Last week we looked at a bit of background to Facebook, and there’s a walkthrough for setting up your Facebook account at http://costaconnected.com/facebook101/ in case you are yet to get started.

When you are logged in at facebook.com the normal home view is of your newsfeed – that has a large central panel with various ‘stories’, items posted by your friends, and groups and pages that you follow.  Facebook has some complicated algorithms for deciding what you will find interesting to read here, and once the list of who you follow gets long you may want to tweak the settings to see what you want, but basically that’s where you see stuff from other people shared generally, with their friends or fan-base.

In the top right, you see a ticker of their other public interactions – comments on their friends’ things, and so on, depending on their privacy settings.  This particular innovation caused a flurry of misunderstood privacy warnings when it rolled out last year but appears to have little impact or relevance: Facebook for some reason trying to be Twitter, which is not how people seem to want to use it.  The lower right panel usually indicates which of your friends are around online, so you could chat with them or expect a quick reply to a comment or wall post.

As with many websites the left column is predominantly navigational – links to your friend list, messages, events, groups and pages.  But at the top of this column you will find a thumbnail of your profile picture, and that is a link too, to your personal profile page.

This is your page, and the ideal privacy setting is that it’s visible to your friends only (we will take a long hard look at tweaking your privacy settings next week, but believe me that is a whole other column in itself).  One thing that will be visible to everyone capable of putting your name into a search bar is your full-width ‘cover photo’ – this is a beautiful visual addition, but personally I wouldn’t put pictures of my kids there, or my house…

In the past few weeks Facebook has made significant changes to the layout of this page, by rolling out a new project called Timeline.  This is far more graphically interesting than the old-style profile, which looked a lot like the main feed, and Facebook clearly aims to become the central repository for your life-story… if you want it to.

Timeline, which everyone will be forced to migrate to soon according to latest news from Facebook, is like a digital scrapbook – every interaction you have shared to the site will be visible, chronologically and searchably.  Provided you are conscious about what you choose to share and with whom, I think it’s actually great fun, and you can add earlier ‘life events’ that are significant in your personal timeline, such as the date you married or emigrated. You can also backdate photos so they appear in the right place – scanners at the ready!  You can play with the layout – choosing to feature certain posts by stretching them right across the full width of the screen for example – you will find Facebook has already decided to ‘feature’ certain life events on your behalf, but if you’d prefer not to feature these posts, just click the star icon and they will shrink down to a regular size post.  There really is a great deal you can change and play with, on this wonderfully indulgent time-suck of a vanity project!

Lots of people remain very concerned about the ready accessibility of all this information, but it’s important to remember that most of it was there already on the old-style feed – it just tended to disappear off the page over time.  With timeline it’s all just there for the scrolling, and it could well become a stalker’s paradise. Just remember that everything there is visible to ALL your friends – and post accordingly.  Perhaps a good time to review who some of your Facebook friends are too?

Facebook offers new users of Timeline a one-week amnesty to tidy things up, if you want to check back on those photos from the drunken hen night two years ago you were tagged in you can always decide to hide them from your timeline, or even delete them altogether.  You can also tweak the custom privacy settings, if you have a list of friends with whom you don’t mind sharing your debauched excesses that you’d rather your granny or your new boss didn’t stumble across.  The easiest way to check through postings is via the ‘Activity Log’, accessible underneath your Timeline cover photo to see a single page listing of all your Facebook activity organised by date.

Remember, love it or hate it, Timeline is coming – if you haven’t got it yet you will be forced to change over in the next few weeks.  You might has well get in and play with it if you haven’t already.  We’ve lined up some links, further tips, and some fun examples of what you can do with Timeline here http://costaconnected.com/facebook-timeline./ to help you.

Next week is important-  Facebook and your privacy settings.  See you then!

Published in Costa Blanca News, 3rd February 2012

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