It’s official: Facebook is forcing us all to switch our profiles to the new “Timeline” format, whether we want it or not. I can assure you that, empirically, it sucks.
Back when I was studying journalism, rather than making fun of journalists, they taught us that a newspaper or magazine layout should follow a Z pattern. A reader’s eyes quite naturally start at the top left corner, scan right, zip down and to the left, then right again — so your layout should work with human nature to make the sale.
They taught us to put the newest and most important information — the item that would get readers to spend a quarter — on the top left corner. (A quarter? Yeah, I was learning this a long time ago. But it’s a timeless lesson.) If the big item was big enough, give it the whole top line of the Z. The second biggest story follows on the next part of the Z, followed by the third, and then the fourth — if there’s room for four. Three, they told us, was more or less ideal. Too much information, and the reader loses focus before he ponies up the 25¢.
Here’s the layout for Timeline.
What dominates the top third of the screen? Static information. Your name, your banner (I don’t have a banner yet, so just a headshot), and some personal data like job and where you went to school. You know, stuff that doesn’t change very much, or at all. In other words, the first thing a visitor to your profile sees is a bunch of crap they already know. And lots of people are putting up big, busy banners which dominate your eyeballs. Timeline isn’t as bad as MySpace, but only because Facebook doesn’t let you use a zillion different fonts or animated GIFs. But let’s keep that quiet, before Zuckerberg gets any more bright ideas.
The next place your eyeballs travel is to the status update box. That’s fine for you, lousy for visitors. After that, something called “Activity.” Well, I know who I just friended, and you’re probably not all that interested. So… why the prominence?
Finally, in fourth place, we reach my most recent status update. If you’re visiting my Timeline to see, oh I dunno, my freakin’ Timeline, you’ve had to zip all over the page to find it. And I hope you don’t want to see more than one item, because you’re not going to be able to do so without scrolling the page.
And when you do scroll, the Timeline isn’t a line at all. It’s boxes of info to the either side of a line you practically need to squint to see. At a casual glance — and we’re talking Facebook here, not Britannica — it’s just a mess of boxes. You have to look, really look, to figure out the chronology.
Oh, except the second box isn’t a status update after all. It’s a box of eight of my friends, chosen seemingly at random.
All this is an improvement how?
You might complain that it’s not like Facebook’s old profile pages were set up like the famous newspaper Z. True enough. But they were set up like a sensible web page, in three columns. The lefthand column was skinny, and filled with static data. The righthand column was skinny, too, and featured your waiting requests and a tasteful vertical banner ad. The big fat center column, the thing your visitors’ eyeballs were sucked right into, was all of your updates, arranged in one nice vertical stack. You scrolled down to get to the oldest stuff, always easily aware of the chronology.
I’m sure Facebook spent a lot of time and money developing the Timeline. They don’t seem to have spent any time with any actual users.
UPDATE: I’ve just discovered, quite accidentally, another reason Timeline sucks. If you post a picture cropped in a landscape orientation, Facebook will thoughtfully re-crop it to a portrait orientation. Half of your photos have never looked worse!