Every time Facebook changes its design, there is a collective outcry from the addicted masses bemoaning the site’s new look. Facebook Timeline — the new profile design that’s rolling out this week — will be no exception. But Timeline is different from previous updates, and users should have fewer reasons to pout: Timeline lets them be a designer.
The biggest change in Timeline profiles is the giant photo that goes at the top of your profile, separate from your profile picture. It’s called a cover, and it’s the most creativity that Facebook has ever permitted in its mostly rigid design.
“I think the cover photo is allowing an improvement of personalization without MySpacing all over everything,” Chuck Longanecker, a user experience expert told Venture Beat. “We are a visual group of people, reading someone’s bio and likes/dislikes online does not do us justice… It’s only natural for Facebook to want to visualize this data and enable their users to connect on a level with greater experience-based dimension.”
Beyond the cover photo, Timeline helps you sort through the events of your life online — and offline, too — to create a sort of curated Web scrapbook. You can highlight your college graduation, new job or marriage, and you can also hide the photos of that keg party that you’d rather your friends not see. You can even add photos and events from before Facebook existed.
But back to design. With your profile picture and your cover picture, you’ll now have two decisions about the best way you present yourself to the online world. Here are some tips for compiling your Timeline.
1. Pick a photo that represents your personality. Your cover is the first impression of you a user will get when he or she goes to your page. As you sort through your photos, think about which snapshots best represent you, whether it’s an image of your family or something totally abstract. Humor is always welcome, and for advanced Timeline users, there are ways to make jokes about the actual design of the page. Check out how these clever designers have transformed their pages.
2. Your profile photo should be of you; your cover photo can be anything. Too often, people change their Facebook photo to a photo of someone or something other than themselves — their child, their dog, a beautiful vacation photo. Those photos can now go in the cover, instead, freeing people to return their profile photo to a self-portrait once again. Writes Jill Duffy in PC Mag: “ I have no problem with creative profile pictures, but there actually is a breakdown in the mechanics of Facebook when you can't identify your friends by sight; several of Facebook's authentication procedures require you to identify your friends. I've failed them on several occasions by staring blankly at pictures of infants, groups of people on a stage, and cartoon images of dogs.”
3. Edit your photos. The cover is a huge space, so a high-res photo will look best. Be prepared to crop and manipulate your image to make it look great. You can drag your image around the viewer space, but you can’t crop or resize from within Facebook.
4. Some Web sites will help you design your own cover and share it. Sites such as MyFBCovers and SiteCanvas will give you the tools to design a creative cover with your own images. For those who can’t choose just one image, SiteCanvas will help you make a collage.
*Update: Jagjeet Singh, founder of Facebook Profile Covers, writes in to disagree: “Our users loves our site because we have the best collection of custom covers. We are also coming with tools to design creative covers.” So, maybe some of you might like that look.