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Facebook's Timeline is all about storytelling. But is that good?

September 22, 2011 |  1:46 pm

Zuckerberg_timeline

At the F8 conference in San Francisco on Thursday, Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg announced Facebook's new Timeline profile pages, which will take users' status updates and turn them into a multimedia Facebook memoir. A beta version of Timeline has already been rolled out.

Timeline, Zuckerberg said, is "an important next step to help you tell the story of your life" that will allow Facebook users to "highlight and curate all your stories so you can express who you really are." At the Atlantic, Alexis Madrigal writes that he can't decide if he finds this "insidious or thrilling."

Facebook's Timeline confirms what writers have long known: narratives are how we structure our relationships with the world. Stories are how we make meaning. And that's why Facebook wants you to tell stories in the structured format they're giving you. Facebook knows all your human relationships and the products and content you use, but without the stories that animate those connections, they don't know what the data means. Timeline -- and your curation of that Timeline -- is how Facebook is going to find out the stories that you tell about yourself. And that's probably the most valuable information out there.

You get an automatic autobiography; they get a saleable database of the people, places, and products you love. As you highlight the important photos of your life or add your favorite recipes, Facebook will see what people, products, and services have emotional valence for you. Facebook will know how to hit you with advertisements not just based on your behavior (which they already know) but on the way you make meaning of out of your experiences.

From the initial screen shots that have circulated, Timeline seem to be using some of the strategies (and possibly the technologies) of e-book publisher Push Pop Press to assemble photographs and text into its autobiographical page. Push Pop Press, which had previously published a single e-book for the iPad -- Al Gore's "Our Choice: A Plan to Solve the Climate Crisis" -- was acquired by Facebook in August. At the time, the publisher wrote on its website,"Although Facebook isn't planning to start publishing digital books, the ideas and technology behind Push Pop Press will be integrated with Facebook, giving people even richer ways to share their stories." 

Richer, that is, for millions of Facebook users turned memoirists -- and perhaps Facebook, too.

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-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photo: Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg at the F8 developers conference in San Francisco. Credit: David Paul Morris / Bloomberg

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