Facebook’s timeline was built for advertisers

by Eric Marcoullier

They may have the coin, but they'll never have the kwan!

My friend Bryce Robert wrote a fantastic article yesterday about Facebook’s new timeline feature and asked the question “who is this new feature really for?” Since I came close to launching a timeline app for Facebook several years ago, I thought I would spell it out clearly.

After leaving Yahoo, I spent six months in the classic “entrepreneur hunting for the Next Big Thing” phase, constantly generating, evaluating and discarding ideas.  One of the ideas I became enamored with was a timeline app, that would be called LifeLine.  The idea was simple — you would enter key events for yourself and tag your friends, creating a personal history.

Since people don’t do a great job of creating structure out of thin air, my onboarding process was a long series of questions:

  • Have you ever bought a car? What was it and when did you buy it? Add a picture?
  • Have you ever bought a house? Where was it? Add a picture?
  • Have you ever been married…

The great thing is that people love to answer questions and create structure when guided.  Every day LifeLine would ask all one of a rotating set of questions that would cover all the important aspects of your life. Over time, I would have a treasure trove of near-real-time data about you.

Selling this data was the business model.  Did you recently buy a car?  I would let the insurance companies know and then they would contact you with insurance offers.  Did you just buy a house?  I bet the home furnishing companies would love to reach out with catalogs.  Is it skeezy hearing it put so bluntly? Absolutely. Is it the core business model of the majority of companies on the web? Absolutely.

The main reason I didn’t launch LifeLine I chose not to build this service when I bumped into Derek Dukes at a party and he told me he was launching Dipity the following day.  I thought the business model was sound; it all came down to building a highly viral service and it didn’t make sense to me to play fast follower to Derek.

This all brings to mind one of my favorite Internet aphorisms: If you’re not paying for a service, you’re the product being sold.

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Noel Chandler September 27, 2011 at 11:56 am

“If you’re not paying for a service, you’re the product being sold.” Ahhh, how quickly so many people forget. Definitely a great idea, Eric, I wonder how it would have played out in the Facebook App ecosystem. Obviously you’ve had no problem thinking of ideas, I still remember Buzzsite. :) Congrats on your success!

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Eric Marcoullier September 27, 2011 at 12:01 pm

Hey, Noel! Great to see you on the blog. How’s Mosio going?

There have been several timeline apps in the ecosystem, some of them rather good, but none of them went huge. So maybe there would have been a good opportunity for me, or maybe there wasn’t a play unless you’re Facebook itself.

And, ah, Buzzsite. Five years too early is the same thing as being wrong

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Noel Chandler September 27, 2011 at 2:22 pm

Things at Mosio are great!

Yeah, makes sense, “technical symbiosis” seems to be a little bit harder to predict these days.

Let me know the next time you’re out this way, I’ll send you a text to make sure you have my info. Please tell J. hello for me!

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