Thursday, 19 August 2010

Facebook *finally* joins in the location based services arena

Facebook have finally launched their own "check-in" facility.

iPhone/Facebook users in the US woke up this morning to find that they could shout out to all their friends about the fact they were picking up a skinny-extra-hot-decaf-vanilla-latte at their neighbourhood coffeeshop on the way to work. *Yawn*. Or, see who else was there too [official Facebook video], (forgive my English sense of humour but who are these sad people??).  Try looking back at the queue! Or call/text/BBM/IM/Email and arrange to meet them first. Crazy!

Whilst there's been lots of speculation over the last few days that this will be the death of the two leading existing social network / Location Based Service offerings, Foursquare and Gowalla, Facebook instead announced partnerships with them both (albeit the details still seem a little hazy, especially as you can already shout out about your Foursquare check-ins on your Facebook newsfeed if you are so inclined).

What gives Facebook Places power is largely down to sheer potential scale - 500m+ Facebook members globally. It's also an API so we'll see people experimenting with different uses for it. As a business you can add your pub/restaurant/shop etc to it (and a page), making it easy for people to find it and  "check in" there & therefore generate some organic promotion via the"Fiona checked-in at Reynolds"type messages that will appear in newsfeeds:

It also makes Facebook even more of a global "yellow pages" (gone large, with the added benefit of the tips / accolades / endorsements of people you know who've already been) which will further add weight to the debates about social search, and the potential of a Facebook v Google face off in the fight for advertiser dollars.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said that the point of Places wasn't about shouting about where you are, it was about finding and sharing places, but I'm only partially convinced. For me, I think Places check-in's and broadcasts are likely to be used for "status" (i.e boasting), "badging" (look at the type of places I hang out), ultimately both of which are really just another piece of easy-win, no effort conversation content, in a world where for many if you aren't updating your status you are so off the radar you might as well be invisible.  Fairplay to Facebook then for helping the user solve a problem they organically created in the first place.

If you leave your privacy settings un-amended you'll also find that your iPhone / smartphone-equipped friends can "tag" you as being at places, much as they can in photos, whether you wanted them to or not, so I'd suggest that you amend your privacy settings. (Here's how). Better to avoid the chaos that could potentially be caused by a mischievous (if innocent) mate checking you in with them at a pub (in status terms that could arguably be construed as them boasting about their popularity) when you'd told your girlfriend/boyfriend etc that you were working late and you'd be back ASAP.


The Places service & API are due to be rolled out internationally soon, so whilst this might not effect you right now it soon will. In the interim that gives the rest of us a little time to see who's doing interesting marketing experiments leveraging Facebook Places and learn & improve on them.

Meanwhile, here's an example I've literally just spotted on FourSquare to start making all this location based marketing stuff a little more tangible:

Benetton's London flagship store has a FourSquare promotion on right now (the first of this kind I've noticed). Note the "special" flag" on the first image, and the offer of free stuff if you check inbefore 8pm today.  Talking of which I'd better go home that way and check it out!

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