Our lives are not defined reverse chronologically, yet until now, that’s strictly how our social network profiles portrayed us — as a snapshot of our latest activity. Today, Twitter gave us all a redesigned web profile with the option to pin a tweet to the top of our profiles “so it’s easy for your followers to see what you’re all about.” It’s a step towards a more holistic vision of identity online.
When you meet someone, you often ask them “how are you?” and the answer usually tells you almost nothing about them. They say they’re fine or describe the day’s wins or losses, but those tiny data points don’t represent their personality. Yet despite the dysfunction of this behavior, Facebook, Twitter, and Google all designed their profiles to mimic it when someone comes to check us out.
Sure, you can dive into someone’s albums or interests, but above the fold we mostly just get the answers to “What do you do?” and “What’s up?” A short bio, and a few of their most recent posts. Most people never make it further than this. If you do peer into their photos, what they Like, or who they follow, you’re again stuck browsing reverse chronologically with little to signify what’s most important to the person you’re learning about.
It’s like our profiles have the memories of goldfish.
Rather than a brief encounter on the street, our social profiles might do better mirroring the way we decorate our homes and show them off to people we invite in. You don’t have the three latest photos you’ve taken sitting on you mantle. You have your favorites, the ones that show the things and people you care about most. You might have a large collection of books or records, but you feature a few favorites facing forward on the shelf, or on the coffee table, or by the stereo.
Curation allows us to distill a lifetime of experience into a representative sample of ourselves. And conveying our identity accurately is critical to connecting to like-minds on the Internet. There are a billion people to circle, friend, or follow, so social networks need to make it easier to choose who we let into our feeds.
Twitter moved in the right direction today with the new web profile. By pinning a tweet to the top of your profile, you can say that this quip, photo, or link shows who you really are instead of just what you posted today. It lets you say “this is something you can judge me by. Take it or leave it.”
Twitter will also now intelligently increase the size of your Best Tweets: “Tweets that have received more engagement will appear slightly larger, so your best content is easy to find.” It effectively crowdsources curation of your profile.
Together, these should make it much quicker to figure out if you should follow someone…or unfollow them. It can be tough ditching people from your feed based on just their latest tweets. Now if I see someone has an inane tweet pinned, I can unfollow with confidence.
Facebook’s Timeline offers plenty of curation and privacy options, but they mostly influence your archive of old posts that few people will really dig through. Facebook has offered the ability for Pages to pin a post for two years but hasn’t equipped users with it. You can choose what “sections” of content like Friends, Likes, Music, Games, Books, Events, or Notes you want to feature on the left rail of your profile. But most of these appear below the fold and the section management system is hidden and seems widely ignored.
Timeline has also taken several steps backwards on curation since it launched. It removed the ability to increase the size of specific photos in your albums, and no longer lets you feature favorite musicians or books atop those tabs. Oh, and Google+ doesn’t seem to have any curation options beyond a cover image.
Where does this go next? A whole best tweets tab on Twitter, or best updates or photos tabs in Facebook based on engagment could make it even simpler to get a feeling for someone. Or the option to curate a canvas with whatever I want. I’d personally enjoy the option to create a Pinteresque board inside my other social networks that shows off a comprehensive look at who I think I am.
It’s understandable why these networks initially designed their profiles to be reverse chronological. That worked when we hadn’t shared much in to date. But Twitter is almost 8 years old and Facebook just turned 10. The ways we introduce ourselves online shouldn’t have amnesia.