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The likelihood of Facebook’s new Timeline feature going live before the end of the year are looking increasingly slim.
The next phase in Facebook’s court quarrel with a Chicago website, Timelines.com, over who has the rights to the word “timeline” has been pushed into the new year. Even independent of that development, though, reports suggest that Facebook is taking a go-slow approach with the release of Timeline to fine tune the personal scrapbook feature.
In a court filing this week, a federal judge agreed to let the parties move a hearing scheduled for early December to January 24th. Timelines.com first sued in September, saying its own scrapbook site would be “rolled over” if Facebook released its timeline feature which works by resurrecting everything a user has ever done on Facebook and presenting it as a chronological account of their life.
Doug Albritton, a lawyer for Timelines.com, said the extra time is needed to agree on a schedule for discovery, the legal process in which parties share information with each other. This could either mean that Facebook and Timelines are digging in for a trial or simply that they are using the delay to work out a settlement behind the scenes.
Albritton also confirmed that an earlier court order had expired which had obliged Facebook to reveal on a daily basis how many people were signing up for a pilot version of Timeline. Timelines.com presumably retains the right to seek a temporary restraining order to stop the social network from releasing the feature to the general public. Albritton said its legal strategy was a “privileged area.” Facebook said it had no comment.
The new legal filing comes during a week when Timeline has attracted a fresh spike of media attention, including a rapturous New York Times account. The feature was initially expected to appear in September, leaving journalists to speculate about why Facebook is holding back. Most reports are suggesting the company is engaging in a slow roll-out strategy, using the pilot version as a means to fine tune the product before it imposes it on the 800 million people who reportedly use Facebook. Millions have so far signed up for the trial version by following developer instructions described on sites like Mashable.
The company may also be treading carefully because Timeline will likely require changes to users’ privacy settings. Facebook privacy has been a hot issue in Washington this month with Senator Jay Rockefeller (D-W.V.) announcing an investigation into the company’s online tracking habits and the Federal Trade Commission reportedly set to impose 20 years of privacy audits.