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A few months back facebook took the unusual step of forcing most users to switch to the timeline view of their profile page.

I am interested to work out what the strategy was behind this move. On first observation the timeline seems a poor design for readability. However as a presentation method that encourages users to post more pictures/visuals a la Pinterest it makes more sense. Visual posts are shared more than plain text posts... could this have been the strategy behind the policy?

Is their any DATA that shows what behaviours this new layout has promoted? In other words hard data about how it has changed facebook use (not your subjective opinion about whether you like the change!).

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I suspect you won't get too many answers to this, because I imagine if there is any data it belongs to Facebook (and as we know, they don't like sharing). Interesting question, though. –  dhmholley Jul 12 '12 at 15:49
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@dhmholley, "and as we know, they don't like sharing" ... ironic. –  CaffGeek Jul 12 '12 at 15:52
    
I am trying to find a report I read that basically said it was a mixed bag for brands. More of some behaviour less of others. In the mean time this came to mind :) iamchristinabot.com/blog/20110924/… –  Jay Jul 12 '12 at 16:07
    
@Jay really? It seemed to mostly stress brands and "open graph" stuff –  Ben Brocka Jul 12 '12 at 16:31
    
Ha! I knew someone would find some data (: –  Lisa Tweedie Jul 12 '12 at 16:33

5 Answers 5

up vote 23 down vote accepted
+200

1. Engagement particularly with richer content.

The evidence concerning the change in engagement is mixed.

Evidence of increased engagement

This study suggests some positive impact for marketers - Simplymeasured.com

  1. 14% Increase in Fan Engagement
  2. 46% Increase in Content Engagement
  3. 65% Increase in Interactive Content Engagement (Video and Photo)

Evidence of mixed or poor engagement

This one shows mixed results for engagement and pageviews: Attention USA.

And this from Mashable: Fan growth slowed after timeline introduced ... but did it pick up again after people got used to it?

This study suggests little impact: allfacebook.com

However here is a rebuttal: jonloomer.com (Basically proposing that timeline could impact on the things that matter - more fan visits and more engagement with apps)

I can't locate it now, however I recall seeing another report that found a decrease in interaction with wall posts (of the user's friends) via timeline. What some consider the core purpose of Facebook from a user point of view. However this is far harder to find as the emphasis has been on brand marketing impact for logical reasons.

Bottom line: The results seem positive but there isn't a strong consensus yet

2. Encouraging a different level of sharing and expression

From a FastCompany article interviewing Timeline's designer:

Wanted to convey feeling...The feeling of telling someone your life story, and the feeling of memory--of remembering your own life....

Also from one of the designers (Nick Felton, who is famous for infographics)

Time is the most universal framework across cultures... It’s a shell on which users themselves can define what they want to highlight.

and:

Facebook wanted the Timeline to be a place for self-expression: A way for users to reveal who they are and what their lives are about.

Self-expression or curating your space creates value for Facebook. A richer space with more cues enables more, deeper sharing. Facebook's lifeblood.

Finally a clue could be in one of it's designers Nickolas Felton. He previously worked on Daytum - quantified self / personal stats company - before being acquired by Facebook.

Could it be that Timeline is a step towards greater capabilities in personal tracking too?

Closing thoughts

This article in Social Media Today complains that,

Timeline switches the overall metaphor from Facebook as sharing hub to Facebook as historical record keeper.

This may be true. However in my observation much of the 'right now' interaction happens within the news feed. The timeline as a record keeper, as a place to curate and build a picture of yourself is less about 'right now' and more about giving your brand/yourself context. Telling your story. Other features like chat, newsfeed, likes, and mobile could be more useful for 'right now'.

Remember: UX is central to anything that encourages, enables or discourages certain behaviours.

Edit. Additional information found.

I came across this from Adam Mozeri a product designer for Facebook. He describes the change as data driven. They discovered their previous layout caused a limitation...

“What we were doing here is we were optimizing for a local maximum. Within this framework, there was only so much traffic we could funnel to applications. And what we needed was a structural change. Our premise was off. Our interests were leading us down the wrong path. We didn’t realize it [...] we were optimizing for something locally, and we needed to be somewhat disruptive to sort of get out of it.”

and tellingly...

"...you’ll see us continue to make big changes that you’ll be like, “How is this good for data?” or “How is this good for anybody?” but there’s a reason behind it. Usually it’s either because we believe that this is where the market is going, or it enables a product that’s gonna come later, or we’re worried about being stagnant and we wanna continually innovate...."

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Subjectively I have to note I find it much less useful to go to people's "wall" anymore, but the wall has been increasingly less useful on Facebook since you can comment on stories and chat. –  Ben Brocka Jul 12 '12 at 16:36
    
I don't buy the whole life graph thing... or rather I think the "visual" point is more important. Interesting though... look forward to seeing what else you find. +1 for this lot - a good start. –  Lisa Tweedie Jul 12 '12 at 16:37
    
@BenBrocka In fact the newsfeed is still in the old style textual list and this is where people spend most of there time. The Profile page Timeline seems more about curating and visualness? –  Lisa Tweedie Jul 12 '12 at 16:39
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Well hope it was worth the wait... I will be awarding you 200 points in 24 hours... as that seems to be the only way to sort out this situation! –  Lisa Tweedie Jul 30 '12 at 16:20
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@LisaTweedie I appreciate the effort :) –  Jay Aug 6 '12 at 7:55

I have to imagine that this decision came from a place of monetization, over UX. I believe the timeline is a more immersive interface for brands, and secondarily something new and potentially interesting for users.

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Can you explain a bit more? In what ways does the timeline increase monetization? You need to back up your answer. –  Lisa Tweedie Jul 15 '12 at 2:34
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There is no backing to this answer rather a personal opinion which is not right. Please always try to explain more elaborately next time. –  ajayashish Jul 16 '12 at 17:17

Facebook timeline is not a design change but a concept change. From being just a social networking site, with the introduction of Timeline they want it to be integral part of a person's life.

It makes the user feel more connected as now it shows the complete life span of the individual from Birth day to college to employment to every single moment in life. It makes friends, family and every other elements in FB more connected by giving a timeline to everything. When you posted what, when you went somewhere, when you made friends, when you started liking a subject and to when you changed your status.

Since the introduction of Timeline, we must have seen a lot of old photographs being scanned and uploaded. That is because people are adopting timeline and want to make their social presence perfect. The moment we are listing to a Song we are updating the same on FB, same applied to change in job, interests and everything. What FB is getting in return in the Person's Dynamic Details. They are able to collect the details and show relevant ADs.

Its all about replacing a big form and giving a timeline structure which everyone will love to keep updated and in return they will get the personal information.

Here is a link which gives a basic understanding of Facebook's interest behind Timeline Introduction.

How does Facebook Timeline increase Facebook's Revenue?

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+1 Agreed. It is clear that they want users to share significant life events beyond just instagram photos. Also, they way they let you add those events, is more usable for them data-wise because they are specifically classified. –  DesignerGuy Jul 16 '12 at 17:10

I doubt whether there is a primary UX stategy behind the forced timeline. I think the main (what else for a huge company like Facebook) focus is generating more content for their data-mining. Which is their main business after all. As a user you will be more likely to fill in special dates (ie. graduation, old photos, past events) and thus fill in the gaps between your birth and the signup date.

You are asking for Data, well the real data on this will be enclosed within the Facebook walls. And ironically the answer is data (as in adding more content for their data-mining factory).

Oh, and here is some further reading: http://www.hotwhyr.com/is-facebooks-timeline-just-a-cynical-data-mining-exercise/

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+1 for interesting perspective and link –  JeroenEijkhof Jul 16 '12 at 20:59

If users have different version of a software it's harder to manage and to test new features or apps for all of them and keep track. Look at Internet Explorer for web developers. You have to test for IE7, 8 and 9 because they are fundamentally different. If you force a user to update to the latest version all the time, you guarantee that all the users will be on equal ground for future updates and releases.

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