Is Facebook Places the AOL of location-based services?

August 26, 2010 – 11:02 am

With the announcement of Facebook Places, I wanted to share my thoughts. Facebook Places, for those that aren’t familiar with it yet, is the latest feature from Facebook that allows you to “check in” at locations using an application on smartphone.

So here’s the summary: In my opinion, Facebook Places is the AOL of location-based services. I’m a big fan of Foursquare and they aren’t going anywhere, for now at least. They don’t have the scale (yet), but they have the cool factor and brands on board.

Let me explain a bit more.

Facebook has a huge number of users. Over 500 million, currently. But, Facebook Places is limited to an iPhone app and a mobile website that somewhat works on newer smartphones like the Andorid platform (although it’s pretty clunky, from what my Android friends have said). While everyone is touting the 500 million user level, it’s actually quite smaller than that when it comes to Facebook Places users. So, when it comes to location, they have some of the same challenges as other services until smarthphones take the majority.

Everyone keeps telling me that because Facebook has so many users, they will for sure dominate location-based services (see visual below from jess3), but I disagree. Everyone knew it was only a matter of time before Facebook launched a location-based check-in program. I’m sure Twitter will do the same in the near future.

Check out what we are calling "The Geosocial Universe&qu... on Twitpic

Brands will inevitably get on board and claim their locations in mass and Facebook will start to monetize all the data they are collecting. I’m just surprised they didn’t launch with more strategic partners like they did with the Facebook social plugins.

But for now, there just aren’t many reasons to use Facebook Places.

Meanwhile, companies like Whrrl are announcing significant rewards for sharing check-ins. Click here to read about their latest Vegas campaign.

Foursquare was part of the Facebook Places launch, along with several other location-based companies, which was a bit awkward for everyone.

In an interview with The Telegraph, Crowley says: “I have now had a chance to play around with Facebook Places and it’s not that great or interesting. It’s a pretty boring service, with barely any incentives for users to keep coming back and telling their friends where they are.” To boot, “The only interesting thing about Places is that it has a potential audience of over 500 million people around the world… but that can only be a good thing for location-based services, like Foursquare, as Facebook will educate the masses about check-ins,” Crowley adds. Crowley believes that Foursquare’s gaming mechanics will keep people far more enticed into using his service over the likes of Places. “I always knew Facebook would launch a check-in tool,” he tells The Telegraph. “I knew that on the day we started creating Foursquare. But I also knew that people needed incentives to keep checking-in and sharing their location. Facebook could copy our games ideas, but we are working on a raft of new mechanics which we hope will keep Foursquare fresh and ‘check-in fatigue’ away.” source

Compared to other location-based services like Yelp, claiming a location on Facebook is downright painful (see below). Who’s going to upload their articles of incorporation? And how will Facebook store this data? I understand that Facebook wants to verify that someone has the ability to claim the location. But they don’t do that with Facebook pages or URL’s, which I can pretty much say that I’m anyone and wait for a major brand to complain, in the meanwhile, creating consumer confusion.

Facebook Places claim

The poll below was from Mashable: Location Faceoff: Facebook Places vs. Foursquare. The results would lead me to believe that the influencers on the cutting edge are sticking with Foursquare. At some point, when a technology or service reaches mainstream, it loses the cool factor for emerging technologist. If everyone is using it, it isn’t emerging anymore. That doesn’t mean that consumers and businesses are using it correctly, just that the usage has grown.

The feature to allow other users to check you in on your behalf, in my mind, is just a bad idea all around and has huge privacy implications. Sure, you can create customized lists of individuals you would like to share your location with (see video) but most people won’t go to the trouble and just share check-ins with everyone.

Facebook newsfeeds are being clogged up with meaningless Facebook Places check-ins. I’ve heard a variety of different stats in regards to percentages of Foursquare checkins that are also posted to Facebook & Twitter. Some people have their Twitter accounts automatically post to Facebook, so that number may be larger. I’ve heard that around 20% of people share their Foursquare check-ins to Facebook. The results tend to be higher at locations that have a positive cool factor like Starbucks vs. a random gas station.

I’ll occasionally share check-ins, but usually only when I have a comment to add in addition to the check-in – more than just “I’m here.” Foursquare suffered from this same problem when it started, but most users have figured out the balance so that they don’t drop a bunch of friends in the process of over-sharing every time they took a step.

Greg Sterling takes an interesting perspective in a post about the real target of Facebook Places

…if you want to argue that Facebook is going after anyone in particular, the same thing must equally be said about a range of companies that includes yellow pages publishers, newspapers, cityguides, local verticals and many others that offer local information online and/or sell ads to small businesses.

So, what do you think of Facebook Places? Little by little, several of my 2010 predictions are taking shape. While I’m not on board with Facebook Places at the moment, I’m sure they’ll make improvements over the next 6 months to make it a very solid product, including brand partnerships, multimedia integration and rewards programs. The launch is definitely good for the location-based services market as a whole and will help educate the masses. I think Facebook will start to compete more directly with Yelp & yellow page/directory services and turn their web search into a map based local search service, including recommendations from friends. In essence – competing directly with Google and others for world domination of the technology world.

Technorati Tags: ,

  1. One Response to “Is Facebook Places the AOL of location-based services?”

  2. I’m a big fan of location based services and have been for quite a while now. I tried to claim my business location and exactly as you stated when I got to the point where they asked for my articles of incorporation, the line was drawn. Everyone who knows me knows I’m not afraid to share where I’m at or what I’m doing or pretty much just about anything. However, Facebook has been um known for making changes without notifying users and although I’m not a conspiracy theorist. There is absolutely no reason I would share that much information with a website.
    As for Facebook places your right there really is no big incentive for using it. So unless they improve it I’ll continue to use foursquare or Brightkite depending on if I’m wanting to post a picture or not to my Facebook page.
    As a business owner Foursquare allows me to post specials and give something to those who are engaging with my business on that platform. Facebook doesn’t really do anything more than all the other LBS are already doing better. But I have to give it up to Facebook for creating the space where I can pull all that together when I’m sharing.

    By Chuck Franks on Oct 16, 2010

Post a Comment