Does Timeline Draw Inspiration From about.me?
Co-founder Ryan Freitas speaks about the new profile
As Facebook users begin to activate their ‘Timeline’ profiles this week, one of the striking changes they will notice is Facebook’s decision to include a massive, above the fold image in each profile called the cover. It is no secret that Facebook is interested in seeing profiles become more of a hub of one’s online presence (and less of a private social networking page), and the cover may just be the feature to make that happen.
Facebook’s inspiration for the cover seems like it must have been drawn, at least in part, from about.me- a successful AOL owned startup that enables users to create a one page profile centered around a picture (see the photo above for an example). By emulating this about.me feature, perhaps Facebook is displaying an understanding that, in order to get people to share their profile publicly, the profile must really be an advertisement. As about.me has proven, when given the freedom, people can do a really impressive job creating that ad.
About.me co-founder Ryan Freitas took a few questions about the Facebook redesign and what it means for about.me.
Facebook Timeline’s cover, coupled with some personal information below it, almost resembles an about.me page. What were you’re feelings when you first saw this?
More than anything, I think Tony and I feel validated. From the very beginning of about.me, we’ve argued that people are more than their newsfeed or their last 10 tweets - they need to a simple way of conveying identity in a crowded digital space. For us, the “big picture of you” has been our focus, making high-quality personal imagery the cornerstone of our offering from the beginning. By providing a profile cover, Facebook has chosen to give visual priority to a user’s image for the first time ever. I think they now understand and agree with the perspective we’ve been pushing since we launched: users deserve more than just an avatar to let people know who they are.
How do you think this design, combined with Facebook’s desire to make individual profiles more public, impacts About.me?
Facebook has been pushing individual profiles further and further into the public sphere for some time, and will inevitably continue to do so. Their efforts to expose profiles and activity often seem like a persistent campaign against the self-determination of their own users - after half a decade of using the system as a closed network where users felt like they understood how private or public their sharing was, they’re now blurring the lines, forcing users to re-evaluate behaviors they’ve been engaging with since they first signed up. We created about.me in response to these attempts to strip away user agency; we give our profile-owners complete control over what gets shared on their about.me page. Facebook may try to reinvent itself, and convince users that its the place to share more publicly. They may even make succeed in making it so beautiful that users feel compelled to do so. But I have a firm belief that there remains a robust audience for about.me’s provision of simple tools to project your own identity, unweighted by concerns over privacy or how much you’re sharing in the public sphere.
I know this sounds cliche, but I’m still interested to hear the answer- what keeps you up at night?
Besides my six-month old? I’d say I focus more on things that could derail us internally rather than worry what competitors large and small are doing. I work hard at keeping our team happy and inspired. I want to make sure we’re moving fast enough to avoid letting our value proposition get stale. And more than anything, I keep tight control over how we evolve the product to avoid over-complicating something that’s simple and straightforward for users of all levels of savviness. We still believe that we’ve only built about 10% of the product we think about.me could become; my priority is to keep our users happy long enough to get the chance to build the other 90%.
I asked Ryan a few more questions, you can find the full interview here.