Facebook becomes a database for your life

These are my quick and short notes on the Facebook F8 Developers Conference 2011 related to my research.

Mark Zuckerberg describes how your Facebook profile acts as a five minute introduction when you meet someone and you share your common demographics such as your name, age, job and interests with them. The Facebook stream represents the next 15 minutes where you slowly get to know someone by seeing what they share and like. Facebook introduces the Timeline as the new heart of the Facebook experience to tell the story of your life by gathering all your stories, all your apps and all your activities in a new place as a new way to express who you are.

Curating your life
Facebook Timeline taps into two big webtrends: Documenting the self and the curation of stories (eg Storify). In ‘Identity 2.0: Constructing identity with cultural software‘ I depict a historical account of the documentation of the self from ping messages to personal homepages, to blogs to social network profiles to lifestream platforms. Now Facebook wants to become the new central player for documenting and curating your lifestory. Facebook wants to be the database to store your life. It aims to provide a place that feels like home where you can highlight and curate all your stories to express who you are.

Your life was previously documented on your wall, the News Feed, but it provides a very fleeting type of documentation where old content is only accessible by infinitely scrolling down. Content and activities in the Timeline, on the other hand, are neatly organized per year or filtered by content type. Activities are presented in reports and a summary of what you’ve done is deemed to be more relevant than all things you have done. These reports, or summaries, provide quantified overviews of your activities which may be capitalized on by Facebook.

Timeline is not a new concept, the documentation of the self is reminiscent of the ‘old’ Microsoft MyLifeBits project which in itself is based on Vannevar Bush’s 1945 Memex:

MylifeBits is a lifetime store of everything. It is the fulfillment of Vannevar Bush’s 1945 Memex vision including full-text search, text & audio annotations, and hyperlinks. (Microsoft)

Re-centralisation of the self
Whereas MylifeBits documented produced content and aimed to interlink it, the Timeline is a “re-centralisation of the self” (Carolin Gerlitz). It recentralizes all content and activities performed on external content through the Facebook platform using the Open Graph API (Helmond and Gerlitz 2011). While activities for Facebook were previously confined to Liking and Sharing the Timeline opens up for new applications and new activities. A smart move is that Facebook is now re-centralizing all “quantified self” apps through its platform. During the F8 keynote the example of the Social Running app is shown and Facebook will now know how many times a week you run and how far. While quantified self apps are often used to document and evaluate the self in private Facebook will now open up this trend to more public sharing with your friends.

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