The pros and cons of Facebook's controversial Timeline update
Be afraid. Be very afraid. If you don't already have a Facebook Timeline you certainly will very soon. What began as an optional upgrade has been made a mandatory feature, which means - like it or not - your entire Facebook lifetime is accessible to whomever in a single click, in full chronological order and with no grizzly details left out.
Just imagine the horror when your boss sees those photos from a stag weekend in Bangkok. Do you want to re-live the heartbreak of a doomed relationship whenever you scroll back? These are just some of the possible scenarios that are worrying the Facebook Timeline defectors. Unhappy users are searching in their droves for a way of reversing the change.
But is it really necessary? Is Facebook Timeline really that bad? And what's the worst that could actually happen? When it comes to websites we use every day, we can all be stubborn and resistant to change so let's weigh everything up and find out if Timeline's as evil as some people think.
Facebook Timeline: The Good
In many ways, Facebook Timeline is everything the "Wall" was and more. Posts have always been displayed most recent at the top, but in old Facebook's eyes your life didn't begin until you signed up and created a profile. For most of us, that wiped out everything up to 2007.
Now with Timeline installed we can post photos, achievements and defining moments from any point in our lives starting with the day we were born. Whether you choose to or not, you could potentially share your entire life story with the whole world.
And when you're not adding chapters to your own autobiography, you can skim through the highs and lows of others. Facebook has always encouraged - deliberately or otherwise - the voyeuristic "stalking" behaviour that we're all guilty of from time to time.
Timeline makes things 100% easier for the social networking detective. Wondering "whatever happened to his first wife?" Just whizz over the "highlights" of his Facebook profile and in seconds you can pinpoint the exact day his marriage fell apart. However, it's not all about doom and gloom.
You can "star" individual stories on your Timeline so they always appear when people scroll through your past, even when Facebook has condensed the period they're looking at into highlights. This lets you really shout about moments you're particularly proud of or happy about.
Another way Timeline has enhanced the Facebook experience is the addition of "covers" which lets us customise our profile with an image or banner across the top of the page. In fact, the way photos are presented on Timeline makes Facebook more visually pleasing to the eye in general.
Facebook Timeline: The Bad
In everyone's life there are ups and downs. And while it's nice to have a record of the brighter, happier times, there are also moments we'd rather just forget. Don't worry though, the new Facebook won't be exposing your pants-down embarrassments from childhood.
Timeline doesn't write your story for you; it only shows the "life events" you've chosen to put on it, but anything that's happened since you joined the social network has been logged on your profile, so any break-ups or bereavements from the past few years are all lurking somewhere.
And that's precisely the point that's bothering many users. Before Timeline, a Facebook post more than two or three weeks-old would be relegated to at least a second page and almost completely forgotten about. The update brings it all flooding back, with an archived history that can be accessed with the greatest of ease.
All your regrets, mistakes and upsets are back again for everyone to see. This is why Facebook gives you a full seven days of clean-up time prior to publishing your Timeline. It's a perfect opportunity to erase anything that could get you fired or that you just don't want everyone to see.
You can also choose a distinct privacy setting for each individual item on your Timeline, so things you're happy to share with your closest friends can still be kept hidden from your boss or mere acquaintances.
So as long as you've made the effort to prepare your Timeline before going public, there's no reason to fear what it might uncover from your past. No matter how deep they burrow, your friends can only ever see what you're allowing them to see.
Can I get rid of Facebook Timeline?
The question on lots of people's minds at the moment is how to remove Facebook Timeline. In short, the answer is no, you can't go back to "old" Facebook exactly, but there are a few tools available to help you retain certain elements if you'd rather just keep your Wall.
Browser extensions like Social Fixer allow you to view your profile as it would've appeared prior to the Timeline roll-out. However, it will not change the way other people see your Facebook, so you still essentially have Timeline, you're just basically trying to ignore that it's there.
Instead of asking "can I remove Facebook Timeline" perhaps the haters should question whether they really belong on the site at all. Let's not forget, Facebook is a free service and we're under no obligation to use it, so why should our resentment of change prevent it from evolving?
People bemoaning the arrival of Timeline should probably vote with their feet, creating a Google+ profile instead. In reality though, that just wouldn't happen, because our online social lives are nothing without Facebook. Many of us would sooner lose a limb than turn our back on the social network.
What does Facebook Timeline do for me?
Timeline is a phenomenal leap forward. Don't let anyone tell you it's just a new look; it's completely redefined what a Facebook profile is for. Instead of just seeing what I've said this week, you can actually read a lifetime's worth of stories about me and everything I've done.
Imagine heading out for a first date with someone you've added on Facebook in advance. Flick through their Timeline beforehand and you'll know all about their interests, where they've travelled and who else they've dated. Awkward silences and foot-in-mouth moments, be gone!
Sure, it has the potential to unearth things you'd been trying your hardest to forget, but in the same number of clicks it would take for someone to stumble on traumatic or embarrassing past events, you can banish them to a place where they'll never again see the light of day.
As with any such change, there are lots of us who'll ask: "If it ain't broke, why fix it?" It's a valid question, but one with a simple answer - if we're not innovating and moving with the times, then we're only standing still. After all, when was the last time you rode a horse to work instead of just jumping in a car?