How to Use Facebook: Profile, Timeline, and News Feed

What to do next after logging in

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg discussing the Facebook Timeline

Justin Sullivan / Getty Images

Using Facebook isn't as easy as it seems. Many people are too embarrassed to admit they barely know how to use Facebook. They remain puzzled after getting past the Facebook login and stare at the publisher or Facebook status box that asks, "What's on your mind?"

Most Facebook users, even newbies, know that box is where you type in status messages and upload photos to share with friends — and that the content below it is their "news feed."

But a surprising number don't know the differences between their home, profile and timeline pages, or the "news feed" and "wall" appearing on those pages. Since the power of Facebook's publishing tools rests in such nuances, it's worth taking​ the time to understand them.

Need-to-know basics include figuring out where your messages show up for others and determining who can see which parts of your Facebook activity. Facebook modifies its toolkit fairly often, but most core functions persist. And once you understand how Facebook's core features operate, you should find Facebook a livelier, friendlier place. (If you're already familiar with the core features outlined below, you might want to skip to our step-by-step Facebook Tutorial.) 

Facebook's Key Features and What They Do

The heart and soul of Facebook lie in seven core features:

  • Friends — Your list of friends, those with whom you've connected.
  • Publisher Box — The blank "status" update box for typing in text updates, sharing Web links and other media. On the desktop version, this update box says in pale gray letters, "What's on your mind?" On the mobile Facebook app, it commands, "Write something." No wonder new users get confused.
  • Homepage & News Feed — The page you see after logging in; it displays a "News Feed" of updates about what your friends are saying and doing on Facebook in the middle column.
  • Ticker — A real-time feed of actions your friends are taking on Facebook that appears in a small scrolling box in the right sidebar of your Facebook page. It was introduced in mid-2011. This ticker proved controversial and annoyed many users; Facebook provided a toggle switch allowing users to hide it, and eventually wound up de-emphasizing it in a 2013 redesign.
  • Timeline/Profile/Wall — The page you see if you click your name at the right top your Facebook homepage; it displays your personalized "Wall" of content in a reverse-chronological Timeline in the middle column. When you visit a friend's page, their profile page/timeline is what you see. Facebook changed the name and function of this feature in 2011, renaming the old "profile" page and "Wall" to "Timeline."
  • Bio — Info about you that displays on your profile page/Timeline when you (or a friend) click the "Info" tab on the left sidebar. A short summary appears by default, clicking "info" displays the full bio.
  • Privacy Settings — Used to determine who can see your status updates and personal info. Access them by clicking the down arrow to the right of the "Home" button in the top blue horizontal bar. You should make sure your privacy default is set to "Friends" and not "Public." You can also use the audience selector button beneath the status update box to set different sharing/viewing options for each piece of content you post.

News Feed Is About Friends; Timeline Is About You

The key is to understand what you are looking at when you view your homepage and your profile/Timeline pages. The homepage News Feed is all about your friends and what they're doing; your profile page's Timeline/Wall content is all about you. That's one thing that tends to trip up newbie Facebook users — not understanding the differences between what gets displayed in each area.

Your Private, Personalized News Feed on Facebook

The News Feed on your homepage is hard to miss, it appears smack in the center column. This stream of updates posted by your Facebook friends is personalized for you; no one else can see it. By default it's private and that default can't be changed. That is different from the updates and other content posted to your Timeline/Wall, which are meant for viewing by other people. You have the option to make your Timeline content viewable to just your friends, only you, the general public or a customized list of people.

News Feed Viewing Options

New users often have trouble understanding their limited, confusing options for changing or influencing what's shown in their personalized News Feed on their homepage. There are two different content streams you can view on your homepage; you simply toggle between them by clicking the "Top News" and "Most Recent" buttons.

"Most Recent" displays a majority of available content about your friends, with the most recent appearing first. "Top News" shows a limited subset, which is selected by a secret Facebook formula that attempts to judge what you're going to like most by counting "likes" and comments from other users.

Expert Tip: If you have one friend whose posts become annoying, you can snooze that person's updates so you don't see them. You still remain friends with that person, but they're annoying updates don't clutter your news feed. 

Ticker Added in 2011

As mentioned above, in the fall of 2011, Facebook created a separate display option called the Ticker, a kind of mini news feed. At that time Facebook put an expanded version of the "most recent" news feed into a narrow, right-hand sidebar ticker that scrolls down your page in real-time, showing everything your friends are doing as they are doing it.

Your Public Timeline/Wall Content on Facebook

New users often also fail to realize that while their homepage and its News Feed are private and only get shown to them, their Wall content is by default more public. Some newbies also get confused by the fact that they have two key areas on their Facebook — a homepage and Timeline/Wall — but only see one page (the Timeline/Wall) when they visit their friends on Facebook.

It helps to keep in mind that everyone's profile page and associated Timeline/Wall content is meant to be viewable by other people, at least by your friends. It's where Facebook users typically go to check each other out, and so is the one area of their own Facebook where most people spend a fair amount of time preening and wondering about how they look to others. The Timeline/Wall's management tools have changed over the years, often frustrating veteran Facebook users, but its core feature as your public face on the social network remains the same.

Editing Your Facebook Timeline/Wall Is Tricky

You can edit the privacy settings for content on your Timeline/Wall mainly by deleting items or changing who can view them. You can delete anything that's been posted there, including stuff you posted and what your friends put there, too. You can also selectively decide who can or can't view any item by using the "audience selector" button that appears beside each item. Learn more about the audience selector tool, also known as the inline Facebook menu, which allows you to make Facebook private, in this article.

Navigation: Left Sidebar Links on Home and Profile/Timeline

As stated, Home and Profile/Timeline are your two main Facebook pages. You toggle between them by using the two small links at the top right of Facebook's blue horizontal menu bar labeled with your name and "Home." Clicking your name in the blue bar(or your picture) will always take you to your Timeline/Profile page.

On both pages, the left-sidebar navigation links let you change what appears in the center column. By default, the News Feed appears on your homepage in the center, right below the "Update Status" link where you make status updates. The News Feed contains a steady stream of short summaries describing activities and messages that your friends are sharing on Facebook.

To change what appears in the center column, you can click items in the left sidebar (a group name, say, or "events") or click one of the messaging icons at the top left in the horizontal navigation bar. The middle icon is for your private Facebook messages; click it and then "see all messages" to have all your messages from friends displayed in the center column, replacing the news feed. You can also click most any item in your left sidebar to have its associated content appear in the middle column of your Facebook homepage. Remember, though, all of this homepage content is personalized to you and only viewable by you. Click "Home" to get back here anytime.

You can't see this area of your friends' homepage, of course. Each user's homepage is totally private. Whenever you click a friend's name to go check out their Facebook page, you only see one area — their timeline/profile pages, which shows their own Wall content.

Navigating Your Profile Page, Bio, and Timeline/Wall

Everyone's profile pages are in an area called the Timeline. What's there? Well, on your profile page, and your friends' profile pages, a short summary of each user's personal bio (or "Info" as Facebook calls it) is accessible there. Just click "About" beneath each user's picture to access their bio info.

On your Timeline page, and your friends' Timeline pages, a big banner image appears across the top. Beneath that is a snippet of bio about the person and a one-column "Wall" summarizing their activities on Facebook, including recent posts from and about them, as well as any photos, videos, status updates they've shared.

Click the "About" button beneath their profile picture at top left to see a user's full profile bio--or your own. Click any of the thumbnail images to the right of that to see other content you or your friends have chosen to highlight.

Unless someone has chosen to hide it, the user's friends list also will be visible near the top.

Use the floating navigation bar that contains the user's name and two drop-down menu labels, "Timeline" and "Now" to scroll back through the person's Facebook history. Beneath "Now" is a drop-down calendar with the years you can select, depending on when someone joined Facebook. Beneath "Timeline" is various other content categories you can scroll, too.

Again, the main part of the Timeline is each user's Wall, the main one-column display where stuff shows up in reverse chronological order with the most recent at the top. There is no "Wall" label on it, though.