In a rare sign of weakness, at F8 during the launch of 'Timelines', Facebook admitted to not actually knowing more about ourselves than we do.
As pictures from the event spread around the web, Kevin Rose tweeted, "damn, LOVING the clean design of the new Facebook profiles, here is mine w/my Dad as the background". It could easily have been a joke, linking to a picture of a MySpace page. It wasn't. It was a pleasant surprise.
It's a very pretty update, born out of a goal to no longer show people the 'Sam (yes, that's me) of the last 5 minutes' but instead the 'Sam of the last 24 years'. However, we should still expect a deluge of 'Million people against new Facebook' derivatives. People don't know they're ready for this change, similar to when Apple released iTunes. To borrow an insightful comment from a friend, "the ecosystem won't know they're ready for this until they wonder how it worked before." Like a teacher who holds the key to fuller knowledge, Facebook has boldly just told the ecosystem, "you're ready".
However this update. It's not for you.
'Timeline' is essentially an accessible data tool, allowing users to optimise their own data, enabling them to retrospectively record what they were doing and when. It's a brand new data layer that Facebook never previously had access too had control of. It lets you organise and display your own data. The output is a visually stimulating account of your life so far. However, letting people organise their own data serves one very useful additional purpose, it optimises Facebook.
No, the days of Facebook trying to predict how your data is organized are not specifically over. Google+ asks you to place your people in circles whereby Facebook looks at your lifestyle and puts that in circles. Despite being a useful part of Google+, people don't necessarily want to put things in circles. They want it to just happen. Letting users connect their Facebook accounts with their listening and watching habits, as well as what they 'like' and the people they're friends with, brings forward an entirely new and powerful data layer. Interpreted correctly, Facebook can now determine if you actually like what you like.
Here's where this all gets interesting. Right now, advertisers are saying, "I know what you're doing now, I can suggest what you should do next based on that." It's an immediate response to an immediate need. What Facebook is now able to say is (with the user's organizational help), "Here's how a person has behaved for their whole life." To which an advertiser can respond, "Thank you Mr Zuckerberg, we'll now just go ahead and use that to predict their decision making going forward." It's the golden life-stage marketing dream becoming a reality.
It's not new for advertisers to market a product using their story. Neither is it new for advertisers to target consumers and make assumptions about their current life needs. However, what Facebook introduces to the market is a focus on user specific data rather than assumed data through third party sources. Going forward for advertising companies, it means brands building campaigns about your individual story and not what they think your story might be. These changes will inspire new business decisions, new start-ups and new innovation. For Facebook to buy. And Google to copy.