First, why this particular FB Next Big Thing is particularly interesting to me…
Back in the late 80s or early 90s I was looking for consumer-facing products I could use my database experience in developing. One of the ideas I came up with was a sort of automated-autobiograpy creation application. Feed in important dates, events, photos, remembrances, and so on, and the application would craft various presentations of it, chronological, subject-oriented, and so on, allowing one to see the big tapestry or any thread in it from various perspectives.
I called it Lifeline.
When the WWW started looking like it wasn’t just a passing fad, I figured it would be a natural presentation platform for such an application — although I still saw the application as a conventional desktop app that would allow one to upload a static version of the various presentations. As online databases became more workable, I figured that the presentation engine could be server-based.
But, like so many interesting ideas one comes up with when one is doing something else, I kept putting it aside. Someplace along the line, I realized that the concept of the ‘social web’ as pioneered by sites like Mp3.com (forget about the music downloads for a sec, the real innovation was letting users create profile pages, exchange media and social interactions, and congregate in forums) and later picked up by outfits like Friendster (and, to some, stunted extent, the misguided MySpace) would be a perfect environment for my Lifeline app. But as the projected scale expanded, of course, it became a considerably more daunting an endeavor.
Things have moved on, the social web has (finally) exploded, more than a tenth of the world’s population appear to have Facebook pages, and FB itself is a bajillion dollar enterprise.
Over the next week or so, Facebook is scheduled to unveil what is billed as their single biggest innovative change to the way FB works. (Cue howls of future-shocked FB masses.*)
It’s called Timeline.
And it’s a dynamic presentation engine that organizes and presents past data, events, posts, and so on, in a timeline format…
Over the coming week, Facebook will officially roll out the latest addition to its world-spanning social network: a Timeline that maps out each profile as a series of chronological events. And for the average user, it will appear as if by magic.
But Timeline, Facebook’s biggest interface change in recent memory, is the end result of a six-month effort not only to create a new piece of software, but to find a way of quickly serving that software to an audience of 800 million.
* Unlike many previous endeavors, we’re told that FB ignored one of their own fundamental precepts (“done is better than good”) and really put extraordinary efforts into getting this right the first time. In fact, the feature has already been “rolling dark” (“dark launched”), working in the background for months as those signed up as developers toyed with the new application programming interfaces.