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Facebook Timeline Brings The Past Back To The Future

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Facebook Timeline Brings The Past Back To The Future

Privacy & Security

Facebook Timeline Brings The Past Back To The Future

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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Facebook is getting a new look. The social networking site has begun to roll out a new feature - it's called Timeline. And it allows anyone to scroll through years of posts and photos in just minutes. Facebook's executives say Timeline will let people, quote, "tell the stories of their lives in graphically beautiful ways." It could also reveal some embarrassing moments from the past, and soon Facebook is going to require all 800 million members to adopt it. NPR's Steve Henn reports.

STEVE HENN, BYLINE: This week I went down to Nolan's. It's a bar in Palo Alto that's popular with Stanford students and techies. And there, Facebook's Timeline is kind of old news.

NORRELL ELANA: We both have it.

DARWIN SPRUCE BEYER: It's been great, must say.

HENN: Norrell Elana and Darwin Spruce Beyer were standing outside, both draped in the Australian flag, holding drinks and snapping pictures.

(SOUNDBITE OF PEOPLE TALKING)

HENN: They say Timeline's nothing to be afraid of, and the truth is anyone who's wanted to change their Facebook profile and set up their own Timeline has been able to do it for months.

BEYER: I'm a developer so it's went straight-on, eh?

HENN: When Mark Zuckerberg unveiled Timeline last summer, Facebook opened it up to software developers. Those developers shared the keys and soon anyone could get in. Millions did - from my kid's baby sitter to Britney Spears. And this feature, Timeline, looks kind of like what you'd expect. It's a Timeline, but instead of scrolling horizontally across the page, it scrolls down, and it makes old embarrassing posts easy to find. In the early days of social media, lots of us posted things online we wouldn't have wanted our grandmother or clients to see. But lucky for me, by the time I was allowed into Facebook, I was old enough to know better. Sam Sanders wasn't so lucky.

SAM SANDERS: I was a sophomore in college, I remember.

HENN: Sam has something like 2,000 Facebook friends. He grew up online. And once upon a time, Sam wasn't so careful about his posts.

SANDERS: There were just lots of photos of me in big group hugs holding alcohol. You know, like, lots of those.

HENN: Now, he's a producer at NPR. So, I decided it might kind of fun to turn on his Facebook Timeline together. Sam was feeling confident.

SANDERS: Because the day before I started my first job after grad school, I went on, like, a Facebook-photo-purging spree.

HENN: He was sure he had cleaned up his act since college, grown up, purged the inappropriate from his digital record.

SANDERS: And I joined in 2005. So, I went and I clicked it, oh my God. Oh, it just pulled up some ridiculously old photos of me.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

HENN: There are pictures of Sam playing air guitar.

SANDERS: Oh, God.

HENN: With a friend's leg. Shots of him drinking, a dance montage that would make any grown man blush.

SANDERS: This is so bad.

HENN: And this video of Sam playing the sax.

SANDERS: Oh, no.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SANDERS: The scariest thing that I'm seeing right now it says: Click publish now or wait until your Timeline goes live on February 2. So, like, whether or not I want this, it's going to happen.

HENN: Facebook gives everyone seven days from when you first sign on to Timeline before all those old photos and videos are republished. So, forget your work deadlines. You have more important things to do. Facebook is calling. It wants you to put in a couple of hours right now, creating beautiful new content for its site - or at least content that's not hideously embarrassing. So, I asked Sam: how many hours do you think it would take you to clean this up?

SANDERS: I can't even begin to fathom. I cannot even begin to say.

HENN: And while Sam may be spending this weekend sanitizing his Facebook page, back at Nolan's in Palo Alto, Joe Mouseheart says there is another option.

JOE MOUSEHEART: Yeah, I'm probably considering cancelling my entire account.

HENN: Really?

MOUSEHEART: Really. 'Cause at the job I'm working now, if there's some things from my past that come up, I mean, there would be completely different opinions about me.

HENN: He says sometimes it's better if the past remains in the past. Steve Henn, NPR News, Silicon Valley.

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