Forget Coffee Spoons: I Can Now Measure Out My Life With Facebook Updates | Beth's Blog

Forget Coffee Spoons: I Can Now Measure Out My Life With Facebook Updates

Networked Nonprofit

One of my favorite lines of poetry comes from TS Eliot’s The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock:   “I have measured out my life with coffee spoons.” It comes in a spot in the poem where he talking about the passage of time and mundane events.   I can’t resist quoting, bear with me:

In the room the women come and go
Talking of Michelangelo.

And indeed there will be time
To wonder, “Do I dare?” and, “Do I dare?”
Time to turn back and descend the stair,
With a bald spot in the middle of my hair—
(They will say: “How his hair is growing thin!”)
My morning coat, my collar mounting firmly to the chin,
My necktie rich and modest, but asserted by a simple pin—
(They will say: “But how his arms and legs are thin!”)

Do I dare
Disturb the universe?
In a minute there is time
For decisions and revisions which a minute will reverse.
For I have known them all already, known them all:
Have known the evenings, mornings, afternoons,
I have measured out my life with coffee spoons;

New Feature: The Timeline

Today was the big announcement at the F8 Conference about the new dramatic, life altering changes in the Facebook Platform.    Facebook profiles are becoming fuller “timelines” of a one’s life.  So, now, instead of measuring out your life in coffee spoons, you can post status updates with multimedia content in a tumbler like interface.   (And your friends can post comments directly on the wall saying “But how your hair has grown thin” or the updated version of T.S. Eliot poetry.)


It is a major re-imaginging of user profiles that allows users to build a digital life book of everything they’ve done on Facebook.    The timeline  algorithmically organizes everything a user shares on Facebook — from photos to changes in relationship status to check ins — and also allows users to fill out a “Way Back” section to add details that are omitted or if they had a life before Facebook to add that information.

Here’s an example of what it will look like and how it will work and my own profile.  (And if you don’t want to wait until the feature is rolled out, here’s how to do it.)

Causes posted this description of the potential impact on nonprofits:

Causes will be fully integrated into Timeline with “reports.” These reports will add up all of a person’s related actions on Causes into a larger story of how they are helping your organization. This means that your supporters can publicly support nonprofits on their profile and share their favorite nonprofit videos, projects, and other content with their friends. This means that when your supporters use Causes to take action — joining your causes, recruiting their friends, viewing and sharing videos you post, donating to and fundraising for your projects — their achievements will be permanently displayed on their Facebook profile for all of their friends to see. The average Facebook user has 150 friends, any of whom could be your next top supporter!

New Feature: More than Liking

The other change was that your friends and fans can do more than “Like” or “Comment”  on Facebook.   There are three new actions — Read, Watch, Listen — that will help people better understand what their friends are doing online.     It’s the called the “Open Graph” and it changes the whole meaning of listening to music together or family T.V.     Causes has  re-launched their video player on Causes to ensure that nonprofits can leverage  “Watch” action for a cause.   (Causes is talking about creating create new types of actions on Facebook, such as Give and Pledge, which will allow them to prominently feature higher-value actions amidst the sea of less-impactful actions posted to Facebook everyday.)

Hmm .. what does that do to the ladder of engagement?  Does it make more of a journey?  Or will people be so flooded with everyone digital artifacts and actions from viewing each other timelines that they’ll not remember your organization?    Will information overload prevent any tugging at the heart strings?   I’ll get to that in a minute ….

The Potential for Oversharing:   A Concern To Those Who Care About Privacy

My reaction was to either run screaming or say, wow this is cool.     As we’ve seen, it takes time for mere mortals like our audiences to internalize these new ways of living or life streaming.  Some will adopt more quickly than others depending on perhaps generational context, how set they are in their routines, and comfort level with openness and serendipity.

The best insight comes from colleague and friend, Francine Hardaway who write this for Fast Company

Ordinary people and small businesses using Facebook are going to come to grips with two new terms.   The first is “self-expression,” which means your friends will know a lot more about what you read, what music you listen to, and even what you cook. The second is “serendipity,” which means if you see a friend of yours has watched a movie on Netflix, you can click on that app in your timeline and begin watching it immediately from within the app. This could lead to a great deal of inadvertent oversharing.  Facebook’s new idea is to make its platform a 21st century form of scrapbooking, and to help you “scrapbook” your entire life “frictionlessly.” But you might want a little friction as you try to interact with all these changes.”

In some nonprofits – where they have encouraged more volunteers, staff, and others to represent the organization on Facebook – the barrier to doing that was, of course, not being comfortable with sharing that happened on the “old Facebook.”    This will require some training and coaching on how to avoid oversharing on the new Facebook in using the timeline as well as how the apps work:

Be careful what apps you authorize, because by default, much of what you do on Facebook with apps, or even outside Facebook with Netflix and Spotify, and Facebook’s other integrated partners, will be shared automatically. Once you add an app to your timeline, you don’t have to give it permission to add stuff to your feed: “Adding an app to your timeline is like wiring a real-time connection between your app and Facebook…There is no step two,” says Facebook CTO Brett Taylor.


The good news is that Facebook’s new design is based on better data visualization. The bad news is that all that data is probably better for Facebook’s advertisers than for you. Remember that as long as you do not pay for Facebook, you are the product, not the customer.

Interestingly, Francine’s advice is not any different than in the past and what I’ve used when doing a training for those who are concerned about privacy, but not technologically savvy.

1.)  Be careful who you friend.

2.) Carefully explore your privacy settings and make sure you understand

3.) Think twice about adding apps.

Changed Environment:  Facebook Becomes The Internet

As Francine says below,  with this new design changes, Facebook will become the Internet experience for many users – even if it is a walled garden.  Francine talks about the implications on your marketing strategy in an environment of information overload and more noise:

You will be encouraged by the new interface to make Facebook your permanent home on the internet, which means the “walled garden” is pulling more partners in, rather than helping you get out to the wider world.   So if you are a business, and you have a Facebook presence, you are going to need a much broader Facebook marketing strategy in order to find your new customers solely within the Facebook platform.   Well, the good news is that 800,000,000 from all over the world are now on Facebook.   The bad news is that creates a lot of noise, and doesn’t necessarily help you reach the “right” people, especially since Facebook search is notoriously inferior.

I was curious what nonprofit colleagues were thinking.    Wendy Harman was curious about what the implications were for branded pages and John Haydon posted the above screencast.  He also noted that people can participate on your FB page without having to “like” it.   This points to what Francine discussed about – having a broader strategy beyond Facebook to connect with potential and current audiences.    It means having compelling and engaging content, sharing your story, understanding what motivates and inspires your audience, and having Facebook be a part of a multi-channel effort.    Also, it means having good content curation skills and being able to engage with your audience – not just passively fling content at them.

What do you think?


15 Responses

  1. John Haydon says:

    Beth – I love what Francine says: “all that data is probably better for Facebook’s advertisers than for you. Remember that as long as you do not pay for Facebook, you are the product, not the customer” Very wise words indeed…

  2. Michelle says:

    Thanks for making some sense out of all the Facebook noise going on right now.

    This doesn’t seem to affect nonprofit pages too much at this time, but I will be looking at how people being able to comment without “liking” the page will affect numbers and ongoing engagement.

  3. Gloria Huang says:

    Great post! My gut reaction to the new apps integration was mostly positive (with my social engagement hat on) because it seems like an opportunity to use our org’s Facebook presence to inspire actual action, rather than just “liking” posts. The idea seems to be that people will see a real time message about their friends actively listening to a song, or cooking a recipe – which then inspires them to take an action as well.

    Of course, with the action-oriented statuses being doled out via an app, this puts even more pressure on us to figure out how to bridge the gap between digital and real life. For example, if someone cares enough to add an app from the Red Cross that publishes an update whenever they give blood, it’s that much more important for us to thank and reward that donor once they actually show up at the blood center.

    Thanks again for the thoughts! Gave me some things to think about.

  4. I turned on my timeline (there are instructions floating around) and I have to say, it’s simultaneously wonderful and terrifying. Wonderful because I can go back and find things that I had thought were totally long-gone; terrifying for the same reason, because I’m sure that at least one thing that I have typed in over the course of my lifetime was ill-advised or unflattering or mean or otherwise uncharitable.

    The distinct temptation is to retrospectively edit some of it.

  5. Keri says:


    I watched the f8 Conference over livestream. Quite a lot is happening in this update, and the mainstream public will have a hard time keeping up.

    You’ve done an amazing job of putting important nuggets of information together, and you serve the non-profit audience well here!!

    Thanks for your detailed effort and insightful observations!

    Much appreciated,


  6. Beth Kanter says:

    Ed, I created a timeline too – had the same thought. Francine’s advice is important.

    And, now you will be able to drink wine with your friends ..

  7. Norman Reiss says:

    The timeline feature is interesting, but do we really WANT to have a lifetime history on the web? Even though we can control access (hopefully), I wonder whether this is a solution provided for a problem that we don’t have.

    Some of the ‘advantages’ of being able to share what we eat seemed a bit ridiculous as I watched the F8 livestream yesterday.

  8. I am not at all attracted to this feature. I appreciate your description of how it could be useful for nonprofits but I just find it overwhelming, oversharing, and over-the-top. I believe that if I were to create a timeline for my personal page, I would be upset with myself and possibly scared away from Facebook!

  9. scribadiva says:

    I will read the material on the new Facebook, but I had to tell you about the poem. I’ memorized it years ago, and have been refreshing my memory when I can. I think it’s one of the most influential poems of the 20th century, as well as one of my favorites. I think I have the first stanza quoted on my blog. I’ve found a few movies that used part of the poem for movie titles: Eat the Peach, I’ve Heard the Mermaids singing, and a few others.
    I will finish the rest of your post. I am very concerned about my privacy on Facebook, and navigating it is crucial for some of my work. Thank you for the tips! Sweet tides,

  10. There is a lot of resentment out there against Facebook, but people have invested so much time into building a friends list that they would think twice before switching to another service. The beauty of Facebook in the beginning was its simplicity and the relative lack of intrusiveness. As Facebook becomes more complex and intrusive,as more people realize that they are the “product,” then perhaps the cost in effort or even money to switch to a new service will not be regarded as so prohibitive. What do you think?

  11. Here we go again! “FB as the Internet” reminds me so much of the AOL model (& other early providers). So many AOL users did not even know that they were in a closed space and not really in the “open” Internet. When you’d try to talk to them about other choices, they didn’t know what you were talking about.

    It’s funny how things just go around in circles. Not so different from computers themselves – first everything was built on the motherboard, then everything was separate add-on cards, and now we’re back to everything on the motherboard again.

    The longer we’re in this business, the more we see that everything “new” is not really new.

    Thanks for the info Beth; helps sort out the noise.

  12. Lot of information in this post.
    Key point – be careful what you share. Not because you should be afraid of stalkers, but those off topic posts about nude news can harm the image.

    Flipside, it’s a lot easier for my actions as a fan of the Red Cross to be seen and visible for a longer time.

    One thing I’ve done though, as an individual, is to remove those frivolous things as I find them. That funky brand I ‘liked’ to get them boosted, they’re going away. Paring down is going to happen. Those that give the best will still be around.

    Example: Red Cross could use their space to share more ‘on the ground’ stories. My father and his wife are live and working up in the greater NY area – right now. Been there for weeks now, living in the same situation the locals are in; having an adventure though, and loving it.

    As a follower of some great groups, I’d like to see them engage me a lot more. Get me beyond ‘liking’ their page.

  13. Cheryl says:

    I found it to be wonderfully ironic that Facebook doesn’t seem to know when I joined. I was in college and my school (BU) was one of the early ones on the platform so I know it was spring 2004. Facebook however doesn’t seem to know that. Ironic that as much information as is recorded about us there, it doesn’t seem to be able to tell me that.

  14. […] the ever-insightful Beth Kanter points out, the Timeline could give nonprofits opportunity to tell a ‘story’ through […]

  15. […] the ever-insightful Beth Kanter points out, the Timeline could give nonprofits opportunity to tell a ‘story’ through […]