I’m not a big user of Facebook. Not because of its ubiquity, or because of the privacy issues, but because I never really found a way of using it that stuck for me. A few years ago, I was playing around with Nicholas Feltron’s Daytum, and wrote a little piece about why Facebook felt like constantly being in the present, and was unsatisfying as a result. I suggested, slightly flippantly, that nostalgia is a fundamental element of storytelling, and personal data services need to remember that Data+Time=Story. The ever-brilliant Matt Jones included this in a talk he gave about designing with time as a material called ‘We Have All The Time In The World‘.
Two years later, and Nicholas Feltron has joined Facebook, and they’ve launched the Timeline feature, which is a retrospective tool to join together the little vernacular moments in your life into one story. Its the first time I’ve really got excited about Facebook, and wanted to play with a feature on the service, and the first time it feels like Facebook is something you can use to tell a story, not just ping around in a constant now. Of course, its yet another trigger for us all to give Facebook more and more of our data, but this time it feels like there’s something more valuable, more tangible, in return. Facebook always felt like a ‘chugger‘ – stopping you in the street and asking for your personal data with no real sense of reward. Timeline feels like something I’d like to play around with, something that could reward me with the slow pleasure of nostalgia.
The video on the Facebook page introducing Timeline reminds me a lot of the classic scene in Mad Men when Don Draper pitches Kodak a campaign for their new slide projector. Over a series of slides of his family life, he says there are two ways of connecting with people in advertising. One is to be constantly new, to promise the audience that your product is the next thing they can’t live without – to create an itch, and then be the calamine that soothes it. The other is to appeal at a deeper level, to appeal to our nostalgia, which Don describes as “the pain from an old wound; a twinge in your heart far more powerful than memory alone”. He finishes the pitch by saying the new feature of Kodak’s slide projector “is not a wheel, but a carousel. It lets us travel the way a child travels, round and round, and back home again, to a place where we know we were loved.”
It strikes me that with Timeline, Facebook just built its first carousel, and moved from creating itches to provoking deeper, more powerful emotions. Its not just data anymore, but stories.