Last week a much-anticipated feature was released by Facebook’s developers. No, not the stock IPO (Initial Public Offer), but the Timeline feature/app that can turn one’s activities online into, well, a timeline. In one sense, one’s posts and posts of one’s friends (including organizations) created a proto-timeline. What the new feature offers is the opportunity for one’s activities outside Facebook to be brought into one’s Timeline, a development of what the folks at FB call ‘The Open Graph’.
The paradigm, and the opportunity to develop applications to link your nonprofit/business/media conglomerate/reading circle/music application…, was first presented in mid-January and now some 80+ such organizations have developed apps (the numbers shift periodically as more organizations make such apps, butafter being reviewed by Facebook). The numbers of nonprofits taking advantage of Timeline are not yet huge, but many are discussing how they might in the near future.
The practicalities: one must enable the feature at this point within one’s account (though Facebook says every account will be updated to feature Timeline in the near future). A number of apps will help you do that (see the screenshot to the right) and take control of how it looks. As Facebook points out, once you initiate Timeline, you can not go back to the previous format. That said, has been released, but we can not speak to its usefulness.
Once activated, your posts, photos, etc. become a part of a single timeline. But where the extended magic, or marketing demands, can be found is as other websites, services, and online features tie their materials into your Timeline so that family, friends, everyone, can see what charity you just donated to and what song you’re listening to and what newsfeed you recently checked.
For example, if you have even a minimal Facebook presence already, check out thewebsite. Along the bottom you will see friends who are already using the app (at least, those who have integrated Spotify into their Timelines).
Each app will ask you to ‘Allow’ (or ‘Not Allow’) their integration into your account. Most seem to default to the usual ‘share everything’ kinds of settings, but they also allow you to dig into their settings to make some adjustments. Nevertheless, simplicity is the name-of-the-game, as the whole concept is based on your doing other things online while FB draws up your Timeline.
The opportunities: For nonprofits, the Timeline could serve at least two purposes. First, as people interact with your app, their friends see that interaction and might be inspired to join in. An early app for that is Fundrazr. Look at as well. Second, the nonprofit can see along its own timeline who is engaging your organization’s app and trace those who stay involved longer or more often – and, with some analysis, why they are staying involved. That said, we are literally days into the feature so how such analytics can be quantified and acted upon is something no one can yet say.
The costs(?): Your nonprofit needs to develop the app, of course – which does not require an MCE from MIT but you will need to pay a developer(s). So you also want invest some staff time planning what you want your app to do and how it will fit your overall strategy and public face. Moreover, you will need to consider ways to differentiate your organization in an ‘open graph’ that will quickly grow ever more crowded.
The fact is FB has saturated the market in the US, and is close to it throughout North America and Europe. Justification for the $10 billion stock sale comes not so much from growth in membership but from ever expanding advertising revenues. The Timeline is meant to increase advertising opportunities among users’ networks and offer advertisers means to track people’s behavior. One can’t help but wonder if the Timeline will soon become equivalent to so many car commercials on TV: something we see but don’t really register.
Time(line) will tell. And we will be following it with you.