Facebook has changed – will you still feel the same?

Zuckerberg’s big pitch is in, and it could make Facebook millions. AFP/Kimihiro Hoshino

The world is currently embroiled in on- and offline discussions about changes that are affecting the lives of millions.

The subject is not climate change, the global financial crisis, political upheaval or the latest natural disaster. It’s the new-look Facebook.

The modifications so far have been relatively minor, but even more radical changes have been announced today at Facebook’s developer conference, “f8” in San Francisco.

Facebook recently made changes to the layout of its live feed, removing users’ ability to sort the feed by Most Recent posts and Top News. Status updates and other items have been moved into a real-time ticker to the right of the live feed.

But the big changes – as outlined below – are yet to come.

Timeline

The soon-to-be launched “Timeline” will allow users to sort information on a timeline and to post historic information and photos about your life.

The timeline will be opt-in initially but eventually it’s expected to replace a user’s current profile page.

It’s not clear how this will interact with other’s timelines but one can imagine being able to visualise our social interactions, or changes to our social graphs over time.

Of course, this provides even more information of value to companies wanting to understand its consumers, how they interact and how those interactions have changed over time.

Facebook Gestures

The limitation of just being able to “Like” something has always been a bit of an anomaly on Facebook.

It’s hard sometimes to say you like something when what you are really just trying to do is indicate you found it interesting.

Facebook Gestures will bring us other verbs in a button form that will allow users to share what they are reading, watching, cooking, etc – basically any verb can be turned into a button – yes, even possibly a “Dislike” one.

Sharing in real-time

The new ticker will allow you to click a link and share an experience with a friend in real-time. So you’ll be able to watch a movie, listen to a song or read a news article at the same time as any of your friends.

Why change?

The changes have been introduced for a number of reasons.

First, there is the threat of competition from Google, which opened its social media offering, Google+, to the general public earlier this week after an invitation-only trial.

Facebook has rushed to counter features that were heralded as “game changers” in Google+, such as Google’s Circles.

Despite a much-hyped start, interest in Google+ has waned, but it’s clear Google will persist with Google+ because it simply has no choice in the matter.

Its search and advertising business is increasingly threatened by Facebook’s hold on the public’s online attention and, through this, access to advertisers.

This brings us to the second reason for Facebook’s changes. Put bluntly, the company needs to more effectively monetise users’ social interactions.

Of course, none of the social media companies will put things quite like that. Mark Zuckerberg has said that Facebook is helping people to “tell the story of their life”.

Will it work?

Facebook’s popularity and penetration has continued unabated despite criticisms from some of its users and surveys suggesting a degree of user dissatisfaction.

Facebook has now passed the 800 million users mark and has had 500 million users visitors to its site on one day.

In a survey, the Pew Internet & American Life Project has shown a number of social and wellbeing benefits that Facebook brings to its users.

It’s clear we have moved firmly into a new phase of interaction – both with others and the internet in general.

Companies and advertisers are scrambling to take advantage of these changes – much to Facebook’s and its (potential) shareholder’s delight.

Whatever your first impressions, the world has changed, and it won’t be going back to the old days (that is, yesterday).