Facebook’s official presentation of the Timeline is here:
By the way, even though changing the ‘Like’ button is also coming (allowing most anyone to make whatever gerundive-verb button they want), so far the Likes (2814) for the video above just barely outpace the Dislikes (2477). Many fear the implications of Facebook generating its own concept of their stories, as we will get to, though users can tweak parts of their stories by emphasizing certain posts, updates, and photos.
What the Timeline offers is a chronological string of one’s engagement with Facebook and the apps you have associated with it. Everything. And once you have allowed a share via an app, that app continues to share everything until you intervene to stop the sharing. Such a feature could mean a nonstop array of updates about one’s musical choices () and gaming habits (Farmville) that could be weighted equally to the party you enjoyed last week. Or even the fundraiser your organization is hosting next week.
As the ever-insightful Beth Kanter points out, the Timeline could give nonprofits opportunity to tell a ‘story’ through its FB page. But it also could simply add to the overwhelming clutter that your followers are going to be getting from among their FB friends – leaving your nonprofit’s good work within an ever deeper pile of unattended/unengaged data/detritus.
What does [the Timeline stream] do to the ladder of engagement? Does it make more of a journey? Or will people be so flooded with everyone digital artifacts and actions from viewing each other timelines that they’ll not remember your organization? Will information overload prevent any tugging at the heart strings?
My reaction was to either run screaming or say, wow this is cool. As we’ve seen, it takes time for mere mortals like our audiences to internalize these new ways of living or life streaming. Some will adopt more quickly than others depending on perhaps generational context, how set they are in their routines, and comfort level with openness and serendipity.
That openness, we remind you, is all-or-nothing for the Timeline. If it’s information that has touched your Facebook account, it is going into the Timeline. Some have even suggested the disquieting notion of being able to stalk people on Facebook, because developers can now change the ‘Like’ button to any very they wish. You might ‘love’, ‘hate’, or ‘feel indifferent’ about something and any clicks you make will become part of the Timeline.
Certainly people will take on the Timeline and the plethora of verb buttons that will be gracing our web browsing quite soon. And they will take them on at their own speeds. At least at first. But once these features are engaged, they are fully engaged throughout one’s Facebook ‘life.’ How nonprofits will manage the messages they create (and will be created about them without their direct input) will prove a challenging opportunity.