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Leslie Hendry Headshot

Facebook's Timeline Sells Emotion

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TIMELINE

Last week at F8, Mark Zuckerberg announced Timeline, a revamped profile page. In the keynote address he stated "millions of people spent years curating the story of their life with no way of sharing. We have solved the problem."

Apparently 800 million Facebook users have a problem and Timeline is the answer. Timeline, "the story of your life," "is the best way to express who you are," according to Zuckerberg.

I'll admit, when I first used Facebook I wasn't as "expressive" on-line as now. The experience was a bit intimidating and emotive. Fresh-faced yoga friends documented trips to exotic places. Law school friends had galleries of beautiful kids, summer vacations, and comfy houses. I, on the other hand, was in a career change and a late start in Los Angeles for no logical reason. With just one profile pic posted I felt like I were in that dream walking down the street naked.

Weekends followed with a camera in hand. Pictures were taken. I wanted natural, fun, artistic -- without being obvious -- or some super spontaneous image of me on that page for all to see. On trips, donning a camera took on a whole other meaning. I was curating my Facebook life and I had a lot to catch up with.

Emotion drew me into Facebook's web. I read pedestrian, and also witty, status updates, and bristled at some peoples' comfort level on the site. I felt confused by 300 plus friends' combined happiness. I became suspicious. Is everyone really so happy? If so, why tell me? (I wasn't even depressed.)

After adding more pictures and updates, Facebook and I became better acquainted. When news websites published Facebook buttons to connect to my wall I became more interested. My experience moved from digital puberty to finding value on another level. Postings notified me of interesting articles and, of course, silly YouTube videos and cool music. I reciprocated and there you have it, I was connected.

"Facebook's mission is to make the world more open and connected," Zuckerberg said.

Today, we are more connected than ever and Facebook has played a huge part. Dr. Brene Brown, research professor at the University of Houston, says "we are neurobiologically hardwired for connection. It's why we are here. It's what gives purpose and meaning to our lives."

I began connecting to (liking) various company pages. In short time, news channels and companies touted their social status everywhere they could. This connection between consumer and company felt smart. Companies purportedly wanted a dialogue. They wanted to listen. Clorox and I were like friends.

With the financial collapse exposing Wall Street avarice and with political posturing exposing Congress' abject self-interest, my interest in "social" networking grew. Opinion and information sharing exposed that we live with damaged and damaging institutions. This past summer, social networks altered political oppression under the auspices of the Arab Spring. Since we can't effectuate change via Congress or the financial markets, technology seems to be the last hope. Which is why I naively expected more out of Facebook.

With the latest release, Facebook is taking connection one step further: "Getting people connected with their lives."

As I listened to the keynote address, I was amazed with the multiple use of "express" (15 in roughly 15 minutes). "Imagine expressing the story of your life." "Imagine an expression that is beautiful." Facebook uncovered that people "wanted more ways to express themselves." (With Timeline) you have "all your stories, all your apps, and a new way to express who you are."

We've now entered the age of expressionism.

If connection is the first 5 minutes of the conversation, expression is the next hour. If expression is the first hour of the conversation, then our role as Facebook content providers, sums up the "friendship".

It's no mystery that Spotify and others are lining up for the transfusion of our "likes" and interests. Furthermore, discovering patterns in our, and our friends', expressed interests herds us into a marketer's nirvana, or what Zuckerberg terms, real-time serendipity.

Heretofore, Facebook's success has been selling human emotion: how it feels to be connected. We don't pay for it, but we are giving away valuable, personal information. Expressing yourself on the new Timeline, provides "important and meaningful things of your life," Zuckerberg tells us. In fact, "You can use apps to express as much content as you want on your Timeline."

This is a marketing and research bonanza, but what's the benefit to the user? An ability to "curate the story of your life," to "imagine an expression that is beautiful," "to have the story of your life all on one page?"

To fully experience the new Timeline I registered as a developer. Honestly the product was cool and easy to use. For non-bloggers, and those who don't have the time or inclination to edit their life for the digital world, Facebook tempts you with the ease, fun and beauty of presenting your entire life online.

With Timeline's unveiling, Zuckerberg and his team, provided solutions to "problems" that don't rank as high as let's say unemployment. Facebook is valued at $82 billion dollars and employs around 1000 employees. It's jumped into bed with entertainment and music companies to allow those industries a smarter way to profit.

One romanticizes new leadership in the form of technology geniuses, young pioneers who, due to their x, why or wtf generation, aren't motivated by greed but see the world as a place in need of serious solutions to complex issues.

People "love how apps tell the story of (their) life... people really want to use apps to express themselves". Or alternatively stated, Timeline apps track and follow our lives.

Connection is the result of authenticity, says Dr. Brown. I wonder if we're talking about the same kind of connection. In my early Facebook days, I wondered where's the honesty, the authenticity? The stuff that makes us who we are, not simply a daily post but a reflection of real life? Facebook's latest call for expression is marketing pure and simple. Fret not about template changes people. As you make the switch, consider why and how you engage with this social network. And then think about why and how it engages you.

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