When Facebook launched its integrated messages system in November 2010, founder Mark Zuckerberg related an anecdote about his girlfriend’s younger sister. He talked about how the young woman and her friends, high school students, used Facebook in a way that was foreign to him. When he asked them what they used for email, they said they don’t really use email — it’s too formal; they use Facebook and SMS.
It was this story that I couldn’t stop thinking about as Zuckerberg revealed the latest iteration of the Facebook profile at f8 on Thursday called Timeline. This was a feature aimed squarely at the generation of users who grew up with Facebook. As Zuckerberg was talking, my former colleague Brenna Ehrlich tweeted out: “new facebook seems like too much work. i do not enjoy scrapbooking, IRL…” My response, “That’s what I was just thinking…”
For many older users, myself included, it is doubtful that we will go back to the time before Facebook (for me, late 2004) to fill in the gaps on my Timeline. From talking to other people my age since the announcement, it seems more likely that people of our generation will sanitize stuff that resurfaces rather than adding more content to the stream. But for younger users, they don’t need to fill in any gaps — their Timeline is already more or less complete.
The “Everything Platform”
When Zuckerberg asked those high school students how they found out about new Facebook messages if not by email, their response was, “Through Facebook — we’re already on there.” Teens and children ages 9-19 spend about 55 minutes each day on Facebook, compared to 38 minutes per day for older users, according to recent research. They also share more about their lives than older users (though mostly because they spend more time on the site, say researchers). I see this anecdotally every day; my high school-aged cousins talk to their friends in near-real-time via messages on each other’s Facebook walls. They share every aspect of their lives, from the mundane to the exciting, from locker combinations to results at gymnastics meets.
It’s these users at which Timeline (and the other updates that make sharing experiences even more universal) is aimed. Slate’s Farhad Manjoo worries that this new variety of “frictionless sharing” will kill taste. “I know this sounds obvious, but it’s somehow eluded Zuckerberg that sharing is fundamentally about choosing,” he wrote in a recent column. “You experience a huge number of things every day, but you choose to tell your friends about only a fraction of them, because most of what you do isn’t worth mentioning.”
Manjoo worries that the new Facebook encourages too much sharing. He doesn’t want to be bored by your updates. But I think he’s missing the point: The new Facebook isn’t for him, it’s for users half his age. It’s all about positioning Facebook as the ultimate communications tool for the next generation — one that goes beyond facilitating communication, but also records the history of everyone on the planet.
Just like I would talk to my friends on the phone every day after school when I was a kid, today’s youth talk to each other on Facebook and via text messages. And just like those phone conversations included their fair share of the banal (Really, how much can happen in the average suburban 13-year-old’s life to fill in daily two-hour phone conversations?), so too will those Facebook conversations include plenty of “boring” bits that would offend Manjoo’s sensibilities.
Is Facebook For You?
The editor-in-chief Lance Ulanoff worried in an op-ed about Facebook Timeline on Thursday whether other Facebook users would embrace the new service. “Zuckerberg should keep in mind that Facebook succeeded with the Moms and Dads who traditionally left ‘the new’ to their kids. They use Facebook almost as much as their kids and when the kids have moved onto the next new thing, they’re still in Facebook getting real-time information about stuff that matters today,” he wrote. “Let’s hope that [Zuckerberg] doesn’t inadvertently leave his users behind.”
I’d argue that it doesn’t matter in the long run. Though I fully expect a call from my mom once Timeline rolls out to the masses asking what the heck happened to her Facebook, in the end, she can still use it in more or less the same way. But for the generation that has grown up with Facebook, this new direction plays right to them.
Facebook’s current mission statement is “to give people the power to share and make the world more open and connected.” But with Timeline, that mission might be shifting. If Timeline is embraced by the youngest generation of Facebook users, the new mantra might be something more along the lines of, “help people communicate and record their lives.” That might not appeal to you, but then, you might not be a teenager.