Facebook's Timeline would be better if it were really a timeline

Facebook’s Timeline is a beautiful evolution of what online sharing has become, and has the potential to redefine the way we preserve and interact with our memories, but only if Facebook gets serious about integrating their most popular existing feature into the Timeline.

Whether we share with friends, family, or publish our posts to the public, most of us generate a digital history of what we’re reading, doing, and thinking about on a daily basis. New relationships, new jobs, bad days, spontaneous trips, epic parties, major news stories, and all the mundane and magnificent events that make up beauty and magic of everyday life flow through Facebook and are quietly documented for posterity. The timeline metaphor brilliantly illustrates the twists and turns, the starts and stops of lives lived online, and taps into nostalgia, regret, triumph, and hope. 

The flood of rediscovered and reposted content from years past that has flooded my news feed as the Timeline was switched on to the bulk of my social graph over the past week has been a testament to just how much potential the Timeline has as another powerful flavor of social opiate to keep users riding the blue dragon, in large part because the transition was seamless, and immediately makes so much sense. Timeline apps like music, social news readers, and run trackers add some spice the experience, but the real meat, and the core of what has triggered the response that I’ve been seeing thus far is the feature that has been Facebook’s most popular feature since it rolled out: photos. The unexpected delight of going through your own timeline and finding all of your trips, friendships, and relationships elegantly summarized through photos is like finding the journal you forgot to keep five years ago, and the new timeline interface makes the experience easy, intuitive, and enjoyable. There has never been such a frictionless [*cringe* I know, but it's true] way to look back on what you were doing who you were spending your time with, who you were in the past.

There’s just one problem: just about all of the dates are wrong. Except in the rare (in past years) cases when someone posted a mobile upload or was extremely diligent about posting photos right away, most of the dates are off by a few days to a week or more, because they reflect the date when the photos were posted as opposed to the date when the photos were taken. This is problematic because the navigation of the timeline revolves around dates, specifically months, so when the pictures from Halloween go up in November rather than October, they’re a bit hard to find. It’s also just kind of a bummer to browse through a Timeline that’s not really a timeline, and find photos from the same event scattered across several days or weeks rather than grouped nicely into one event.

This issue makes me wonder how focused Facebook is on integrating Photos into the experience of this new product (as opposed to say, integrating apps, apps, and more apps). Unless there are a lot of Facebook users uploading scanned copies of printed photos, Facebook should be able to grab the metadata from uploaded photos and automatically tag the appropriate date (and in some cases, even location) of the photo. Unfortunately, photos we’ve put into the system so far have been stripped of their lovely, delicious metadata, but hopefully Facebook gets their act together quickly and starts using the data that’s already available to deliver on the promise of their newest product.