Facebook's New Timeline Layout: A Getting-Started Guide

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Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg announcing Timeline
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg announcing Timeline
Facebook's new profile layout, Timeline, promises to turn your Facebook account into an online scrapbook where you can highlight important moments in your life and resurface past Facebook activity.

"Timeline is the story of your life...in a new way to express who you are," Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said on Thursday announcing the new feature.

As its name suggests, Timeline organizes your life in reverse chronological order based on the content you've shared on your Facebook profile. The layout is designed as a dual-column view with a large main column for viewing content and a smaller one on the right for fast navigation.

If you've entered when you graduated high school or college, when you got married, when your first child was born or when you started a new job, all that data will show up in your Timeline. You can also go back and add photos and captions to important past events if you want to, or remove particularly embarrassing photos or other content from your new profile page.

Timeline is currently in a limited beta for developers but, when I found out you could activate it immediately (thanks to a little developer program trickery explained below), I jumped right in to see what all the fuss was about.

While Timeline still has a few bugs to work out, it was a very interesting way to experience Facebook and a great way to look at your past activity. But, in my tests, there were also some privacy changes that may give some users pause.

Get Timeline Now

What a Timeline page looks like
Timeline won't officially launch for a few weeks, but if you want to try it right now, check out David Daw's how-to guide on activating Facebook Timeline right now. If you decide to take the plunge, keep in mind this is a developer beta so expect to see bugs. There are also no guarantees that an accident won't happen that briefly makes all your profile information public. So the risk is yours if you try Timeline.

You should also know that if you activate your Timeline now, only other people using the beta release will see your new Timeline, your non-beta friends will continue to see your old profile page. Although, Facebook will also specify a date when your Timeline will go live (mine was September 30). It's not clear if everyone will see my Timeline after that date.

If you do activate Timeline or you just want to see what you have to look forward to, here's a getting-started guide for Facebook's new profile layout.

Timeline Basics

When you first arrive on Timeline. you will be given the option to publish it right away or wait until you finish editing it before making the project go live. You will only have a limited time to keep your Timeline private, as Facebook sets a specific date for your Timeline to be published. In my tests, the social network gave you seven days, which should be plenty of time to get your profile in order.

At the top of Timeline sits a large photo--Facebook calls the cover photo--along with an inset of your profile photo. You get to select the cover photo. Below the right side of the cover photo, you will see three menu items: Update Info, View Activity, and a settings cog.

"Update Info" takes you to a new page where you can edit your basic profile information. including employment and education history, contact information, favorite quotes, places you've lived, and a list of your family members and relationships. The data you see populated on this page will depend on how much information you've included on your Facebook profile.

"View Activity" shows you a list view of all your Facebook activity that is organized by year since the date you joined Facebook. It includes such information as things you've written on friends' walls, photos and links you've shared, and photos you've been tagged in.

The settings cog includes a privacy setting that shows you what your Timeline will look like to specific Facebook friends or people on Facebook who are not your friends. The settings feature also allows you to add a Facebook badge to your own website. It's not clear today if the settings cog will change once Timeline goes public.

A little further down from your cover photo, you'll see your basic information listed, which includes where you live, where you studied, where you work, or other information that you may have included in your profile. You will also see a photo montage representing your Friends list, another photo showing the number of photos you've been tagged in, a map showing where you've lived, and a list of all the Facebook pages you've Liked.

There is also a down arrow that, when you click on it, will show you any new Open Graph Facebook apps you've added to your Timeline, such as the new The Wall Street Journal app. Here's an example:

Apps open in Timeline
Apps open in Timeline

At a Glance
  • Facebook Timeline

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