Facebook lets users tell life stories

Posted at 09/23/11 7:36 AM

SAN FRANCISCO - Facebook on Thursday unveiled revamped profile pages into interactive digital scrap books that that let members of the world's leading online social network tell the stories of their lives.

Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg kicked off the annual f8 developers conference in San Francisco by introducing "Timeline" pages that let people digitally map everything they've ever done.

"The heart of your Facebook experience, completely rethought from the ground up," Zuckerberg said. "Timeline is the story of your life."

He demonstrated by showing how his new profile page chronicled his experiences from meeting US President Barack Obama to baby photos.

"The biggest challenge was to tell the story of your life in a single page," Zuckerberg said.

"What Timeline does is show all the recent activity and then as you go back in time it starts summarizing the things you've done in your life."

The latest changes at Facebook include a new class of "open graph" applications that will let people discover and share music, movies, books and other news as well as seemingly lightweight experiences like bicycle rides.

"I am excited about what the latest wave of music companies is doing with the open graph," Zuckerberg said.

Software apps made by more than a dozen developers, including Spotify, will let Facebook members share, discover and listen to music, he added.

"It's a big day for everyone who loves music," Spotify chief executive Daniel Ek said after joining Zuckerberg on stage.

Zuckerberg heralded the arrival of Facebook applications that let people automatically allow chosen friends see what they do or experience without needing to click "Like" or "Share" buttons.

The changes come just days after Google opened up its own social network, Google+, to a wider audience instead of just those with an invitation. The new service could pose a major challenge to market leader Facebook.

The significant overhaul to Facebook profile pages promised to transform them into interactive digital scrapbooks that memorialize people's lives online in real time.

"We didn't want to just design a place for you to put all of your stories and apps," Zuckerberg said. "We wanted to make Timeline a place that you are proud to call your home."

People will need to install third party applications to share snippets in Timeline profile pages, which will feature privacy controls. Applications will also require people to set data sharing "permissions" before they are used.

Partners ready with "open graph" applications included online streaming video services Netflix and Hulu. Applications were also available to deliver and share news stories from sources including Yahoo and "The Daily."

Movie, music, and news applications enable Facebook users to see what their friends are reading, viewing, or listening to at any given moment and then, with a single click, tap into the same digital content.

Zuckerberg said open graph at Facebook will transform the way people discover news, films and more through their friends.

"Now, you don't just have to 'Like' a book, you can read it," he explained. "You can connect to anything you want; it's simple but it is really powerful."

Facebook launched a test version of Timeline, which will be rolled to all of the social network's more than 750 million members in coming weeks.

"Facebook is positioning itself as not just your social graph online, but your life online," said Forrester analyst Sean Corcoran.

"These changes not only help trump rival Google, but will open up new opportunities for marketers with new kinds of customer experiences, long term engagement, advertising, and customer intelligence," he continued.

Facebook's transformation is likely to trigger backlash from ranks of notoriously change-averse users and to resurrect concerns over how effectively the social network protects people's privacy.

Facebook said it has worked with privacy groups while developing Timeline during the past year and that it has made it simple and clear to control what information gets shared with whom.

Facebook also planned to put out videos and other material explaining Timeline to users before switching profile pages to the dramatically different format.

"The world is moving quickly and we want to be innovative and keep rolling out new things," Zuckerberg said of balancing Facebook's evolution with the wishes of those that want the social network to stay the same.

Facebook users this week had taken to complaining about the barrage of recently released updates intended to make it easier to manage the torrents of updates from friends at the social network.

Facebook users are known for complaining fiercely about changes to the service but then adapting and sticking with the online community.

Palo Alto, California-based Facebook hit a new milestone this month with a half-billion people using the social network in a single day, according to Zuckerberg.

In recent weeks, Facebook has focused on ways for members to better control what information gets shared with whom.