Since this time last year, geo-location has been touted by those in the know as the next big thing in social media. But while Foursquare says it receives one million check-ins per day and has 2.7 million registered users worldwide, neither it or major rival Gowalla has broken through to the mainstream. The (partial) launch of Facebook Places last week aims to change that. But will it?
I say ‘partial’ launch as Places is currently only available through the iPhone or touch.facebook.com: when Google’s Android platform is continually outselling the iPhone, the decision not to develop an Android application alongside the iPhone app hardly strikes me as Facebook displaying confidence that Places will take off. But what do those who know their Yelp from their Snikkr make of Facebook Places and its impact on the development of location-based services? Adam Vincenzini feels that Places is a good thing for geo-location in general, and therefore for Foursquare as well. He says that “a previously disengaged group (Facebook users) will be tempted to try out location-based services” and that this “will help services like Foursquare hugely; education is often the biggest challenge for new platforms and Facebook will provide a free education to potentially 500 million people”. Similarly, Barry Graubart thinks that “with its huge user base, Facebook Places will quickly dwarf all the other location-based networks. And with so many users already using Facebook on their mobile devices, Places adoption should ramp quickly.” He also feels that collaboration may be key to the future of the geo-location industry, stating that Foursquare, Gowalla and Yelp clearly see “great risk from Facebook Places, but they also realize they need to play nicely together to avoid being crushed. It seems the greatest threat would be to Yelp, already the best service at reviews for local providers. Yet integrating its existing framework to a user’s social graph via Facebook creates a powerful solution. And, it means that for restaurants, at least, Facebook Places will start out with a deep, rich database of user comments.”
From a marketing perspective, Gini Dietrich advises being “cautiously curious” due to concerns over personal privacy, but also says that “the pros definitely outweigh the cons for business. Facebook Places is a marketer’s dream.” She also cites a great personal example of the benefits of Places to businesses. Oil Newton addresses on UTalk Marketing businesses’ traditional concerns about how they actually make money from geo-location and argues that Places could eventually follow the example of Shopkick, a new mobile check-in service that gives you credits for every check-in that can be redeemed for real world goods and money off coupons.
On a personal front, Colin Delaney says: “Places as it stands is relatively rudimentary, with none of the competitive features that have turned Foursquare into a game for millions of users. It’s Foursquare without the fun”, and Tracey Udas explains on Social Media Today how Places is creating a timeline of the ‘Third Place’, the places we visit that aren’t home or work but everywhere else. She says that “there is going to be a timeline of people who have come to your location for years to come; a timeline filled with comments, tips, photos, and memories”.
Not everyone, me included I have to admit, is yet sold on the value of geo-location. I’ve been on and around Foursquare for months but find the experience ultimately lame as I live in an Oxfordshire village and have a one year old daughter, so my check-ins are extremely limited. More to the point, my Foursquare friends live nowhere near me, which makes the whole thing rather vacuous. Will Places change that and add value to my life? I doubt it.
And I’m not the only one. Louise Andrews writes: “Foursquare hasn’t changed my behaviour, social life or led me to connect with new people. I know Facebook starts from a different premise to Foursquare and I can see why some people are going to find Places appealing...but it just doesn’t make sense to me. I’ve got about a hundred or so ‘friends’ and I use Facebook to keep up to date on their news, share the odd story or look through their latest photos to see how they’re getting on. Do I really need to know if my cousin has checked into a bar in Northampton?”
It appears even the early adopters are divided over Facebook Places and location-based services in general. What do you think?
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Paul Sutton blogs at www.thesocialweb.co.uk and you can follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/thepaulsutton. I am Head of Digital PR at BOTTLE PR, one of the UK's fastest growing PR agencies, and am a communications professional with 14 years experience in marcomms, PR and digital media. My area of interest lies in completely integrated communications strategies, and the changes happening ...
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