Arment Dietrich

Facebook Places: Location Sharing Goes Mainstream

By: Arment Dietrich | August 19, 2010 | 

Guest post by Barry Graubart, vice president, product strategy & business development for Alacra, a leading content technology company.

Facebook announced the launch of Facebook Places, its long-awaited solution for location sharing, a space that’s been driven by upstarts Foursquare and Gowalla.

In its announcement, Facebook indicated that Places was built on three tenets:

  1. Share where you are with friends
  2. See which of your friends are around
  3. Discover new places

While much of the early commentary has focused on product features and the gap between Facebook Places and Foursquare, I think all of that is relatively unimportant.

Facebook can quickly add features and functionality to close any gap. Rather, the significance of the announcement is twofold: First, it signifies the mainstreaming of local check-ins. While Foursquare has three million users and Gowalla a fraction of that, Facebook has a half-billion users. I was speaking with a colleague from the Philippines yesterday, who mentioned there are more than 15 million Facebook users in the Philippines. Meanwhile, Facebook penetration is approaching 50 percent in Hong Kong, Canada, the UK, the U.S., and elsewhere.

With its huge user base, Facebook Places will quickly dwarf all the other location-based networks. And with so many users already using Facebook on their mobile devices, Places adoption should ramp quickly.

The second important aspect of yesterday’s announcement was the participation of Foursquare, Gowalla, and Yelp. Clearly, each of those businesses sees great risk from Facebook Places, but they also realize they need to play nicely together to avoid being crushed.

While most of the focus has been on the threat to Foursquare, it seems the greater threat would be to Yelp. Yet by working together, each will benefit. Yelp is already the best service at reviews for local providers. Integrating its existing framework to a user’s social graph via Facebook creates a powerful solution. And, it means that for restaurants, at least, Facebook Places will start out with a deep, rich database of user comments. That’s a tremendous asset – just imagine a new competitor trying to compete with Amazon for book reviews, for example.

From the Facebook perspective, partnering creates an immediate ecosystem around the Places platform. This greatly strengthens the Facebook position against the competitor it is most focused on: Google. As more advertising dollars shift to local, there’s little doubt that Google will look to bulk up its services there.

Facebook is already well-positioned for local, due to its holding the social graph for most users. By cultivating an ecosystem around that, it will strengthen the barrier to entry and perhaps make it less likely that Google acquires the emerging players in the space.

Still to be seen is how Foursquare, Gowalla, Yelp, and others carve out niches. Foursquare, which has largely been dependent upon social gratification (badges and mayorships), will need to provide more compelling reasons for users to adopt its tools.

Gowalla and Yelp will need to do the same. And the niche players like Loopt, Brightkite, and Whrrl will quickly have to decide whether to participate in Places, go it alone, or try to find another partner (perhaps Google).

Facebook Places is now available for download on iPhones by U.S. users, or you can go to from an HTML5-compatible mobile browser.

* Note from Gini: Be sure to check your privacy settings in Facebook if you don’t want people to “tag” you when they check into a location with you. Be careful about who you want knowing where you are at all times.

Barry Graubart serves as vice president, product strategy & business development for Alacra, a leading content technology company, where his focus is on eCommerce and social media applications. He has spent the past 20 years applying technology to content to develop high value business-to-business information products and is author of Content Matters blog.

  • I can see Facebook Places being a very powerful tool for businesses. Because it is connected to fan pages, a user will have more information about that business upon checking in. Foursquare doesn’t supply as much information. For businesses, Facebook Places has a lot of marketing potential.

    From a user’s perspective, I’m not sold yet. As a Foursquare user, I was able to opt-in and choose friends based upon whether or not I wanted to know their location. I simply don’t care about the location of most of my facebook friends; it seems like I’m going to have to opt-out by changing the settings. Beyond all the privacy concerns, I feel like my newsfeed is just going to be littered with information I don’t want to see (unless I opt-out).

    Regardless, I’m excited for Facebook Places. It truly makes location-based services mainstream, which I think is very cool.

    Tom Miesen

    • Good points, Tom.
      I think privacy options will be the key to whether Facebook becomes the core platform for checkins.
      As a starting point, they’ve done a pretty good job, offering options for allowing others to check you in (tho I’d prefer this default to no) and whether friends can see your checkins.
      I think it depends a lot on how you use Facebook. My wife only connects to friends and family, while I connect to friends and business/professional network. Others who’ve connected openly to strangers may wish to rethink that or further limit use of checkins.

      For most people, the platform of choice Will probably depend upon what their network does. If your friends checking with Facebook, so will you. For now, I remain a Foursquare user, as that’s where my network is, but won’t be surprised to see that shift.

      • I feel like this is the huge breakthrough that will take location sharing to the next level. Many Facebook users who may never have even heard of Foursquare will now be exposed to this phenomenon that until now has been used mostly by early adopters.

        The privacy settings are always the issue with Facebook. But the reason they make it opt-out and not opt-in is for the mainstream to catch wind and hopefully give it a whirl.

        I truly believe location sharing has turned a corner here and will continue to gain momentum very quickly.

        Thanks for the solid post, Barry, and for working late last night to pump it out. It’s great to be able to publish such quality writing on timely topics here at Spin Sucks.

  • Hi Barry! Thanks for the timely post! I have to admit I was relieved you wrote it because I wouldn’t have had time before Monday. So me and my sanity thank you!!

    I’m with Tom on this…I see HUGE opportunity for business, but as a person (especially a woman who travels alone) it’s kind of scary to leave it up to my friends to tag me when I see them…especially if it’s not in Chicago. It’s the whole idea of (which has been shut down). Why do we want the world to know when we’re not home?

    I use Foursquare and I love it because of the specials and freebies I get, but it’s not linked to my Twitter and Facebook for the very reasons I mention above.

    We’ll see what this does – I’m not going to set my privacy settings against it yet.

    • Great points, Gini.
      I’ve had many discussions talking about Foursquare and how gender plays a role in what you could/should share.
      As a guy, I’m typically less concerned with others knowing where I am, but for women, it’s a real issue. I know women who won’t use a face shot photo so as not to attract stalkers.
      Some of the fear has been overhyped. I always though the was a bit of a canard – for most people you don’t need a checkin to know they’re not home. If you know they work, then they’re likely not home between say 7:00am – 7:00pm 5 days a week.
      It reminds me of overhearing 2 older women in a checkout line talking about their son showing them on a map program their exact house and the cross streets, based on an address. This was just a map – it was in the days before Google Street View. They found this frightening. I couldn’t help but point out that similar technology had been around for centuries.

      The problem has been the lack of understanding. Foursquare checkins are only viewable by your friends… unless, of course, you check the twitter box in your iPhone app and then it’s broadcast widely – and can be seen by those not following you via searches.

      I’ve little doubt that we’ll see a bunch of “scare stories” in the news in the coming months. But the key will be in making it easy to understand the settings. I would recommend everyone turn off the “allow friends to check me in” setting until we see how that is really used. It’s way too easy to abuse – probably just for hijinx but potentially other issues.

      The coming months will be fascinating – with so many more users suddenly able to share locations, we’ll undoubtedly see new applications and abuses that none of us can anticipate today.

      • I agree with you and also think it’s likely a gender difference. I have all of my settings set so that my updates only go to my friends, not out on Twitter. And really, I have no problem with it when I’m in Chicago. I just feel weird about it when I’m traveling.

        I started playing with Facebook Places on Thursday and have found a fun little game to check in only to places where I eat (which is a lot) and tag my tapeworm (who has a FB account). It’s very silly, but it creates really funny comments on my wall.

        I don’t know, yet, if there is a place for both Foursquare and Facebook Places. I’m kind of thinking not.

        • Regarding your question of there being a place for both Foursquare and Facebook, Gini:

          Since beginning to toy with Facebook Places this weekend, I initially found myself getting a bit lazier about using Foursquare. Instead, I checked in using Facebook and was excited (yes, I’m a dork!) to receive comments on my profile in reaction to the check-ins.

          But as I visited more places throughout the weekend, I wondered if most people on Facebook who haven’t used Foursquare would grow annoyed with me for checking in too often.

          My latest thoughts are that I’ll use Facebook Places for “status” check-ins — cool places I want everyone to know about — and I’ll continue to use Facebook for less sexy check-ins and, of course, to maintain my mayorships (like at Arment Dietrich, of course!).

          I’m interested to see how this thinking continues to evolve for myself, my friends and others around me.

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