Facebook Places - What Is It & What Does It Mean For Existing Geo-players?

Facebook yesterday announced the launch of Facebook Places, the feature that brings location-based functionality to the world's biggest social network. This announcement has been expected for some time now, and although greeted with enthusiasm by many keen internet users, it will not have been as warmly received by those already offering geolocation networking services as Foursquare and Gowalla. At present the service is being rolled out across the USA, and although global expansion is planned for the future, no release dates have been announced.

Facebook Places has been developed to offer users three core services; i) to help them share where they are, ii) to help them find where their friends are, and iii) to help them discover new places. From their smartphones users can enter the ˜Places" interface on the Facebook application and allow Facebook to know their location. After doing this they can check in at locations that have already been added to the system, allowing others to see where they are, or find out where their friends are, if they too are using Places. Users can also add locations such as shops or places of interest onto the maps if they are not already on the system. Similarly to Foursquare users can also discover new places; however the service offered by Facebook is slightly different. On Foursquare users are given a list of nearby places whereas on Facebook Places users are presented with not only with nearby places, but also places the Facebook thinks might be relevant to you. Tagging, as offered on Facebook for photos and videos, has also been applied to Facebook Places, meaning users can tag friends who are with them at locations.

As with any geolocation networking service privacy concerns have been raised. One criticism of the service regards the ability to tag friends, and the options given to those who are tagged. Once you have been tagged by someone you are given two options; either "allow" meaning you give your permission to be tagged in Places, or "not now" meaning that you do not wish to be tagged at this point in time. By selecting allow users are can then be tagged in all future Places "check ins" by their friends, without their permission needing to be asked, whereas selected not now only applies to that instance, so users will have to select not now every time someone tags them in Places. Some have said that a "never" option should also be offered, as the current system means that people will eventually get fed up with selecting not now, and allow themselves to be tagged to stop future annoyances.

Facebook Places, as mentioned earlier, poses a serious threat to those who already offer geolocation networking services. Representatives from Foursquare and Gowalla were present at the launch of Facebook Places yesterday to announce their partnerships with Facebook. Gowalla announced that  "Gowalla stamps" will now also appear in Facebook Places, and Foursquare discussed its own gaming and reward elements without going into specifics about the partnership, saying that they looked forward to working with Facebook in the future. Both services also announced that "check ins" on their platforms can now be pushed to Facebook Places.

Mashable reporter Ben Parr observed that the Foursquare representatives did not looked pleased to be at the launch and were there "more out of necessity". It is easy to see why Foursquare may be frustrated by this recent development, Foursquare are on course to pass the 3 million user mark at the start of September, and had been picked out by many as the frontrunner in the race to become the dominant geolocation platform. Foursquare has already been used in a series of campaigns by large brands, and offers companies the opportunity to advertise to consumers through geolocation applications. However, with Facebook already having over 150 million smartphone users, and needing just 1 in 50 of them to start using Places to have greater user numbers, Foursquare are left with little choice other than becoming a bit part in Facebook's continued expansion.

Paul Shepherd

I've worked in digital communications for around 15 years, and specialised in social media for the past three. Passionate about new technologies, media, and the impact it has on businesses bottom line, I try to bring that passion to every campaign for every brand we work with.