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Can Facebook's Media Partners Cover It Objectively? UPDATED

BY Micah L. Sifry | Tuesday, September 27 2011

Pete Cashmore, the founder and CEO of Mashable, has a post up on CNN.com gushing about the wonders of the new Facebook Timeline, a major revamp of the site that users will be experiencing soon. He writes:

Facebook Timeline is the best change Facebook has ever made. Here's what'll happen once the Timeline profiles are launched: Your Facebook profile will go from having one central column to two, with boxes of text, photos, videos and even maps of your favorite locations. Rather than just displaying your most recent activities, your profile will become a scrapbook documenting your entire life, all the way back to your birth. Facebook will become a record of your existence: All your memories, your victories and your defeats, your loves, your losses and everything in between.

You'll be shocked, as I was, when this change is made. Suddenly your life is laid out before you, the highs and lows somehow pinpointed by Facebook's algorithms. You'll wonder why the status update box is so tiny now, and where all your most recent updates went....And you'll realize, as I did, that Facebook knows you better than you know yourself.

Through this process, you'll realize that Facebook Timeline is much more than a way to post the minutiae of your existence. While a typical social networking profile might highlight what you ate this morning, or what time you left for work, or where you had lunch, Facebook Timeline takes these thousands of seemingly inconsequential events, discards the irrelevant ones, finds the most emotive, the most visual, the most striking and emotionally touching moments and pulls them into sharp focus.

Much like our memories, Facebook Timeline understands that some moments have resonance that lasts through the years. It's a marvel of computer programming: An algorithm that comes eerily close to emulating human memory; perhaps the first algorithm to spark such a deep emotional response.

So yes, you will hate the new Facebook profile when it launches in the coming weeks. Then, like me, you'll realize that Facebook has unleashed something so remarkable that you didn't even recognize it at first: A meaningful social network. And like any other groundbreaking technology -- the PC, the smartphone, the iPad -- you'll wonder why life wasn't always this way, and how you got by without it.

What about the questions that people are raising about Facebook's new privacy-devouring "frictionless sharing" system? Not a word from Cashmore. There is this parenthetical note from him, though: "(full disclosure: Mashable is one of several news organizations partnering with Facebook on a social news app)." So, I guess we should discount what Mashable says about Facebook's changes then, since it has a vested interest in them being adored.

Who else is colluding partnering with Facebook on the new social news apps? None other than the Washington Post, whose chairman Donald Graham also sits on Facebook's board. Yahoo News, The Guardian, The Daily and The Independent are also listed as partners. It will be interesting to see how users react as the new Facebook features are rolled out.

UPDATE: This post on the Guardian's website offers some sharp-edged criticism of Facebook's ambitions. And I should have noted that Mashable has taken note of criticisms like the ones made by Dave Winer and even ran an oped piece ("Is Facebook Trying to Kill Privacy?") that was harshly critical of the changes --with a disclaimer stating that the post didn't necessarily represent Mashable's view. Mashable has also run a love note to Facebook from senior editor Charlie White, with the same disclaimer.

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