If you've ever thrown a party and invited all your friends on Facebook, then you're well aware: RSVPs mean nothing. If you're on the other end of things and you want to know whether a party's happening or a dud - again, RSVPs mean nothing. Today, Facebook updated its iPhone app, adding two new features - the ability to check in to events and a map for seeing where all your friends are checked in.
Now, if you're wondering if that party's happening or not, you might be able to just look and see if your friends have checked in there. Of course, that all depends on whether or not Facebook can really bring location to a critical mass of popularity. While that still seems to be a big "if," this update is certainly a push in that direction.
TechCrunch's MG Siegler first noticed the features, noting that users could only previously check in via Facebook Places. The new feature takes into account the time, the time of the event and the user location to determine whether or not to allow the user to check in. Once a user checks in, that information gets posted to their wall and their friends' timelines, as well as shows up in the list of users checked in on Facebook Places.
The most obvious user benefit, it would seem, is being able to see not only where your friends are, but what event they might be at. They don't simply check in to the restaurant down the street, but to the trivia night that's happening that they were invited to on Facebook. The real benefit, we have to imagine, will be for the companies and brands throwing events that want to gather data on who actually attended an event. Imagine the possibilities for all of those companies who throw parties at events like SXSW, with thousands of RSVPs. They have a list of people who were interested in the event, but not necessarily those who attended. Now, they could potentially have both.
As part of this same update, Facebook added the simple ability to view where all of your friends are checked-in on a map. On the Places page of the iPhone app, there are now two options - activity and map. The map shows any friends that are checked in. It's a simple, but potentially fruitful, feature for seeing where your friends who use Facebook Places are.
Unfortunately, the event check-in appears to be a bit broken, at the moment. We created a test event, checked in, and went to the map, only to find that it had placed the event somewhere in the ocean off the coast of Africa. If you click on the address of the event in the event itself, however, it appropriately takes you to exactly that location in Google Maps. Hmm.
Problems aside, why does any of this matter? It could be another inroad for Facebook to convince mainstream users that checking in, both to places and events, is a normal and customary thing to do. And in doing so, it could offer brands another reason to host events on Facebook instead of the plethora of other invite and event sites, such as Eventbrite or Plancast.
RSVPing only indicates a basic interest, or a desire to hold your place, just in case. Actually checking in to an event means that you were indeed there, which could be a valuable piece of information for event organizers. Beyond that, if people are further encouraged to check in, they may begin doing it at other times to. Something like Facebook Places is, after all, only useful if people actually use it.