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In the past, Facebook wrongly made it tough to remove photos and data from the site. The company made a string of mistakes that began in 2007 with the now infamous Beacon, an ad ploy that touted users' shopping practices to their friends, and continued in 2009 with the release of confusing privacy controls. Timeline's in-line publishing controls are a subtler way of addressing that problem, but privacy isn't the real issue here. Everything on your Timeline was posted, or green-lighted, by you. Facebook is just making it newly accessible. Your privacy settings haven't changed. The burden of reassessing your content has.
Facebook is betting that we'll come around to Timeline and to the idea of sharing our digital footprints with our friends. Even the site's most loyal adherents have a track record of hating its new features, only to later declare that Facebook would be unrecognizable without them. When the news feed was introduced in 2006, users reacted to the change by circulating petitions and forming Facebook protest groups with hundreds of thousands of members. They now spend more than a quarter of their Facebook time within the feature.
Once users do come around, the advent of Timeline could mark the era in which a person's digital identity becomes ascendant. Information about everything you do--the music you listen to, the books you read, the videos you watch, the news you consume--is being collected passively, provided you make it accessible. And making information about yourself accessible is the whole point of Facebook. As a result, your online identity becomes potentially richer and more complete than your off-line one: a combination of photo albums and scrapbooks and notes and all the things that, since the arrival of digital communication, we've increasingly left behind. Pore over the aggregated backlog of relationship changes, vacation pictures and reading lists in your Timeline and you can actually learn things about yourself--things that you might not realize in the passing moments of day-to-day life. Maybe you revisited old Motown albums after Janelle Mone's "Tightrope" music video was released. Maybe updates from Airbnb, the Craigslist of couch surfers, will remind you of a trip you would have otherwise forgotten.
"The way Mark Zuckerberg runs Facebook is reminiscent of the way Steve Jobs ran Apple," Solis says. "It's 'We're not going to wait for customers to tell us what they want. We're going to introduce what we think is in their best interest, and they will learn to love it.'" Of course, this rests on Facebook's ability to persuade people to dump the bulk of their digital footprints into the network. As an incentive, Facebook has massaged deals with other online services, like Spotify, to use Facebook accounts as a prerequisite to sign up. By doing this, Facebook can make you feel locked out not just of experiences on the Internet but of your friends' lives as well. But maybe the smartest--and most frustrating--thing of all is Facebook's emerging role as an Internet passport. It's now that much harder to get a complete online experience without it.
FOR MORE TIPS ON THE TIMELINE SWITCH, GO TO time.com/timeline