Home Facebook’s Places Feature About to Launch

Facebook’s Places Feature About to Launch

Facebook’s location service “Places” is speeding towards an imminent launch, but will take the primary form of an Application Programming Interface (API) for other location specialist services to plug-into. That according to a report by CNet’s Caroline McCarthy this afternoon.

When Places does launch, if it’s executed well, it could have very big impacts on the Facebook user experience, on our relationships with the real-world places we visit and on the traditional local media that has informed us about those places throughout history.

What Will People Do With Facebook Places?

In our post Why We Check In: The Reasons People Use Location-Based Social Networks, we discussed three major reasons why people use location-based social networks right now:

  1. Serendipitous and planned social connections around town.

  2. For game-play, gathering points and bragging about the cool places they go.

  3. As a personal travel history tracker, or lazy diary.

I expect that several of these motivations will apply to the hundreds of millions of Facebook users as well, not just the single-digit millions of early adopters using services like Foursquare and Gowalla today.

Facebook offers an additional emphasis on learning about what your friends and family are doing and thinking, though. Might Facebook Places help satisfy peoples’ interest in learning about the places in their lives? That’s what Foursquare has begun to offer and played-out large ala Facebook, it’s an exciting prospect for consumers.

Right: Foursquare pushes notifications when you check-in near where a friend, or a brand you’ve subscribed to, has left a note.

Successful advertising exec Dave Morgan has argued, however, that it will not be exciting for traditional local media. Morgan believes that the rise of location based services, because they are so easy to use and compelling, will suck the advertising life-blood out of local newspapers, radio and journalism. If he’s correct, the imminent launch of Facebook Places will likely be a key turning point for local news.

Developer Concerns

Facebook will very likely let scores of competitors battle it out to build the best location app on top of the Facebook platform and then acquire the winner.

McCarthy also confirmed that Facebook has acquired social entertainment check-in service

Hot Potato

, which was

first reported

by TechCrunch late last month. McCarthy says Facebook is partnering with business listing service


to populate location information. There will be many points along the value chain for data providers to serve Facebook’s massive needs. How much will the company build vs. buy? I wouldn’t be surprised to see Facebook’s Yelp partnership extended as well.

McCarthy concludes her coverage thusly:

There are, of course, complications, which leave the geolocation- and local-services start-up community with plenty of questions about how much of their data they will have to share with Facebook if they tap into the new APIs. And additionally, Facebook’s tendency to garner bad press with regard to privacy may make some of them wary of getting involved.

But it’s likely that they will have little choice. Facebook is the biggest force in the social Web by far, and it’s about to be the biggest force in geolocation, too.

Facebook clearly “gets social” far better than Google does, so the shortage of integration on the part of startups with Google’s location APIs prior to now should not lead anyone to presume there will be a tepid response to Facebook’s offering.

See also: How Location Services Could Impact Health Care

Choosing to focus on an API instead of building its own native check-in feature, if that’s really what the company is going to do, is a big strategic move. It will very likely let scores of competitors battle it out to build the best location app on top of the Facebook platform and then acquire the winner. That might frustrate other startups, but it sounds like a good strategy for Facebook and possibly for consumers.

Facebook’s handling of privacy has been notoriously obnoxious, though. Will the company find the right balance between effecting cultural change on one hand but keeping its users safe and happy on the other?

There will be many big questions to consider when Facebook Places launches.

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