Timelines.com sues to block Facebook’s public Timeline rollout

Update: Mashable has since updated its post to note that while the court filings don’t mention Facebook’s decision to delay activating Timeline for its users, there is apparently a message from Facebook indicating that Timeline will go public on 6 October 2011.

History oriented Web service, Timelines.com, has applied to the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois for an order preventing Facebook from releasing its profile revamp, known as Timeline, to the general public.

The reconceptualised Facebook profile exposes users’ historical activity using a fairly clever timeline feature which allows visitors to a user’s profile page to go back in time and view photos, posts and other activities in a user’s past. The Facebook Timeline converts what is currently a fairly narrow view of a user’s life into a life history with past events generally as accessible as more current events. Its a fairly radical approach to Facebook profiles which has privacy advocates concerned, largely because posts on a user’s profile will be given a more comprehensive context based on the user’s publicly accessible life history.


Timelines.com:

Timelines com screenshot

The Facebook Timeline:

Introducing Facebook Timeline


In the proceedings instituted by Timelines.com, the history site has raised concerns that Facebook’s brand choice, “Timeline”, will effectively obscure the more established Timelines.com trade mark to the point where Web users will identify the trade mark with Facebook’s brand and not with the history site. The effect, allegedly, is that the history site will lose traffic and users due to the confusion. Going further, Timelines.com has contended that Facebook’s planned functionality mirrors its own to a degree –

… a user can record a personal or historic event that he or she wants to share with the world, ranging from a daughter’s one year birthday party or a family wedding to an obscure basketball game or a much more public event like the Inauguration of President Obama. In connection with any such posted event, any user who accesses the website can add additional or new Content for that event.

Timelines.com’s complaint goes further to suggest that Facebook is very much aware of the similarities between the brands and is taking steps to redirect traffic intended for Timelines.com through its Facebook page to the Facebook page dealing with its Timeline feature

Facebook understands that this has created confusion, because Timelines recently learned that Facebook is re-directing Internet users attempting to access Timelines’ Facebook page to Facebook’s new product offering which Facebook has confusingly named “Timeline.”Put another way, a user who tries to access Timelines’ Facebook page is, instead, redirected toFacebook’s “Timeline” offering. See http://www.facebook.com/timelines

Timelines.com alleged that its Facebook page had become inaccessible but when I tried the link, it appeared to have been restored.

This complaint (embedded below) is a combination of a trade mark infringement complaint and a sort of unlawful competition complaint which seems to be premised more on Facebook’s sheer size and its ability to manipulate traffic across its site from Timelines.com’s page to its own Timeline publicity pages. It also reads a little like a monopoly-based competition complaint in the sense that Facebook is, by far, the dominant social network on the Web with more than 800 million users. Assuming that Timelines.com’s allegations about the similarities of the its service and the new Facebook Timeline are accurate, launching the Facebook Timeline with the same name could well put Timelines.com out of business through sheer numbers. The trade mark angle is probably the bigger stick in Timelines.com’s arsenal although what would be more interesting is if this situation gave rise to an anti-trust complaint of some sort. With a user base larger than the United States if it were a country, Facebook is in a unique position to shape much of the social Web, even if that includes shuttering smaller, niche competitors along the way.

According to Mashable (my source for this post) –

The judge in Timelines.com’s patent lawsuit declined the site’s request to disable users from signing on through the developer program. He did, however, order Facebook to report daily how many new developers were enabling the Timeline.

The public launch of Timeline is now at least delayed until Tuesday, when representatives from Facebook and Timelines.com will meet again in front of another federal judge to debate whether an injunction should be issued against Facebook.

There are rumors that Facebook is planning a follow-up to its F8 announcements (where Timeline was revealed) at tomorrow’s Apple event (rumored to be when the next iPhone will be announced) as part of an initiative to bring Apple and Facebook closer together. Timelines.com’s complaint could be its last attempt to stave off its own extinction and a real spanner in the works for Facebook, particularly if it has merit.

The complaint

Timelines v Facebookhttp://www.scribd.com/embeds/66937001/content?start_page=1&view_mode=list&access_key=key-1z0bhc1tquj1o6x4gr4b(function() { var scribd = document.createElement(“script”); scribd.type = “text/javascript”; scribd.async = true; scribd.src = “http://www.scribd.com/javascripts/embed_code/inject.js”; var s = document.getElementsByTagName(“script”)[0]; s.parentNode.insertBefore(scribd, s); })();

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