Facebook thinks big to see off Google+

Facebook Timeline is a new profile page that documents your entire life on Facebook

Poor Google. It gives its Google+ social networking service some welcome tweaks, opens it up to the public, and nobody pays the slightest bit of attention.

This week, all eyes were on Facebook - and not just because founder Mark Zuckerberg is now worth more money than Google's founders. Facebook is thinking big, and this week we discovered just how big its plans are.

Facebook's annual conference tends to involve some tweaks to the globe-gobbling social network, but this year is much more dramatic: Facebook has effectively been rebooted, with some features that will warm the hearts of oversharers everywhere. When the redesign reaches you in a few weeks' time, Facebook won't just be about what you're doing now; it'll be about everything you've ever done.

The heart of the new Facebook is the Timeline, a new, more visual kind of profile that will appear on desktop and mobile versions of the site. It's better seen than described, so we've put together an extensive photo gallery for your excitement and delightment.

The Timeline isn't just a pretty face. It's a new focus for Facebook activity. As Marc Chacksfield explains: "Instead of being a realtime feed of events, Zuckerberg and co have created a past-time feed of your entire (Facebook) life, with the feature replacing everyone's profile page... To make the Timeline work, a new class of apps have been created. These 'personal' apps allow for you to express yourself in new ways, according to Facebook."

Personal apps go much further than anything you've seen on Facebook before. For example, Spotify integration means that Facebook now has a music app. As Dan Grabham points out, Spotify isn't the only big name making Facebook apps: "other names on board with these new apps include The Guardian, The Independent, Netflix (not UK) and Nike Plus."

The key to Spotify, and to the other apps, is sharing. "You'll now start seeing new music posts and play buttons in your newsfeed," Grabham explains, "while your friends will be able to see what you're listening to - providing you give Facebook permission of course."

So how will the other apps work? According to Mark Zuckerberg, "you can fill out your Timeline with your favourite activities using apps and websites, and create a live connection to them so they're updated as you go.

For example photographers can fill their Timeline with photo apps that will update with each new photo taken; cooks can add recipe apps that will update with each new dish made; and music fans can connect to apps that show their top playlists." Depending on the apps you install, your Timeline will update when you buy a concert ticket, read a news article, listen to a song, watch a film or make dinner.

Not everyone is impressed. Resident grouch Gary Marshall for one is faintly frightened by it all. "Remember when we used to worry about Google storing search data? That's a drop in the ocean compared to what Facebook's trying to do," he says. "The new Facebook doesn't just want you to post your life on Facebook, but to actually live your life within Facebook's comforting embrace."

As Marshall points out, there are practical concerns - "what are you going to do about your Timeline if you get divorced? What happens if Facebook cocks up and deletes your account?" - but for him, the real worry is that Facebook is essentially creating a second internet, a service that brings you nice things but that "monitors everything you do, and which is owned by a faraway, unaccountable private company with a long track record of messing with its users' privacy."

Marshall, it's safe to say, isn't on Mark Zuckerberg's Facebook friends list.


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