Blog Post

The Time(line) of Our Lives: The Evolving Nature of Facebook and Its Implications for Future Research

With the introduction of yet another view of Facebook profiles called timeline, Facebook has once again sought to change how we interact with and through social media. The drastic change in profiles is being slow rolled out to the general public, but if you're eager (like I was) to find out now what's so different, you can do so now

I have been an active member of Facebook since 2005- the second it was available at my school I joined and was both entertained and intrigued by what all having this new form of online interaction entailed. The construction of the profile has changed drastically over the years, as has the site itself. From a single profile page view where the only name listed for posting on the wall was the most recent name in a stream of comments, to a page that had multiple tabs to view "info", "wall" and "pictures", the changes that have been made to the profile itself have been mostly restricted to the options of information you can share; the inclusion of more political interests, as well as relationship status types, to linking family profiles directly to your own, the profile has always been about forming a cohesive display of self. 

Since starting my doctorate at KU last fall, I've been working closely with Dr. Jeff Hall on a lens model analysis of Facebook. We recently finished the final step of this project, and have some exciting results to share- suffice to say, our findings are consistent with prior literature on what cues we can use to determine personality traits on Facebook. Things like number of friends, what we're doing in pictures, and what we say in status updates all are clues into an individual's personality. While I'm excited about our results and look forward to sharing them in more in depth entries at a later time, I've found that the shift to timeline will once again change how we communicate self online.

What makes timeline so different? For those who haven't used it, you may be wondering how things can change all that much on a profile. The timeline changes how we share information by moving the focus from a static "present" self, to an easily searchable (and significantly less static) online identity. With the click of a button you can jump through the years of your life- jump to 2006, and you can see some of the earliest recognizable wall posts on my Facebook profile. Jump to 2004, and see that I graduated high school. Jump to 1990- my cousin was born, and finally, jump to 1985, and see the day I was born. What's interesting is that Facebook is encouraging that we share information about our life in the form of both text and images from not only before Facebooke existed but from before Internet use was widespread. 

This attempt to document your entirely life along one line, a digital scrapbook of where you've been and what you've done has serious implications for future research on impression management and social media. Setting aside that you can now go in and "add" whatever you want about your life prior to when you joined Facebook, the opportunity to edit your life since you joined is now increasingly easier, and the desire to do so increases as well, because it is just as easy for you to go and find wall posts and status updates from when you werw 18 as it is for friends, family, and future employers. 

While I think that the searchability of the profile points to questions of how our culture seeks to hide and "scrub" information as we transition through life, I believe that as all profiles transition over to timeline we'll see more and more people either fully embracing it, or dropping their participation in the site alltogether. After having used timeline for over a month now, I think that future research on impression management and Facebook will require an analysis of how (if at all) having a full stream of your life available effects how one communicates identity online, while also seeking to understand what this says about a culture that seeks to know everything about a person. 

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