Why your new Facebook Timeline is not a better expression of you

I ran into someone on Facebook the other day. Someone I hardly recognized. Someone from the past. That someone was Matt Simpson circa winter 2008.

Facebook recently unveiled its new layout for user profiles called Timeline. It’s pretty darn slick. The slickest feature is a menu of dates that lets users bounce quickly down the Timeline from recent posts to posts made in, say, winter 2008. Facebook’s algorithm initially sorts posts in a given year by importance until you drill down for a chronological view.

Timeline: The new Facebook Profile

It’s my new Facebook Profile! The menu on the right lets you quickly jump to dates in my past.

Now, a little back story. When I joined Facebook in winter 2008, I was not in a good place. Facebook reflects that. Some of my posts were angry jabs at the economy and Corporate America. Some were depressing lyrics from Pink Floyd, to whom I listened relentlessly as I tried to “figure things out”.

Of course, there was also joy. Facebook’s algorithm says my top story of 2008 was my engagement. The algorithm got it right. It was a special happening, despite its later dissolution.

When introducing Timeline, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said, “Our job is to make this profile the best way to share everything you want and the best way to express who you are.”

Therein lies the rub with Timeline. It looks awesome and it’s super addicting. But it’s not a better expression of who I am.

The Matt Simpson of winter 2008 is not me. Heck, the Matt Simpson of last Sunday is not me. It’s where and when I was. It’s not who I am.

Reviewing one’s Timeline is like standing before the snow-capped peaks of Mt Rainier and admiring printouts of the map that got you there.

Zuckerberg described the old Facebook profile as a place where old posts “just fall off a cliff” after a week or so. What’s wrong with that? A list of short-lived posts is a much better expression of a person than random events of their distant past.

Old stuff falls off a cliff. That’s life.

Identification with distant milestones is living in the past. Not to say we should never look back and smile. Let’s just not get confused about who we are.

I’m not the guy who struggled through the winter of 2008. Nor am I the guy who excitedly held newborn nephews and nieces twice since 2008 or who overcame his fear to leave the stability of Corporate America in fall 2009.

A better expression of me is the guy who recently announced he was spending Friday night reading Moby Dick at a coffee shop, posted a photo of butternut squash sprouting in his fall garden, and expressed his gratitude to Bulbstorm’s tireless developers for launching another great product.

Wanna know where I was? Check my Facebook profile when Timeline goes live to everyone in the next week or so.

Wanna know who I am? Keep your eyes on my updates as they enter your news feed.

Or, poke me and we’ll get a coffee.

I know many will disagree with me. That’s ok! Do you think Facebook Timeline is a better expression of you? Let’s discuss in the comments.


  1. Jon Michaels says

    I’d disagree on this basis. Who you are is in large part the sum total of your life experiences and the story you tell yourself about them. Facebook’s timeline can be an accurate depiction of said experiences — and therefore represents the ingredients comprising who you are today.

  2. Jon – the author of this article acknowledges that. But who would you rather people get to know? You, or the you from ten years ago? Would you rather people form their impressions of you based on present-day interactions or based on stale, forgotten events in the past? We are constantly evolving and changing creatures. Knowing that I went to see N*SYNC in concert back in 1999 won’t help you understand my music tastes today.

    Another thing to consider: Time gives one personal perspective on the events of one’s life. When I left the company I co-founded last year, I was really raw about it. My Facebook activity reflects that. My feelings and opinions about that experience have changed, and I wouldn’t say or do half the things I said or did back then. If a new friend asked me about the experience, they would receive a seasoned and more accurate reflection on the event. Time can’t heal all wounds if the emphasis is on picking over the past like vultures, rather than moving on.

  3. This new upgrade is intrusive, evasive and non-representing of it’s page ower. I am stunned that Facebook would make such a broad reach into what’s left of the privacy of such a magnificent tool. Sadly, I will be leaving Facebook due to this new unilateral upgrade – both my fan and personal pages will be killed after they launch. Back to web sites. S’been fun.

  4. I completely agree with you, Matt. I’m a big believer that people change, and that this is a good thing. I don’t get the obsession with the past. I am definitely not the college frosh who signed up on Facebook. Thank God! I don’t know why any of my Friends would want to know about that time of my life. For me, Facebook is an “in the now” tool to help coordinate current life events and activities, not reminisce over college dorm drama.

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