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Facebook Places: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

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Realtors have a mantra: Location, location, location. That might as well be 2010’s official slogan, because every social network is getting on the LBS-train. Now, Facebook has entered the ring with its “Facebook Places” application. At the moment, it’s sort of like Foursquare with a few more bells and whistles.

Look, Zuckerberg, I get it. You want to play with the other cool kids in the location arena. It’s new, it’s fun, and it’s eventually going to be lucrative. But I’m not sold on Facebook’s foray into location-based services yet. Here are a few reasons why:

Foursquare was opt-in

I have 356 friends on Facebook. I maybe care where 10% of them are at any given moment. I don’t need to know where that-girl-I-met-once-in-college is eating lunch and I don’t care where anyone from my high-school is partying. They don’t care where I am, either. I joined Foursquare and chose my friends on that platform because I do care where they are. I chose them specifically because their location might interest me. I joined Facebook and friended people for different reasons.

I think Facebook would have been better off if they had created Places as an opt-in service within someone’s existing Facebook profile. In this service, you would have to choose to join Places, and then you would have to invite people  from your existing pool of Facebook friends to accept your “Places Friend Request.” This way, users would have the decision to share their location and they would be able to share their whereabouts with a limited number of people. I imagine Facebook didn’t go this route because they wanted location-based services to become more mainstream; by creating an opt-in service, less people would be interested, and they’d essentially just be creating a Foursquare clone.

Caveat: I’m sure Facebook will allow me to fiddle with the privacy settings of this application so I only see the location of people I choose, but I already did that on Foursquare. It seems a little redundant.

Clutter

Remember when Farmville became popular and everyone’s newsfeed was clogged-up with annoying notifications? Remember how angry everyone was because they didn’t want to see every update about lonely cows and awesome crops? It’ll happen again with Facebook Places, and it won’t be pretty.

Caveat: Again, I’m sure they’ve already thought this through and will allow you to block/hide location updates. Still, I’m haunted by memories of homeless animals and crop-growing updates littering my feed.

Counterpoint

Here’s the sad but realistic news: Facebook Places will probably be a hit. According to Facebook, “there are more than 150 million active users currently accessing Facebook through their mobile devices.” Obviously, not every mobile user will be checking-in, but the number is pretty astounding when you consider that as of today, Foursquare is approaching 3 million users. If even a tiny fraction of Facebook Mobile users begin to check-in , the number of Places users will surpass Foursquare. Having Facebook Places will open up the world of location-based services to many, many people, which is good in the long-run.

Not only that, but it’ll be much easier for businesses to give out coupons and special deals. Since businesses can link their pages to the Places application, it’ll be a nicer integration than Foursquare can currently offer. You will be able to learn a lot more about the place of business when you use Facebook. This means that for businesses, Facebook Places may be more lucrative than Foursquare.

Our new time capsule?

At last night’s Places introduction, VP of Product Chris Cox channeled Don Draper and made a bigger point about location-based services: It’s not just something cool to do now, it’s a time capsule:

“Cox is really making a higher level argument for Facebook Places and location-based services in general. He’s talking about how Facebook Places will be a collective archive of our memories of what we experienced at a specific location or event, such as Lollapalooza. The company sees it as an evolution of the scrapbook or the photo album — now those stories will get more attention, those stories will be pinned to a physical location.”

As cheesy as it is, I think that’s a pretty cool. Whether we completely understand it or not, everything we put on the internet leaves a mark in time, and eventually they’ll become our society’s cave paintings. Yikes.

Obviously, it’s too early to tell if Facebook Places will be more like Google Wave or, well, Facebook. Right now, I think they have a lot of things to iron-out before I become a gung-ho user. Whether or not Places takes off, having Facebook enter the ring means location-based services have hit the mainstream public, which is think is a great thing for transparency, technology, and innovation.

What do you think? Are you going to join Facebook Places?

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