Facebook Places: What It Is, What It Isn't, And Why It May Change The World

Today Facebook revealed its long-anticipated geolocation offering called “Places.” In many respects, Facebook’s offering doesn’t expand on the functionality you can find in current location-based services such as foursquare — you can check in at a place, share your location with friends, see who is nearby, and add a place.  In fact, the most important contribution Facebook is making to the geolocation social space is not in form but scale.  While foursquare counts around 2.5 million users in its base, Facebook has 500 million.  This means that Facebook is positioned to introduce the benefits of location sharing to a new and much wider audience.

Of course, providing users with a new feature is one thing, but getting them to adopt a new sort of social behavior is another.  Facebook has done much to ease the adoption process for users, starting with some smart decisions about privacy.  It is evident that Facebook has learned from past privacy missteps.  By default, when users check into a place, this information will only be shared with friends and not the whole world.  This reflects a different and more user-centric approach than Facebook has taken in the past. 

Of course, it's nearly impossible to launch any new social feature without some level of privacy concern, and it remains to be seen whether users will like or dislike the fact that they can be checked in by their friends.  Facebook says this is intended as an advantage — since not every person has an advanced smartphone, not every Facebook user can check himself or herself into a location for the time being;  by allowing people to check in their friends, more Facebook users can participate.  People can turn off the ability for friends to check them in, but by default this is permitted. 

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