Rudy Panucci On Pop Culture

Living On Borrowed Timeline

The PopCulteer
December 23, 2011

Beating Facebook’s Timeline

Well, here we are, December 23, and what is everybody talking about? The new Facebook Timeline, of course. Facebook, in their never-ending quest to extract more marketable personal data from their users is finally foisting upon the public their latest “upgrade”, the Timeline.

If you haven’t seen it yet, the Timeline allows people to personalize their profile page with a big cover photo which can be quite nice and is a very attractive feature. In exchange for this very attractive feature, Facebook has removed previously simple options for privacy, thrusting some of your information into the public domain and making other information, which you could previously restrict with a single click, so complicated that a prolific Facebook user could be faced with weeks of clicking three to seven times to remove each individual item that they do not want on their “Timeline.”

So far, most of the guides and tutorials about Facebook’s Timeline have been written by people who are so enamored of the new features that they don’t dare criticize Facebook’s more mercenary motives in forcing you, or rather, tricking you into revealing more of your personal data.I’m going to give you a few tips on how to defeat the more annoying aspects of Facebook’s Timeline.

Let’s be clear: Facebook did not introduce the Timeline to make their users happy. They did it to make their users more attractive to advertisers in advance of the company going public next year. The cover image idea is nice, if you’re into that sort of thing, but it’s really just the shiny bait to sucker you in.  I have not uploaded a cover image, and I think my page looks fine without one.

This is the way my page looks now. I'd like to get rid of the "Friends" box, but Facebook took away that option.

What I’m going to present today is the perspective of somebody who pretty much hates Timeline. I don’t like it, I don’t like the way it looks, and I hate the fact that in the eight days since I switched to Timeline, I have spent fifteen hours trying to put my privacy options back the way they used to be. I am far from done with that job.Facebook was fine before this headache. If you have not yet switched over, do not rush in. It’s not worth it.

First of all, the Timeline page looks like old MySpace. You remember MySpace, right? That’s the social networking site that Facebook basically put out of business. MySpace tried to meet Facebook’s challenge by becoming more and more like Facebook and eventually they became, as Seth Myers said, “the abandoned amusement park of the Internet.”

So now, Facebook suddenly wants to look like MySpace and slap your personal data out there for God and everybody to see, just like MySpace, and appeal to the narcissitic show-off in everybody, just like MySpace.

Timeline basically turns your Facebook page into a scrapbook of your life. They want you to put all the important events of your life in the Timeline, going all the way back to your birth. This is pitched as a wonderful personal life story to help you preserve your memories. It is, in fact, a data mining trick designed to extract information like your age, how many children you have, whether you own your home or rent, how many cars you own, and any other life events of yours that might be highly sought after by well-monied advertisers.

The beauty of the plan is, you do all the work. Facebook has diverted from their original mission as a way for people to connect with each other into the ultimate, Andy Warhol-esque, self suck-up machine. In the future, you WILL be famous for fifteen minutes, but you’ll have to spend two hours a day on Facebook to achieve those fifteen minutes. To paraphrase Pogo, we have met Big Brother, and he is us.

The thing most people don’t understand is that Facebook is a website generating hundreds of millions of dollars and they don’t pay one penny for their content. Their customers give it to them for free. It’s like somebody crossed the Huffington Post with Godzilla.

Once you scroll below the cover photo, you will find that Timeline has split all your Facebook entries into two columns which jump from side to side as they are pushed down the Timeline. Quite frankly, this is ugly as hell. Vertical timelines only work in animation and Pete Frame’s Family Trees.

However, it’s not as simple as that. A little box displaying six of your friends will permanently occupy the top of the right hand column. Facebook zombies will tell you that the Timeline offers you more privacy options. That Friends box is all you need to point to to call “BS” on them. You used to be able to hide that little box with your Friends in it from everyone. Now you can’t. It’s stuck there permanently.

For those of you keeping score at home, that’s one less item you can’t hide on your profile page. There are many more that are difficult to restore to their previous levels of privacy.

Then we get to the photos. You used to have full control over all the photos in all your folders. You could make them available to the public, you could make them visible to friends, or you could make them visible to “Only Me” so nobody but you could see them. You still have that option on most of your folders. However, on “Mobile Uploads” and “Wall Photos”, you have to change the settings for each individual photo. This can take between three and seven clicks on Facebook’s slow, clunky photo editing interface, which crashes frequently. A quick and easy solution is to simply move all of the photos in those folders to other folders over which you still have full control.

Exert what little control Facebook allows you. Set your privacy settings like this.

Photo tagging is also a problem. Previously on Facebook, you could click one button that would keep photos you tagged from being seen by anyone but you. Hell, you even had the option of automatically refusing to let anyone tag you in a photo. Those options are history. Now if you don’t want tagged photos of you on your Timeline, you have to individually remove each tag from the original photo. If you simply remove the tag from your Timeline, you will still be tagged in the photo. This is particularly disturbing in light of all the recent blasphemous photos and gay porn pictures which polluted Facebook about a month ago. You’re supposed to have control of your Timeline, but you could still spend a weekend away from your computer and come home to find that the lead image on your Timeline is a big erect penis.

All that stuff that you used to be able to hide with one click? Now yoou get to do it all over item at a time.

Look at all the categories of stuff you have to go through manually now.

Then we also have the “Activities” which are listed in your Timeline. In the old Facebook privacy settings, you could restrict entire categories of activities from your profile page, such as liking a page or becoming friends with a new person. Now you can’t. You have to individually go to each instance and click two or three times to hide each individual item from your Timeline. I didn’t want that information to be part of my profile before, but it all went in the Timeline by default.

Facebook could very easily give us global controls that would allow us to remove entire categories of information from our Timeline. They chose to make it as difficult and tedious as possible. This is a colossal dick move on their part. I know that it’s technically possible for them to have done this because some of the categories under recent activities do have global control, while others do not.

As a matter of personal preference, I don’t want the dates that I became friends with somebody on my Timeline. It’s not merely a privacy issue with me; aesthetically, I dislike the way it looks on my Profile. I have over 1200 friends on Facebook. I have to remove each entry of when we became friends manually and I have to be careful not to accidentally unfriend them in the process.

You will have a litle box like this pop up for every single item that you want hidden from your Timeline now.

In my entire time on Facebook, I have only unfriended one person and that was this week, when they became overbearingly obnoxious in defending the Timeline. I have a helathy sense of humor and poke fun at myself all the time, but if you’re going to treat me like an idiot because I have an opinion different than yours about Facebook, then I got no use for you. This person couldn’t comprehend why I was frustrated with the draconian lengths that Facebook has forced me to take to fix their mess. It is hard, tedious work to restore the Timeline to your previous privacy settings.

However, if you’re willing to do the work, you can remove everything from your Timeline that you don’t want there. My personal preference is that my Timeline will be nothing but status updates and links that I have posted. I also have my Facebook page set so it can only be seen by people who are my Facebook friends. That was the whole appeal of Facebook over MySpace–the fact that you had to accept somebody as your friend before they could see your page. If I have anything that I want made public, I’ll put it on the Radio Free Charleston fan page.

By marking every post as a "Feature, you can elimnate the ugly two-column layout.

I have discovered one nice feature of Timeline which, if abused properly, can destroy that hideous double column timeline. When you are hiding a post from your Timeline, you also have the option to “feature” it. If you feature your status or link or whatever, it will blow up real big and take up both columns. So I am in the process of “featuring” every single post I’ve made on Facebook. That way my Timeline will have one nice, sleek column with my status updates and anyone reading it won’t have to play hopscotch with their eyes in order to get a sense of the proper chronological order.

There are other ways to thwart Facebook’s new Timeline. You could use the popular browser plug-ins Social Fixer or FB Purity.

Either of those are very handy and allow you to do things like kill that annoying ticker, hide sponsored ads, and they even give you the option of filtering phrases so that every time your crazy aunt starts blathering about how “Obama’s a Muslim”, you won’t have to see it.

I’ve used both plug-ins, and they’re fairly simple to use.  You do need to update them regularly, because Facebbok is constantly changing their coding to thwart these guys.

This is how my Timeline page looks to me zoomed in. I don't see any pesky ads, and if I could get rid of the friends box, I'd be quite satisfied with it. I think the lack of a cover image makes it more distinctive.

If plug-ins aren’t your bag, another route you can take is to simply hit “CTL” and “+” on your keyboard to magnify the screen so that all that extraneous clutter is crowded off the right side of your browser. This technique works with most browsers.

You may wonder why I put this much effort into using the website if it pisses me off so much. The fact is, Facebook provides a great service. They allow people to connect on new levels that were not previously technically possible. My problem is that the service was damn near perfect when I signed up for it and with each upgrade, it has become considerably less so. I understand their motives. Facebook is not simply providing a service, they are running a business. As such, they have to find new ways to generate revenue. My fear is not that they are going to invade my privacy and take over my life or sell my personal data to the Russian Mafia. My fear is that they are going to make so many wrong-headed “improvements” that people get disgusted and leave and they go out of business or become a sad parody of themselves the way MySpace did.

Google launched their Google+ social media service over the summer. Its attracted about 30 million people worldwide. Facebook has over 800 million users worldwide and yet, the Timeline is their response and half-assed imitation of Google+. The latest numbers I’ve seen show that of those 800 million users, about as many people voluntarily switched to the Timeline as signed up for Google+. The demand is not there. The last time a social networking service tried to emulate a smaller competitor was when MySpace kept changing into a pale imitation of Facebook. I hope we don’t see history repeat.

So my advice is, if you’re happy with Facebook as it was before the Timeline, resist the urge to try the Timeline. I signed up early and I regret it. Its been nothing but a huge, time wasting frustration to me. This is the week leading up to Christmas and I have wasted fifteen hours trying to configure the site to my preferences, and I still have quite a ways to go. Also, make sure that, in your privacy settings you have your “Timeline Review” and “Tag Review” turned on and your “Tag Suggestions” and “Friends Can Check You Into Places” turned off. You can also set your “Maximum Timeline Visibility” to “Only Me.”

Like I said, I hate to complain so much about a free service, but all I want for Christmas is my old Facebook back.

That’s it for this week’s PopCulteer. I hope I’ve given you a few useful tips. There are a lot of Facebook sycophants out there peddling useless information taken directly from Facebook’s FAQ page. I tried to do something more than that here.If you have more Facebook Timeline tips, share them in the comments.

We will be posting some of our traditional holiday fare in PopCult this weekend. I hope you and yours have a happy whatever.

1 Comment

  1. Clare Cosgrove

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