Facebook's New Timeline Layout: A Getting-Started Guide

New Status Box Adds Life Events


Below Timeline's top section, you will see a new status box, where you can share photos, updates, and links just as you do on your current Facebook page. There are also five new icons that let you add specific life events to your profile. The icons represent: Work and education; family and relationships; living (buying a home, vehicle, etc); health and wellness; and milestones and experiences (awards, driver's licenses, etc).

The status box in Timeline
The status box in Timeline
The list of things you can add to your profile is pretty exhaustive: It includes jobs, schooling, engagement and marriages, new children and pets, deaths of loved ones, buying a new house or car, getting a new roommate, breaking a bone, undergoing surgery, overcoming illness, learning a language, getting your driver's license, receiving an award, or traveling to a new destination. We'll leave it for another post to discuss the privacy implications of adding all this data.

Privacy Bugs?

The condensed timeline in Timeline
The condensed timeline in Timeline
One thing to keep in mind is that as you add content to your profile using the new status box, be sure you always check the privacy settings for everything you share. In my tests, when I shared something from the Timeline update box, it was automatically marked as public, despite the fact that my default privacy settings used to be to share with specific friends only.

That may be a bug, however, as my privacy settings returned later on, although I did have to reenter them. It's not clear what happened. I have contacted the company to find out what's going on.

Below the new status box, you will see your Facebook activity separated into boxes allowing you to scroll down the page and see all your Facebook activity. To the right of the main column, you will see a condensed timeline showing specific years or decades.

When Timeline was first activated for my profile, it took a few minutes before Facebook's servers finished processing all my information. When I started, Timeline only listed the present, the past few months, 2010, and the rest of the "2000s" as one gigantic blob and then my birth. But eventually, it added the 90s, 1987, and 1975 based on information shared by me and my friends. Clicking on a year or decade in the navigation column will take you to that point in your Timeline.

As you scroll down your Timeline, a virtual toolbar will remain static at the top of your screen.

The static toolbar in Timeline
The static toolbar in Timeline
This is the status update box and it is where you can share new photos, links, updates, and so on. The right-hand column also is static, and will stay with you as you scroll down the main content column.

Now that you know how to get around Timeline, here's how to get started.

Choose Your Cover

Setting the Cover photo in Timeline
The most impressive part of Facebook's new Timeline is the cover photo that most people will see when they land on your profile. At first, the canvas will be blank. You can change this by hovering over the cover photo area. You will then be prompted to either upload a photo from your computer or choose one of your Facebook photos.

Keep in mind as you're choosing an image that cover photos are never private, just as your profile picture is not. That's unfortunate since I wanted to include a photo of me, my wife, and our newborn baby, since I feel that represents my life right now. The problem is my job makes me a semi-public person, and I don't want the whole world seeing photos of my family if they happen to stumble across my Facebook profile. So I decided to use a photo of my dog instead. He's already a legend anyway, just ask the joggers who frequent Prospect Park in Brooklyn. Actually, on second thought, don't. Moving on...

Check Your Visibility

How much information do you want to make public in Timeline?
So you've chosen a cover photo that you don't mind the whole world seeing. Now it's time to see what Timeline is already showing you and then perhaps fill out some events from your past, right? Well, not so fast. Before you get ahead of yourself, it's best to check your new profile's public visibility to see what shared links, photos, comments, and other things might come back from the past to haunt you.

To do this, click on the cog just below the right side of your cover photo and select "View As..." A box will appear at the top of your profile; click on the blue "public" link in the first sentence. Now you're viewing your profile as a random stranger. Any information on your profile that you don't want to share--and is not exclusively public--can be removed by clicking on the "x" in the top right corner of the story box. In my tests, the remove button did not work, but remember: I'm working from a developer preview, so bugs are to be expected.

Edit Your Timeline

Here's how you hide info you don't want showing in Timeline.
Here's how you hide info you don't want showing in Timeline.
As you scroll down the page, you will be greeted with Facebook activity from your past, as well as historical dates that predate Facebook, such as your birth. Facebook throws a ton of information into your Timeline and it's impressive how well organized your historical information is with the new functionality.

But as you go through it, there may be some stuff you find that you don't want your friends to see such as a bad photo, stupid status updates, and so on. To get rid of anything you don't want people to see, hover over the right corner of the story box and click on the pencil icon, then select "Hide from Timeline."

Choose Timeline Features

Here's where to highlight memories in Timeline, like a great photo.
As you're wandering through your Facebook past, you may also find some memories you want to emphasize, such as a photo from a great vacation, a video, or an article link. If you want to highlight a photo, for example, hover again over the top right of the story box.

This time, select the star icon and click it. Your content will now take up the full width of the Timeline content area. If you want to put the photo back to a normal story size, just click on the star icon again.

There are certain things that Facebook automatically highlights. These usually are life events such as graduations, marriage, new jobs, and so on. There is no option to make these event boxes smaller.

Add Your Photos

The Add Photos feature in Timeline
As you go through your Timeline, you'll come across these important life events. Timeline lets you add a photo to these events if you choose, as well as (in some cases) a short text explanation of your memory. In my tests, Facebook didn't allow you to delete life events from within your Timeline. It's not clear if that's a bug or not, so it's best to withhold judgment, for now.

Check Your Birthplace

You don't have to do this, but if you want to include information about your birth, the first thing you should do is see if Facebook got your birthplace right. It looks like the social network assumes you were born in the location listed as your hometown in your profile. But for many people, myself included, your birthplace is not necessarily your hometown.

I consider my hometown to be Regina, Saskatchewan (it's in Canada, look it up), because that's where I spent the bulk of my childhood through high school. But I wasn't born there. The good news is that if you change your birthplace, it won't change the place listed as your hometown.

Timeline might inspire some grumbling from people who prefer the old profile page, but, in my experience, the new layout is a great way to see your Facebook content. It also has privacy advantages since you can see just how much of yourself that you have shared on Facebook. A sobering look at your personal data online may just inspire privacy-minded individuals to permanently delete some items from their Facebook profile.

But there are also some privacy concerns you need to consider.

Facebook is essentially providing the opportunity to include very personal data into your profile such as your medical history. Sure, that's a part of your life, and some people may enjoy including this data in their profiles to share with friends. But before you go adding your chemotherapy history to your Facebook profile, you may want to consider long and hard about whether this is information you want residing on Facebook's servers.

Connect with Ian Paul (@ianpaul ) and Today@PCWorld on Twitter for the latest tech news and analysis.

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