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Barack Obama's Facebook Timeline and How Your Friends Can Change How It Looks

BY Nick Judd | Thursday, March 1 2012

The header for Barack Obama's Facebook page, using the social network's new Timeline feature.

With Facebook Timeline, how you view a candidate on Facebook is literally colored by how your friends view him already.

Just one day after Facebook announced that its new look for profile pages, called Timeline, would be available for brand pages, Barack Obama's campaign page has switched over to the new format.

The new format allows for a page owner to selectively place events, photos and images on a vertically scrolling, two-column chronology, with the newest happenings placed at the top. It's a chance to tell the story of a brand in an interactive, highly visual way — but the social aspect of the experience also inserts the perspective of a viewers' friends.

In this case, Obama's switch to Timeline means I don't just see what the candidate's staff want me to know about him. I see what my friends think, too, whether Obama would want me to or not. For example, these posts, calling attention to an ACLU suit against the president on secrecy grounds and a video with a critical look at his first years in office, appear for me when I look at the president's campaign timeline:

Which isn't to say the campaign isn't making use of this new toy to present Obama's story in the manner of their choosing. As Buzzfeed's Ben Smith notes, the first post — noting Obama's birth — is also a clever ad for a mug the campaign is selling. The mug features a photo of Obama's birth certificate, famously regarded with Sasquatch-like levels of incredulity by an ever-dwindling subset of Americans.

"Friend activity" can't be removed from a page, but when a visitor mouses over a post from a friend on a brand's timeline, an "audience" icon and explainer text point out that it comes from the Facebook user's friends, not from the brand itself.

This appears to add a new level of unpredictability for brands and candidates alike. Previously the maintainer of a Facebook page had unruly commenters to worry about, but could delete comments and control the ability of visitors to post for themselves. Now, it looks as though each brand will appear for a Facebook user in the context that user's friends place it in. For Obama, this seems to mean that every time I visit his page, it will include a selection of my friends' posts about him, too, whether they be supportive, critical or neutral. Page owners can still control comments and turn off the ability for others to post to their timeline.

On the early-mover front, points here go to former House Speaker Newt Gingrich — he had previously switched his personal Facebook profile over to Timeline. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, Washington gubernatorial candidate Rob McKenna, Sen. Mike Johanns (R-Neb.), Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.), and Sen. Mark Udall (D-Colo.) have all made the switch on their pages as well.

Facebook is notifying page owners that all pages will automatically switch over to the new format at the end of March, but the new feature is available to everyone.

This post has been updated.