How Facebook Timeline Works

Living With Timeline

Facebook's strategy for getting users on board with the Timeline layout is to pitch it as an opportunity to "tell your story."
Facebook's strategy for getting users on board with the Timeline layout is to pitch it as an opportunity to "tell your story."
Screenshot by HowStuffWorks

By imagining your Facebook Timeline as a magazine or Web site all about you -- rather than a scrapbook, or your personal journal, as some of us did before the change, and probably still do -- you can see the best ways to customize that information flow for a given audience. As Facebook describes it, you're telling the story of your life online through pictures, status updates, even the songs that you listen to and shows you watch. Theoretically, that means understanding your friends, their interests and what they care about in a much more intuitive and comprehensive way.

Likewise, you have control over how these things appear. While the "stories" at first may seem random, you can simply make choices to show a given period in a more customized way than was possible before. A great new feature that only became available with Timeline is the ability to backdate items:

By simply hovering over an update in your timeline and clicking the pencil icon to edit the post, you can select the clock icon to reset the posts position on the timeline if you feel it should fall earlier or later. (A practical use of this feature is inserting photos of bygone vacation, for example.) A new category called Life Events -- weddings, births and a host of other customizable choices -- defines major life milestones to help you and your online contacts tell the years apart.

It's not just about the benefits or the drawbacks: It's about understanding Facebook's place in your world, in the social networks you are a part of, and about creating and maintaining a presence online. If you're worried about privacy concerns, adjust your usage and learn more about ways to protect that privacy. At the end of the day, Facebook is a free service that you use in whatever way you see fit. And like any electronic tool, it rewards your level of knowledge and engagement.

If you're overwhelmed by the idea of using all those fine-tuned privacy settings, or paranoid about the ways Facebook uses your information, you have two basic options. One, you can delete your profile and -- if you want -- just start over, with a bare bones account that only contains the things you feel like posting. Or, you can look at this as an opportunity for transparency. Depending on your job, family life and social situation, it's possible that you don't really have much to worry about. Is there anything that terrible already on your Timeline, really? Are there friends out there that you can't trust to keep your best interests at heart? If that's the case, your privacy problem may lie elsewhere.