Facebook Unveils 'Timeline,' New Social Apps

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At its much-hyped F8 developer conference Thursday, Facebook introduced a revamped profile page and an updated version of its Open Graph for developers, allowing friends to go beyond just "liking" something to share their experiences as they happen.

As part of the emphasis on what Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg calls "real-time serendipity" and "finding patterns in friends' activity," the company, as rumored, has partnered with more than a dozen high-profile media companies to launch a new wave of social applications across music, movies, TV, news and gaming geared to instant sharing among friends.

Among the initial group of companies introducing new Facebook apps are Spotify, iHeartRadio, Rdio Netflix, Hulu, The Washington Post and Yahoo.

With new features and a bevy of media partners, Facebook clearly wants to outflank growing social media rivals such as Google+ and Twitter, by keeping users even more tightly wedded to the social network used by more than 500 million people each day.

Upgrading the profile page is one of the ways Facebook hopes to keep that number growing, along with increasing usage by existing users. The centerpiece of that effort is a new feature called Timeline that organizes all a user's content across photos, updates and apps in a timeline view stretching back to when they joined Facebook.

"It's the heart of your Facebook experience, completely rethought from the ground up," Zuckerberg says, noting that they've been working on it all year. "Timeline is the story of your life."

Designed for both the Web and mobile versions of the site, Timeline will allow people to select a personal photo as an enlarged cover image for the page. They will also be able to add the newly launched media apps to generate specific "reports" about things like meals they have cooked or runs they have taken.

Zuckerberg emphasized that Timeline also puts controls at hand to determine what content is shown, how it's displayed, and who sees it. "You have complete control over your Timeline," he said, noting that the new feature will be rolled out to users over the next few weeks.

Along with Timeline, Facebook also recently introduced a new Twitter-like feature for the home page called Ticker, geared to showing friends activities in real-time. Zuckerberg described at as "a lightweight stream of everything going on around you" that he projected would increase sharing by an order of magnitude.

Ticker will also work in tandem with apps built with the upgraded Open Graph platform. For instance, if someone posts an update that she is listening to a particular song on Spotify, a friend who saw the message could click on the link in the feed to listen to the song together. The same would apply to a TV show someone was watching via Hulu or a game she was playing like Zynga's Words with Friends.

In addition to the media- and gaming-oriented apps, Facebook also unveiled a new set of lifestyle apps covering various activities, including cooking, running, fashion, and biking to help expand the range of things users can update friends about instantly. While the new features certainly expand on the now ubiquitous "Like" button Facebook launched last year at its F8 event, they also test the limits of just how much and how often people want to interact with Facebook.

The Ticker feed and changes to the news feed rolled out earlier this week have already triggered a backlash among users. That's nothing new for Facebook -- which has had its share of privacy-related stumbles in the past. But as it pushes to increase sharing "by an order of magnitude," in Zuckerberg's words, it risks wider disapproval.

"With its new Timeline and app changes that bring real-time discovery of content and activities, Facebook is positioning itself as not just your social graph online, but your life online," noted Forrester analyst Sean Corcoran. He acknowledged that the changes would trump Google+ and could open up new, more targeted advertising opportunities for marketers.

But he also said concerns about privacy and how to use these tools effectively "will make it a slow go" for users. He added that Timeline, Ticker and the new apps make the user experience on Facebook even more personal. "So you really have to make sure if you collect any information, that it's very transparent," he said.

The Inside Facebook blog points out that previously, users had to both grant an app initial permissions upon install and fill out a sharing prompt every time they wanted to publish something to Facebook. "Now, users will grant a new type of permission that allows an app the ability to instantly publish activity without showing a prompt."

New buttons for sharing what people have "Listened," "Watched," or "Read" through Timeline will provide more specific information about a user's activities than simply clicking the Like button.

One company that hopes to benefit from more sharing activity on Facebook is Yahoo. The struggling Internet giant added a new service Thursday that lets users see and share what Yahoo News articles their Facebook friends are reading.

Through the opt-in feature, people will see images of friends who are also signed up at the top of Yahoo News pages. Automatic updates back on Facebook will also show what friends are reading.

Separately, people can also tell others what TV shows they are watching on their Facebook profile page through Yahoo's IntoNow social TV app. The deeper integration between Yahoo and Facebook comes even as the Web portal continues to lose ground in display advertising to the social networking powerhouse.

Facebook's global revenue is expected to more than double to $4.27 billion this year, with $3.86 billion of that total coming from advertising, according to a forecast this week from eMarketer.

Tags: facebook, privacy
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