Facebook Timeline Your Whole Life – Lifebook Anyone?

Facebook LogoDid you know that it will very soon be possible to record your whole life experience, in full motion HD video, on a single hard drive that would cost less than £100?  It is estimated that a single petabyte capacity hard drive could comfortably record all your waking hours. In the meantime, Facebook have introduced a concept called the Timeline as an update for the Facebook Wall and Profile, which is their take on a similar concept. In addition, Facebook have refined privacy settings to give more control to end users over who sees what.  But what does this mean for the average small business owner?

You may have read in the press or heard from friends that Facebook has made a series of changes – perhaps in response to the introduction of Google+.  Facebook’s changes seem to have annoyed many existing users, although I expect regular (and younger) users will get used to the new format quite quickly. For the moment, these changes do not affect Business Fan Pages directly – although do be aware that from October 1st, Business Pages will need to have a SSL Certificate as a sign that they are legitimate businesses. (Speak to your Website host about this).  But indirectly, it appears that the timeline view will enable smart business brands to tell more interesting, content rich and coherent stories – which will support all their sales activity at some level.

The new timeline and privacy settings are somewhat linked. Facebook is effectively asking users to back-fill all previous significant life experiences like; passing exams, taking holidays,  enjoying romances, getting married etc.  In return for this information, Facebook has fine tuned the ability to select exactly who will see all your previous and future life events by introducing features that act remarkably like Google Circles. If I have a complaint, it is not about the new privacy features themselves, just the confusing language and logic in Facebook settings that is used to define visibility of your content to friends, acquaintances, subscribers and fans. It seems to me that Google Circles is better designed to handle this.  That said, it is ironic that many of those individuals who have been concerned about the lack of control on privacy settings are the same ones who complain about the changes! Of course, many teenagers and 20-somethings already record every detail of their life on Facebook anyway, but it is a big step to encourage everyone else to go back and add in missing events from their timeline.

You have to ask what does Facebook want with this information?  The answer is of course, to sell more advertising. With all this data it will be easier for Facebook to sell targeted advertising to businesses. So for example, if you want to buy advertising to sell Swiss fondues to a newly wed, college educated couple who live in Ashby de la Zouch that honeymooned in Geneva– you could. (Assuming the selection is not too narrow). Targeted advertising based on life events is nothing new. Facebook have a for a long while collected such information, but this time, Facebook have gone out of their way to make it seem easy and natural to add all your life event updates to the timeline, so that eventually, the targeting they offer could become “uber sophisticated”.

However, having the data is one thing, making it available to the typical small business owner at affordable rates is quite another. Keep in mind that Facebook already offer instant (automatically produced) adverts for Business Page owners.  No doubt they are working on systems that would allow business owners to get access to this rich data and do their own “uber targeted” advertising- for a reasonable price naturally!

Perhaps Facebook is simply pushing against an open door with its timeline concept?  A terabyte is roughly 1,000 times bigger than an everyday gigabyte and many of my colleagues are already using terabyte discs as part of a modest home media solution. A petabyte is only 1,000 times bigger again- so not an unrealistic increase. Smart software vendors (and who would bet against Facebook and Google?) are known to be working on systems that can automatically extract significant incidents from a stream of video data, (by studying  location transitions for example) edit them, then present them back to you to authorise, ready for publication to your timeline. Automatically recording and publishing a personal Facebook or Google+ “Lifebook” would not then be rocket science- it would be far easier than that! But…  Would you want to? Er- not me, but times – and people – are a changing.