This weekend Vadim Lavrusik said he will start scanning old photographs to his computer. He will carefully select and digitize photos from his childhood, from when he first immigrated to America in 1994 to his time as a college freshman at the University of Minnesota in 2005. He will, in essence, construct a digital scrapbook.
Then he will upload his entire life to Facebook.
But Lavrusik’s friends won’t simply view these photos in a new album. They will explore them through Facebook’s new profile design, Timeline, a sequential visualization of his entire life.
Facebook has worked for a year to develop this format, Lavrusik said. Users can go back and retroactively build and fill out their timelines since their birth date, even before Facebook existed, as well as view previously posted statuses, wall posts and photos.
“I was thinking that this is the representation of yourself for the next generation,” he said. “I’ll be able to build my identity … If I died before my grandchildren got to know me, they’d be able to learn things about me that the previous generation wouldn’t have been able to through simple photos.”
The future he describes is entirely possible. When an individual dies, his or her “add a friend” feature shuts down and the wall functions as a “memorial,” Lavrusik said.
“There are very few things I know about my grandparents because I never got to meet them,” he said. “If Timeline had existed I would have learned so much about who they were as people.”
Facebook’s ultimate goal, that they have established since their launch, is to continue to foster an environment where a user’s digital identity matches his or her real-life self, Layrusik said.
“You want to go back to that to see who you were,” he said. “There were a lot of things I didn’t even remove from my Timeline that some people might cringe at a little bit. If you look at 2005 … when I was a freshman in college, and if you’re friends with me, you can go see the kinds of things I posted in 2005. It’s part of who I was.”
Lavrusik said users have the option to erase any status, wall post, photo or video from their Timeline.
“I think once people understand that they have the control to get rid of things, their concerns about privacy go away,” he said. “They say, ‘Oh okay, that makes sense’ as long as they have the control, and have the power to delete it or add something new.”
Adriano Farano, digital media entrepreneur and CEO of the Palo Alto-based OWNI Inc., said users may have to adjust to the idea Facebook has stockpiled an archive of their digital lives.
“When you update a status in real time you don’t really notice,” he said. “But when you look back and find things you posted four or five years ago, you’ll notice, ‘Oh they’ve actually been storing.’”
Lavrusik also said that as with any major change to the interface, users will experience an adjustment period, but Facebook ensured a smooth transition by providing user testing.
“There’s a learning curve with anything,” he said. “In general, we’ve come a long way in 10 years … in terms of being more Web-savvy.
Farano, however, said that with the implementation of Timeline, Facebook has far surpassed its function as a simple social media website.
“Facebook was created as a tool to keep track of real time, and with Timeline they are expanding to keep track of the longer term,” he said. “It’s really all about copying real life. In real life, it’s never been just about real-time. There has always been something more.”
Trials of Timeline have already begun with application developers, but within the next two or three weeks, random users will begin to transition over to the new format.
Other new features include a “cover photo,” which will take up most of the upper screen on a profile, and Open Graphs. Developers can create different actions similar to the “like.” For instance, Lavrusik said the Washington Post may create an action for a status like “reading an article.”
“One of our strengths and goals is creating an authentic idea of who you really are as a unique person,” he said. I know there’s a lot of backlash when Facebook changes, but I don’t know how you could hate something so beautiful. I think in a lot of ways it somehow achieves the real Facebook.”