Remember those karaoke videos from three years ago that somehow wound up on Facebook? They were embarrassing for the few hours they spent at the top of your Facebook profile, and then they were buried under a cascade of new updates.
But on Thursday, Facebook started rolling out a revamped profile feature called Timeline that makes a user's entire history of photos, links and other things shared on Facebook accessible with a single click. This may be the first moment that many of Facebook's 800 million members realise just how many digital bread crumbs they have been leaving on the site - and on the Web in general.
For better or worse, the new format is likely to bring back a lot of old memories. But it could also make it harder to shed past identities - something people growing up with Facebook might struggle with as they move from high school to college and from there to the working world. "There's no act too small to record on your permanent record ," said Jonathan Zittrain, a law professor at Harvard who studies how the internet affects society. "All of the mouse droppings that appear as we migrate around the Web will be saved."
The old Facebook profile page shows the most recent items users have posted, along with things like photos of them posted by others. But Timeline creates a scrapbook-like montage, assembling photos, links and updates for each month and year since they signed up for Facebook . When Mark Zuckerberg, the founder and chief executive of Facebook, introduced Timeline in September at a developer conference, he described it as a way to get a more comprehensive portrait of someone than by simply reading updates or looking at a profile picture: "We think it's an important next step to help tell the story of your life."
Facebook said in a blog post that users could either wait to receive a notification about Timeline on their pages or go to facebook .com/about/timeline to activate it immediately. Eventually , all profiles will be switched to the new look, though the company is not saying when. And there will be no switching back. Some adept users have been able to reach Timeline for weeks using a workaround meant for developers. They said that while the design might be attractive, it was unnerving to realise just how much information they had been feeding into Facebook.
"We've all been dropping status updates and photos into a void," said Ben Werdmuller, the chief technology officer at Latakoo, a video service. "We knew we were sharing this much, of course, but it's weird to realise they've been keeping this information and can serve it up for anyone to see." Werdmuller, who lives in Berkeley, California, said the experience of browsing through his social history on Facebook, complete with pictures of old flames, was emotionally evocative - not unlike unearthing an old yearbook or a shoebox filled with photographs and letters.
But while those items would probably live only on a dusty shelf in a closet, these boxes of memories are freely available online for anyone with access to your Facebook page to view. "It's unsettling to see the past presented as clearly as the present ," Mr Werdmuller said. "It's your life in context, all in one place." Several hundred Facebook users shared their initial reactions to Timeline on the company's blog post.
While many appeared to be the kind of denouncements that are generated by any tweak to Facebook's site, a large percentage welcomed the changes. "A treat for profile stalkers," wrote a Facebook user named Mudit Goyal. Another, Joshua Bamberg, said: "If Facebook didn't change stuff every couple of months, we would still be using MySpace."