New Facebook Features: What you need to know

Today in a keynote address at Facebook’s 2011 F8 Developers conference, CEO Mark Zuckerberg revealed the social giant’s ambitious next steps. As rumors swirled prior to the event, reports suggested that Facebook might have big plans to socialize the web even further. In an era when few websites aren’t littered with Facebook’s ubiquitous Like button, it was hard to imagine what the company’s vision for a yet more hypersocial web would look like. Read on to know what changes are in store for the world’s biggest social network — and its 800 million users.

1. Timelines

While the profile page has been the crux of Facebook since its inception in 2004, the addition of the News Feed steered the social site in a somewhat different direction. Rather than focusing on static pages where our friends represented themselves, the site emphasized Twitter-like real-time updates, so we could follow along with our friends’ lives as they scroll past. With a brand new feature called the Timeline, Facebook wants to return to that more static identity without sacrificing that kind of real-time update that keeps a social site fresh and relevant.

The goal of the Timeline is to allow you to curate your Facebook profile page with the events, photos, and updates that matter. Previously, clicking over to a friend’s profile page shows a snapshot of their identity that is largely moored in very recent events like status updates, wall posts, and only their newest tagged pictures. As the Timeline replaces the traditional Facebook page, you can prune your profile to reflect what you feel represents your social identity best, which naturally might not be what you had for lunch.

The reinvented profile page will prevent your important personal information from slipping off the page as your newest status updates pour in. With an almost blog-like, photo-heavy layout, you can pick and choose from your past updates, ideally making the Timeline “an easy way to rediscover the things you shared, and collect all your best moments in a single place.”

2. Ticker

If Timeline is meant to breathe new life into the ailing profile page, Facebook’s new Ticker feature targets the here and now. By splitting the Facebook experience into two streams — Timelines for our richer, more static profiles and Ticker for small updates like what we had for breakfast — the company will attempt to manage its signal-to-noise ratio.

While the Timeline can add a summary of activity from a single app — like Spotify, for instance — the Ticker will display each micro-action: a song you just liked or what album you’re playing right now. The Ticker will be a “lightweight stream of everything that’s going on around you,” so the social network isn’t quite so clogged up with the small stuff, like auto-generated status updates from apps like FarmVille.

3. Apps

Facebook’s overhaul will have a heavy emphasis on the mobile experience — after all, over 350 million people use Facebook on mobile devices each month. Knowing this number will only go up, Facebook has optimized the visual design of Timelines for mobile — rather than displaying a stream of tiny text updates below a profile page, Timelines will offer a more visually dynamic experience — one rich with the photos and apps that we choose to add to our timeline, which will appear in large boxes. Beyond the visual redesign through Timelines, you can expect many apps and web services to pop up with an “Add to Timeline” button — Facebook’s more identity-centric Like Button 2.0.

4. Social news and entertainment

Beyond the profile tweaks, Facebook introduced a new kind of socially curated reading and a partnership with Yahoo! News. After enabling the feature, you can see what your friends have read across Yahoo! News’ vast network, as well as view a history of what you’ve read. The new feature will closely integrate with Yahoo!, going above and beyond the action of simply “liking” a story and watching it pop up in your news feed.

Facebook also announced close integration with Spotify, the hit on-demand music streaming service that recently graced the ears of American music lovers. Users can see what their friends are listening to on Spotify via the Ticker, and stream songs without ever leaving the site. Beyond music and news, Facebook has partnered with Netflix to weave the streaming video service into the social network — a feature Netflix fans have been anxiously awaiting for some time. Like Spotify, the Netflix integration will be something of a discovery engine. You can browse your own Facebook friends for ideas about what series to start with next, or what new movies might be worth a watch. Facebook also announced a similar deal with streaming video site Hulu.

5. Privacy

Facebook’s new emphasis on a “frictionless experience” means that users might want to read the fine print more closely than ever. Instead of thinking of authorizing an app as granting it “permission,” social sharing will be posed as a positive part of an app itself — not a nuisance, like many of us likely imagine it. Authorize an app and it will operate in the background, sharing your activities across Facebook and shaping both your social profile through both the Ticker, the Timeline, and the News Feed.

But letting the apps do all the social sharing for us can have plenty of unintended consequences. Depending on how far each app takes auto-sharing, we might be posting status updates that we didn’t even remember authorizing. Now that Facebook will tie in to the music and entertainment sites we care about most, be cautious about what you allow, lest your Facebook friends find out your every last guilty pleasure from the 80s.

Broadcasting your bad taste is one thing, but many mobile check-in and photo-sharing apps integrate geodata about where you are. If you’ve authorized these apps to communicate freely with Facebook, you might end up letting the world pinpoint your location via GPS. To stay safe, lock down your privacy settings and read before you click, now more than ever. -By Taylor Hatmaker, Tecca | Today in Tech

 

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