Nostalgia City – Timehop, #tbt, and “On this Day”

Damn this year went by fast! In about one month, I will be half way done with my college career (unsure about grad school yet). It seems like yesterday when I was awkwardly rolling my suitcase up the million dollar stairs to the upper campus freshman dorms. Where did all the time go?

Being at a competitive and fast paced school like BC, it seems like everyone has their eyes on the future. When’s my next interview/meeting/internship? On top of it all, it’s much too easy to get wrapped up in the balancing act between academics, extra curricular activities and a social life. Needless to say—it’s overwhelming.

For many students facing this situation, social media has become more than an outlet to procrastinate. It’s an undeniable escape from the stress of college life. But it’s also a way for students to stay in the know about upcoming events and functions. Now that platforms like FB integrate actual news into their ecosystems, social has truly evolved into the method for people to stay updated.

While all these features and updates are great, they still emphasize the future and what’s happening currently. What about looking back?

For humans there has always been a need to look back on our pasts. This is evident by remembrances like memorials, archives and even scrapbooks. There is something magical about pulling out the old photo albums and flipping through pages. It’s humbling to see where we were and how fare we have come.

And although it may be underrated, I believe social is really the next frontier for this retrospective viewership. When you think of our social media profiles, in essence, they are basically extensive and ever-evolving scrapbooks. But now these scrapbooks are public and collaborative. Friends can tag you in photos, videos and other events, offering multiple perspectives to your life story. And this data is getting extensive! While not all of it is necessarily desirable to look back on, there is serious value to it.

Many companies are now starting to realize this potential. The famous hash tag #tbt (throwback Thursday) was one of the first instances of users’ desire to reminisce on past events and moments. Around the same time, Timehop was invented. Timehop is an application that allows users to input various account information (IG, FB, and Twitter) which it sorts and categorizes. It then emails you daily posts and photos that happened on that day, but years in the past.


This concept has really blown up. Since it’s creation in 2011, Timehop now has over 12 million users, highlighting the apparent market for reviewing archived data. Interestingly enough, the popularity and download rate of the app has been known to spike each Thursday, when users screenshot their Timehop emails and hash tag #tbt to Instagram.

After witnessing Timehop’s success, Facebook has now recently rolled out it’s own in house feature called “On this day”. This feature essentially does everything that Timehop does, but it’s built straight into a user’s Facebook timeline. It even allows you to receive data across multiple platforms. The only difference here is that Timehop is voluntary and users must sign up to receive these snippets of the past, while Facebook’s feature is automatically applied.


Facebook has been testing out this feature for some time now and while it has received positive feedback, there have been some problems as well.

For instance, while it can be great to look back, there are times where it can hurt too. The platform has received backlash for digging up photos of deceased family members, emotional/meaningful posts, and even memories of ex boyfriends or girlfriends.

Timehop has also faced criticism when it comes to these types of circumstances. This past Valentines Day they labeled their notifications with a well-thought warning that the posts and photos users will see might bring back some strong emotions.


Facebook also has taken notice and is currently implementing safeguards to minimize these painful occurrences.

It’s hard to explain exactly what feeling arises when we reconnect with our past lives. In my research, I’ve learned that the word “nostalgic” has its Greek roots in two other words – homecoming and ache. In short it stands for homesickness. This definition seems to sum up the phenomenon quite nicely. The idea of home gives us the experience of happiness, while at the same time, the idea of being away from it invokes sadness.

There is a complexity to nostalgia, which I think makes it addictive. It connects us to parts of our lives long gone, and while that may be a little depressing, it’s ultimately joyful as well. It’s meaningful and it makes our computer or mobile screens feel just a little less robotic.

I believe this aspect of social is something that will be explored further as more and more of our lives get documented online. It will be interesting to see how companies leverage this powerful and emotional sensation.


  1. Interesting post! As was further evidenced by my post on the Phoenix Suns’ #TBT Night, people LOVE nostalgia and retro things. It is very much “in vogue” right now. Hence, this was definitely a timely and appropriate blog post.

    I use TimeHop, as well. In fact, it is one of three apps I view every morning when I wake up. It has spawned a couple of screenshots/texts to friends about things from the past, which is always fun because those conversations invariably to further reminiscing and feeling “connected”. Overall, the app has found a great niche audience and continues to be successful in exploiting that.

    Lastly, cherish these last two years of college…they’ll go by far too quickly!

  2. Solid post, Jack. I have never used TimeHop, but I have seen Facebook’s year-in-review and On this Day app. I remembered reading that year-in-review was slammed for drudging up painful memories. And, it appears Facebook is going to do everything they can to keep users from reliving painful times of the past, true.

    I wonder if on this day will find long-term success. If I had to hazard a guess, I bet it works out for a while, before fading out. I will be sure to check out TimeHop. Nice one.

  3. meganvtom · ·

    Your post really hit close to home with graduation approaching. I find myself more and more often looking through old pictures from freshman year. Your post provided great insight on the popularity of nostalgia, but also brought up the downsides of the phenomenon, which I hadn’t even considered. I am excited to see how these applications and features that bring up the past will evolve with more and more material to pull upon as social media ages. However, I also wonder if the possibility of pulling up painful memories will hinder the growth in popularity of this feature.

  4. I really enjoyed reading your post! I can definitely relate to the fact that college is flying by. I still cannot deal with the fact that I am going to be a senior! Although I do not use Timehop, a lot of my friends do, and I’ve always thought that it was a cool idea. The only negative aspects of Timehop or ” On This Day” that I had thought of before reading your post were the sometimes embarrassing photos that they find from one’s “awkward years.” It had not occurred to me that some of the information that they found could be related to some more painful memories. I think it would be difficult for these services to figure out how to distinguish what would make each person upset because everyone has different ways of viewing things. Maybe “On This Day” could allow you to block certain days–like the anniversary of a death or breakup– from coming up. I think looking back on the past is fun and helps you learn, so I hope the negatives that people see within these two services do not deter people too much!

  5. Nice insight, and you guys don’t really even have that big of a past to throwback to. Imagine how it will be different for you in 20 years. I’ve often thought that a great BC project would be to have a course that had students document their academic journey through SM from freshmen to seniors, being able to look back on how their thought had changed over that time.

  6. Nice post Jack! I think the connection between social media and retrospection took off even before Timehop with the onset of Facebook’s Timeline layout. On more than one occasion I’ve taken a peak back to my early posts and it’s amazing to see how much I have changed (and the way I use Facebook has transformed) over the years. I have Timehop too, but it’s usually more depressing than exciting to reminisce about my days studying abroad or memories from my senior year at BC. Those are trivial points of nostalgia for me, but I can definitely see where the app would get backlash for providing more painful reminders of people lost, breakups, etc. If only there was a way to filter out which kinds of memories could be reviewed.

  7. Interesting topic. I’m not sure that I agree that Timehop and “On this day” should work on filtering through possibly painful/overly emotional posts. I am saying this, of course, with the desire for FB’s “On this day” to be optional, like Timehop, rather than automatically applied to a user’s timeline. The reason I’m not sure I agree is because I am remembering the “information bubble” video from a couple weeks back. If one is agreeing to have their past brought up for them by an app like Timehop, they should agree to it knowing the possibility of having such posts brought up alongside happier ones. Such posts are a part of users’ pasts, if they chose to share such events, and if the purpose of Timehop is to provide users with the means of being able to look back on their online lives, that is an aspect of it. While I do not necessarily imagine positive aspects of having such things dredged up, I do worry about the effect of being presented with an “airbrushed” past — sort of like an information bubble filtering one’s own past. I would be interested to see how users’ sharing habits would change if such filters were not put in place as every post would have the possibility of being seen a few years down the road. Great Post!

%d bloggers like this: