Facebook’s new Timeline service launches today after months of anticipatory buzz in social media circles, but does this online scrapbook live up to expectations?

I’ve been using a preview of the service for the past six weeks, and once again, Facebook has found a way to satisfy a social craving I didn’t know I had.

Before Facebook’s Newsfeed, which was introduced in 2006, there was no way to passively keep up-to-date with the comings and goings in the lives of your friends, and to share those details. With Timeline, Facebook is providing a platform for users to organize and share the milestones and memories of their lives before they joined the social networking site.

Facebook has announced that Timeline will replace existing user profiles, but hasn't specified when that will happen. In the meantime, Facebook users can opt for the new service or stick with the pre-existing look.

Timeline allows you to turn your Facebook profile into a virtual scrapbook. Alongside your likes, friends and list of places you’ve visited, Facebook is giving you an interactive timeline, onto which you can post the story of your life.

I have piles of old photos and videos of vacation trips lying around my house. Timeline gave me an engaging format to upload and share them with my friends.

The advantage Timeline has over online galleries like Flickr or Picassa is that it organizes your photos and videos by era. With the click of a button, I can head back to 1991 and look at photos from university. If I click on the 1980s, I see photos from high school. Click on the ’70s, and I’m instantly flooded with memories from childhood. 

Taking up your time

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An example of how Facebook organizes different eras in its new Timeline service. (Facebook)

Warning: Timeline will become a big time drain. Even if you don’t spend hours adding photos, videos and mementoes from your past, expect to spend several hours setting up Timeline properly.

Before Timeline, your previous postings slowly drifted off your profile page as they were replaced by newer material. That content never really disappeared, it just became harder to find. Timeline changes that, by digging up every posting, every photo, every link you’ve ever published since joining Facebook and organizing them by month, dating back every year since you first signed up.

You’ll find material you forgot about. You’ll find material you wish you could forget about. You’ll find material you thought was really funny in 2007, but which may not be appropriate now.

Facebook gives you the opportunity to promote major events that you are proud of, so that they take up more space on your Timeline. Likewise, you’re given the option to hide events or postings you’d rather forget about.

That’s why when you first enable Timeline, you are given five days to review what will go on your new home page.

Take the time. Go back, month by month, year by year, reviewing your life on Facebook and double-check how public you made the details.

Your old postings will retain the privacy settings you originally gave them. Any photos you shared with your friends in the past will still remain visible only to those friends.

However, Facebook does give you precise controls to retroactively change those settings. If you find a photo of an old boyfriend or girlfriend, you have the option of changing the privacy settings so that only you can see it.

Keep in mind that once you share a photo with another person, they can share it with the world. If you have any concerns about any content online "leaking out" or being made public, it’s probably best to delete it.

The great Facebook reset

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A glance at how Facebook's new Timeline service allows you to organize your various lists of friends. (Facebook)

Since you’re going to have to spend a lot of time reviewing your Facebook material, I took advantage of it to perform what I call "my great Facebook reset." 

In the years I’ve been on Facebook, I’ve connected with hundreds of people, but as I reviewed my content, I became aware that I didn’t want to share everything on my Timeline with all of them.

Facebook groups your friends into basic lists, such as close friends, family or perhaps people you work with, but it also gives you the ability to create your own lists. When you post new material, or review material from your past, you can restrict access to it to only people on those lists.

If you have hundreds of friends, and you haven’t organized them before, this can be a bit daunting. The launch of Timeline makes this all the more necessary.

Since setting up Timeline, I’ve put restrictions on photos of my family, so that only a list of close, trusted friends can view them. I’ve grouped my closest high school and university friends into separate lists, to share memories from those times together. Some postings I’ve restricted to just one or two friends.

At the same time, I’ve also made a lot of material on my timeline accessible to the public. People who subscribe to my public posts, or who just click on my profile page, can still learn a lot about me and my past career. Working at the CBC for so many years, I’ve lived a lot of my life in public, and Timeline lets me share those memories.

Take the time to create restricted friends lists, and then use those lists to erect boundaries around your Timeline material.

Review your default privacy settings: are your posts set to go public, to all your friends or just a restricted list of people?

Another crucial step you can take to protect yourself: turn off the ability of your friends to tag your name without your permission. Under privacy settings, select "edit how tags work" and turn on the ability to approve anytime someone tags a photo of you. Next time one of your friends uploads a photo of you with bad ’80s hair, you’ll be able to opt out of putting your name to it.

Bottom line: Timeline can be a lot of fun, but before you start enjoying it, take the time to set it up properly.