Reveal More, Consume More: Facebook’s Big Changes

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Facebook’s f8 conference started off on a light note, with Saturday Night Live star Andy Samberg doing his best Mark Zuckerberg impression, but the conference quickly got down to serious business with some big changes for the world’s biggest social network.

With a huge smile on his face, Zuckerberg showed off a new kind of Facebook profile, called the “Timeline.” Think of your Timeline as a digital scrapbook that builds itself automatically through your activity on Facebook. Photos, app updates and other Facebook activity assemble in reverse chronological order, forming what Zuckerberg described as the “story of your life.” Whatever details are missing, you can add manually.

(MORE: Top 10 People Caught on Facebook)

The other half of Facebook’s conference was all about apps, and the new ways people can use them. That News Ticker everyone was complaining about after Wednesday’s redesign? It exists, in part, to let users automatically share little bits of app information that won’t appear in Facebook’s main Timeline, like the songs you’re listening to on Spotify or the movies you’re watching on Netflix. Now, Facebook users will be able to listen to songs together while chatting about them, or watch a movie simply because a friend is doing the same. These kinds of updates will appear in the new Timeline as well, if the user allows it.

The overarching theme here, as it often is with Facebook, is that Facebook wants you to share more about yourself with your friends. And as is often the case with Facebook, this is at once a scary and exciting proposition.

Facebook’s current profiles are a wasted opportunity. You can’t learn much about a person by looking up where they work, viewing a handful of photos and reading a few recent status updates. Timelines promise to paint a more genuine and complete picture of each user. But they also risk revealing  too much. Zuckerberg kept likening Timelines to a deep conversation, ignoring the fact that viewing someone’s profile is a one-way interaction. In the real world, we don’t give away our life stories to every new acquaintance, but that’s what Facebook expects us to do with Timelines.

And while Facebook’s new app capabilities present useful ways to share music or other experiences with friends, this constant, automatic sharing could change our behavior. There was a comical moment at the show when Kenny G appeared in the record of one Facebook employee’s music preferences. Chuckles aside, how many people will self-censor the movies they watch on Netflix or the songs they listen to on Spotify because everyone will know?

Cynics might argue that Facebook is doing all this so it can make money by selling better advertisements. But Zuckerberg has always seemed genuinely interested in changing the way we interact and present ourselves to others. For better or worse, he’s succeeding in pushing that vision further. The amount of information people share online, he said, is increasing on an exponential curve, like a social version of Moore’s Law. These new features will encourage people to share even more, as Zuckerberg excitedly acknowledged.

“Let’s take the next step up the curve,” he said.

MORE: Mark Zuckerberg – TIME Person of the Year 2010

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