Are You Ready for Facebook Timeline?

In the next couple of weeks, Facebook will unleash its most drastic redesign ever. We take a look at how you can help protect your privacy.

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Then there are the photos. The most jarring aspect of the Timeline experience is to scroll down and suddenly be confronted with a younger, more inebriated version of yourself. Nobody, not even you, wants to relive the moment you thought you could eat 20 Crunchy Taco Supremes in one sitting.

Before, an embarrassing photo like that would, if untagged, be almost impossible to find. Now, it could appear nice and big in one of Timeline’s two large columns.

Facebook’s answer to this is to let you alter the face of any photo album. This is fairly easy; just click “Change Primary Photo” in the “Edit or Remove” menu and switch out the offending photo with a more innocuous one.

This meticulous combing through of all your status updates and photos is the key to privacy on Timeline. I started my account on July 12, 2004 (information courtesy of Facebook Timeline), which meant I had more than seven years of content to review. At least I was more or less an adult when joining Facebook; I shudder to imagine the stuff I’d have to remove now if I had a Facebook account back when I was 15 or 16 years old.

So, enough about hiding mistakes from your past. How will Timeline let you share TMI in the future?

Introducing “Life Events.” Whether you’re dying to share that you’ve lost a loved one or feel like telling the internet that you’ve been diagnosed with a serious illness, this handy little feature will conveniently place important milestones like those chronologically on your Timeline.

It also lets you tag people. In most cases, it’s no big deal. Getting tagged as part of someone’s high school cross country team or as somebody’s coworker doesn’t feel terribly invasive. Being marked as someone’s first kiss or recently divorced partner, however, might rub some people the wrong way.

Apps will also be a big part of Facebook Timeline. No longer will people be dangerously unaware of your movie choices or morning exercise routine. The downside? Having, say, the Nike+ GPS App broadcast where and when you go on your evening jog could definitely lead to some unfortunate stalking incidents. Not to mention your friends are probably already tired of hearing about what you’re listening to on Spotify.

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Once you’ve given your virtual past a serious scrubbing and learned how not to overshare, there are a lot of things to enjoy about Timeline. Your photos, for example, are neatly presented in large, visible thumbnails by year. It also organizes your “Likes,” which got lost before, making it easier to go back and rediscover a good restaurant or magazine that you first enjoyed years ago.

Another cool feature summarizes your entire friendship with someone after you click “See Friendship,” condensing all of the wall posts, photos, events and friends that you’ve shared with someone on a single page.

A Facebook spokesperson told me that this isn’t necessarily the exact version of Timeline that users will see when it debuts to the public in “a few weeks.” Hopefully some of the slow load times and minor bugs will be fixed. The big question is how many people will make the switch and, afterwards, whether they’ll slowly learn to accept the changes or grab their pitchforks and march towards Facebook’s headquarters in Palo Alto.

Honestly, I’m not sure which one it will be. While certainly fun to play around with, it’s also the most drastic change Facebook has made in a long time. Remember how users reacted both to the introduction of the news feed and its subsequent redesign? This would be 1,000 times worse–if it were opt-out. Regardless, there will be fall-out; whether it’s enough to push people to another social network, such as the flailing Google+, remains to be seen.

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