Why Facebook Timeline Benefits Organizations With a Past

[ Updated 29 March 2012 to add the University of Cambridge's timeline going back to 1209 and the founding date of 1041 for Green Knowe at The Manor ]

When Facebook Timeline was first rolled out I thought it was a clever way for Facebook to leverage their competitive advantage. As I wrote in What Businesses Can Learn from Facebook Timeline, other people could launch a better social network, but Facebook was sitting on years of accumulated data. Creating Timeline allowed them to use this data and even convince people to voluntarily add more. I expected that this feature would be very popular among organizations that have a long history because they would have a chance to showcase their past.

One of the early adopters, the New York Times, has set a very high standard to beat with their richly populated Timeline page that goes all the way back to the founding of the newspaper, marked with a copy of the first issue in 1851.  The Swiss newspaper Neue Zürcher Zeitung goes even further back with a first issue published in January 1780 but this is less well known because it is in German.

There are also some tourism/leisure businesses that have recognized the value of Facebook Timeline. Green Knowe at The Manor, has a Timeline page that goes back to the founding of the estate in 1041, though the house itself is from 1130. Others have adopted the Timeline format but without adding the historical data, so the Facebook Timelime for Buckingham Palace -- built in 1705 -- starts on 28 December 2011 when the account was created.  Most other ancient organizations seem to have either ignored Timeline or don't even have a Facebook page. The University of Cambridge sets a very good example with a timeline founding date in December 1209, but many other universities with a similar or longer history have not yet started. The Alma Mater Studiorum or Università di Bologna in Italy, for example, was founded in 1088 yet all I can find is a Facebook interest page copied from Wikipedia.

I also expected a race to own the bragging rights to the oldest date on a timeline, but so far there have not been many claimants and few people answered an appeal for more on Quora, What is the earliest date on a Facebook Timeline?

Why are there so few historical timelines?  Perhaps some organizations are still working on their Timeline pages. The New York Times and Neue Zürcher Zeitung have the advantage of having a large staff of writers and editors to work on their historical content, so they could bring their content-rich pages to market very quickly. I can understand that to most leisure/tourism operators this is not a high priority and they do not normally have the knowhow in house, so they have to pay an  agency or freelancer to do the work. Even more difficult is the situation for ancient universities, where perhaps the organizational culture is rooted in the middle ages and social media are not even a low priority.

But I still think that this is a wasted opportunity. New tourist attractions, new universities and new newspapers can all challenge older competitors but they can never make a Timeline page that goes back hundreds of years, highlighting their history and providing a convenient way to present images of old documents and artifacts. Building the historical timeline is not very expensive compared to other communication projects and is also a one-time cost, unlike traditional websites that need to be updated continually. The first to grasp the importance of this new opportunity have an advantage over slower competitors and can use this opportunity to reinforce their historical reputation.

I am still curious to learn which is the oldest date on Facebook Timeline. If you know of any more good examples please post them in the comments or contact me through the details below.


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