On Facebook and Life History Timelines

How do you want your online history to read?

Today, I unfriended someone on Facebook.

I’d realized, rather belatedly, that about 90% of what this person shared on Facebook consisted of cat photos or videos. I like cats, but not enough to wade through dozens of photos shared in big batches on Facebook every day.

(Maybe other people do like cats that much. Maybe there are people whose sole purpose in using Facebook is to maximize the number of cat pictures they see every day. I am not one of these people.)

She’s not the first of my Facebook friends to share a never-ending stream of content that simply doesn’t interest me. Normally, if I know a Facebook “friend” in real (as opposed to virtual) life, I’ll retain the friendship status but simply stop subscribing to her content. This enables her to keep reading my content (if she wants to), comment on it, and keep in touch via other Facebook features — wall, messaging, etc.

But this person wasn’t really a friend to begin with — just someone I met on Twitter. And with the introduction of Facebook’s Timeline feature, I realized that Facebook is morphing into something new and different where an endless stream of cat photos seems downright idiotic.

The Timeline Feature

The Timeline feature puts every update, photo, event, and detail in your life that you’ve shared on Facebook into a reverse chronologically displayed listing. Here’s what mine looks like today:

Facebook Timeline

At the top of your profile page is a “cover photo” and your profile picture. Beneath that is information about you, your work, and your relationships. After a box containing a few of your friends, you’ll find every single item you’ve ever posted to Facebook.

Let me say that again: every single item you’ve ever posted to Facebook.

Including all the cat photos.

To make it easier for someone to zero in on a particular date, they can drag a slider on the right side of the page. So if you’ve been posting on Facebook for a few years, people can go back in time to see the Halloween party photo when you dressed up like a hooker or your rant about your old boss or the details about the honeymoon cruise with your ex-husband. Intermingled with this stuff is details about your new jobs, vacations, check ins, and other life events you thought (at the time, anyway) were important enough to share with “friends” — or the public at large — on Facebook.

Have you seen the Timeline feature in action yet? If you haven’t, check it out. Be sure to check out yours, too. Even if it isn’t displayed now, it will be in the future.

You Are What You Post

And that brings me back to the reason I wrote this post. With your Facebook history so easily accessible — possibly to the general public (which is Facebook’s default setting for updates) — people can get a real idea of what you’re all about now and in the past. If you care at all about what people think of you, you probably want to examine your Timeline and make sure it shows only what you want to show — and only to the people you want to see it.

If you think you’re revealing a bit more than you want to in your Facebook Timeline, there are a few things you can do, some of which I discuss in detail in a Maria’s Guides post.

Of course, the best way to limit what people see or know about you is to be more discriminating about what you post. Do you really need to share every intimate detail of your life? Every link to Web content you read? Every photo you take with your smartphone? Every other Facebook update you read that you find mildly interesting or amusing?

Every freaking cat picture?

On Facebook, you are what you post — and Facebook has a very long memory.

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