What the Facebook Timeline changes say about Facebook
Three weeks ago at the Facebook conference in New York, Facebook announced a number of significant changes to its services to brands and companies.
The change that got the most attention is the new format for fan pages many companies have set up to represent their brands on Facebook - essentially those pages can now follow the timeline format that has been available to individuals for a while.
It feels like no time at all since we were talking and blogging about Facebook introducing the availability of iframes to fan pages, which was exciting because it allowed agencies like ourselves to deliver a much more interactive experience on our clients' Facebook fan pages. And now we have yet another oppportunity to enhance the brand experience - just look at a few of the examples already up there.
So good news for brands wanting to deliver a more engaging approach to interacting with their fans on Facebook. Here's a run-down via Mashable of what's different about timeline for brands.
But while the timeline undoubtedly brings new opportunities, the introduction of timeline is perhaps more interesting in what it says about how Facebook sees its status in the hierarchy of players on the global internet scene.
Along with this announcement came the news that, at the end of March, all old-style fan pages will be automatically converted to the new timeline format, and the old format won't be available any more. Custom pages on tabs that have been created will still work, but the way in which people will see and browse to them is fundamentally different. So if you have fan pages, the only real option is a redesign.
While the blogs and social media sites had been buzzing for a few weeks about the timeline change, it seems most people didn't see this mandatory conversion to the new format coming.
So, Facebook is setting us all deadlines now. Everyone with fan pages was given a month to sort them out, or else they probably won't be as good as revamped pages by competitors.
And who is covering the cost of these revamps? It certainly isn't the Facebook benevolent fund. In our situation it's some combination of the agency and the client, and surprise budget requests aren't always well-received!
In fact, when this change came in, here at Chameleon we were just about to go live with a lovely new set of pages for a client. Now they'll need redesigning less than a month after launch to make the most of the campaign, which is frustrating to say the least.
Storm in a teacup or a big deal? I think it's a significant pointer in terms of the power play between the big platforms. Here's another change introduced on 29th Feb...
All Facebook advertisements created on or after 29th Feb have a new character limit for the text. That limit has gone from 135 characters down to 90. Overnight. In this case old ads will still run, but what about businesses that have been busy planning and writing new campaigns, or using insights from existing campaigns to create new ad groups? Sorry. 90 characters from now on please. You'll have to redo any work you've done.
Let's step back for a minute and compare Facebook's product development model with Google's. Even though Google is roughly twice as old as Facebook (in its 14th year, compared to Facebook's 8 years) it is still following a much softer product release model - products move from labs through to (usually very) extended betas. Old products, or unpopular ones, hang around for some time until users move on. The only area Google is rigid is with its search algorithm, which is its core product and IP. But even with that it is tweaked and tuned rather than fundamentally redeveloped, and while Google never discloses how it works, it will tell the world roughly the principles it is following.
Obviously I'm all for innovation and ongoing development of any online platform and the timeline changes are set to make a real, positive difference to how Facebook users interact with businesses using the platform. But the way Facebook has introduced these various changes points at a business that is bullishly confident in its stature in the digital world. It can introduce big changes and turn off stuff people have been using without worrying about it.
The digital world moves and changes fairly quickly, and dominance does ebb and flow. The recent past has numerous examples of field leaders, in many cases strong ones, that were overtaken by others. AOL, Netscape, Hotmail, MySpace - the list goes on. Facebook is clearly the dominant social platform today, but how it fosters the market it has so successfully made its own will be an important factor in whether it is dominant tomorrow.
Now, back to those fan page redesigns... It's nearly the end of March!
By Dan Martin, Director of Strategy, Chameleon