Today Facebook announced three mobile enhancements for Facebook Places, including new functionality that developers of mobile applications may incorporate into their products and a powerful new (and free) platform for connecting mobile consumers with relevant ads for nearby businesses. Today's pronouncements demonstrate the ambition and vision Facebook has for itself in mobile computing and socializing over the long term, but in the immediate future Facebook now is poised to bring the wonders of checking in to the masses.
Chances are, you are NOT reporting your location (aka "checking in") to your friends and followers in social networks. According to Forrester data from earlier this year, just 4% of US online adults have ever used location-based social networks on their mobile phones. Simply put, there hasn't been enough WIIFM ("What's In It For Me") to entice and retain the typical consumer. Now, Facebook is set to change that, lowering the bar and improving the WIIFM for a wider range of consumers. Average Facebook users who previously felt "checking in" was better suited for narcissists and techies can now realize benefits from location-based services (LBSes, also known as geolocation) via a larger and richer set of offers and deals.
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.
If you're interested in Facebook's announcement this evening, you can watch the proceedings live here on the Forrester blog at 5 pm PDT.
The social media world is abuzz. Take one hot trend (geolocation) and add one blazing hot social network with a history of privacy missteps (Facebook), and you have the making for an interesting news story.
That's not the only reason curiosity is high about tonight's event--there's also a lot of money involved. While consumer adoption of geolocation check-in via services like foursquare and Gowalla is still nascent, there is little doubt that consumers will increasingly share their location via social networks. They share their profiles (who), their activities (what) and their hopes and wishes (why), so why not the "where"? And this data becomes yet another piece of the puzzle for advertisers wishing to build promotions, loyalty programs and more personalized and targeted advertising.
Then, of course, there's the foursquare vs. Facebook angle, which I expect will disappoint those looking for a battle royale between the heavyweight champ (Facebook with 500 million users) and the young upstart (foursquare with 2.5 million users). Facebook seems less likely to launch a "foursquare killer" and more likely to create a geolocation platform upon which others might build. Think of it this way: Facebook doesn't create social games, but instead creates the platform on which third-party social games thrive. Despite the Facebook vs. foursquare hype, the two are likely to end up more complementary than competitive.
Foursquare, the geolocation social tool, has been a media darling as of late. Not only is it growing, but people innately understand the monetization model, which is not something you can say about every social site and tool. As people “check in,” or report where they are to their networks, Foursquare serves them offers from nearby businesses. It’s a win-win-win situation: Businesses can market to people who are able to immediately take action; Foursquare earns revenue; and users get valuable offers they can use.
But Starbucks’ current program on Foursquare may kill the goose that lays the golden eggs (or at least demonstrate how that goose may die a slow, lingering death of neglect). I believe (and I’m curious if you agree) that Starbucks’ ubiquity combined with the offer’s difficult redemption is decreasing attention for Foursquare’s other offers. If other large chains follow suit with similar promotions, those “Special Nearby” tabs within Foursquare’s mobile apps won’t get as much notice, and that means problems for advertisers on the Foursquare platform.
If you are in the mobile industry and you've never heard of Foursquare, there is something wrong with the way you keep up to date on new trends. Indeed, Foursquare is one of the most hyped social location services, enabling users to "check-in" to locations in the real world from pubs, bars and restaurants (through to any conceivable location) - sharing them with updates on social sites like Twitter or Facebook, wrapping points and benefiting from potential discounts. Foursquare recently announced it had passed the 1M users mark. The rate of growth is indeed quite strong, bearing in mind the company had just 170,000 users at the end of 2009. According to TechCrunch, Yahoo! was rumored to have made an offer above $80M to acquire the start-up! I am not a financial analyst, but let's say $100M for just 1M users seems high at first sight. So what makes it so valuable and why is foursquare being perceived as the new Twitter? Here are a few thoughts:
- First of all, foursquare is not the only one in town but is probably the one with the most active PR team. It struck some interesting deals with Metro newspapers, with TV channel Bravo, with Vodafone in the UK (on-deck and via SMS promotion) and more recently with even the Financial Times, if we believe business insiders. What makes it quite successful is its entertainment-centric approach. It is quite addictive as it is primarily an interactive game. There are others (not only Gowalla) such as MyTown (a sort of a real-world monopoly), which passed the 2 million active users mark a few days ago!
Going into Chirp, Twitter's first-ever developers conference, the natives were restless. A string of announcements--from the release of Twitter's own Blackberry app to the acquisition of development firm Atebits--had some developers wondering where Twitter was going and what it all meant to them. While Twitter's executive team didn't answer every question, they did outline a vision for future growth with a vigorous role for third-party developers. For me, the role Twitter sees for itself and for developers was most clearly outlined in its discussion of "place."
Twitter clearly recognizes that our location is extremely relevant data that can yield substantial value for others who use (either directly or indirectly) the Twitter information network. It's not just about where you are at every given moment, but what you're saying and doing while you're there.
Ryan Sarver offered a compelling example of the power of place in his discussion about the New York Times' coverage of the Fort Hood tragedy. A reporter turned to Twitter for real-time news and information but ran into a flood of retweets and expressions of sympathy and concern. Then he entered "near Killeen, TX" and was able to see relevant tweets from first responders, soldiers and citizen journalists in the immediate area. At Chirp, Twitter conveyed the importance of place and how geolocation will be a vital part of the Twitter experience.
I moved to the Bay Area from Milwaukee about five months ago. Among the things I miss from my hometown are my two favorite burger restaurants--AJ Bombers and Sobelman's. Both have used Word of Mouth (WOM) to become successful small businesses, but while one built its buzz over 10 years, the other used social media to become a success in just one year. The stories of these two businesses can provide insight and inspiration to much larger brands seeking to create benefits with social media.