I’ve been on holiday for the last two weeks so missed out on the official launch of Facebook Places. Now, as I read more about the long-predicted service, I’m increasingly convinced that it is the move that will really bring location-based social networking to the public at large and will be wildly successful.
If you’ve also been sunning yourself on a beach for the last few weeks then you might want to check out Max’s post which gives an overview of what Facebook Places is all about.
So without further ado, here the reasons why I believe Facebook Places will be big:
1. Location is king
Being social comes naturally to us, but location’s important too. The web might be a fantastically diverse, global and cosmopolitan smorgasbord of people, thoughts and opinions, but increasingly, we all find ourselves coming back to what is going on in our own country, town and neighbourhood. The local web has yet to be won, and with local papers going out of business, the race is really on for this niche. Putting social at its heart makes total sense.
2. The mobile time-bomb
One of the reasons that location is becoming increasingly attractive is the growth in mobile computing. Facebook knows this only too well and has already got a head-start here; Facebook accounts for 45% of mobile web usage in the UK alone! Mobile connectivity makes location based networking possible in a way that just wasn’t when users were sitting in front of a desktop computer. Devices like the iPad will only accelerate this move.
3. The move to real versus online
Perhaps driven by the previous point, I do think that there is an growing move away from connecting with unknown people you might meet online back to connecting with actual connections you know in the real-world. Location lies at the heart of this. You only have to look at the success of local offline tweet-ups to see that the appetite is there to mix online and offline in a localised way. Using social networks as a way to organise and energise our offline lives makes total sense and is a good fit for a network like Facebook where the focus has always been on connecting with real-world friends and family.
4. The chicken and egg argument
Following on from this, the big stumbling block for other location based services like Foursquare has been a lack of users. As with many social technologies, the real benefits don’t become clear until your friends and colleagues are using the service. Foursquare has been pulling in users at a pretty impressive rate, but, as my colleague Louise commented, Foursquare is pretty pointless without other people that you know using the service. Facebook pole-vaults this problem in one swoop as it brings location based features right in front of its 500 million users. Combine points 1, 2 and 3 with 500 million users and you immediately have a winning combination.
For me, this is one of the key reasons that Facebook has moved quickly to ramp up its localisation features. The social giant has often seemed to find that monetising its community is a bit of a challenge (despite reports about record share prices). The potential for monetisation when it comes to local services is huge. Foursquare started to make steps in this direction with business services and I can only imagine that barrage of businesses that will be knocking on Facebook’s door trying to get in on the action. Not to mention the potential for localised advertising on the site as well.
There is a caveat to all this. The privacy police will be swarming around this move, especially given Facebook’s history here. I don’t actually think the fury that often resonates round the technology industry about Facebook and privacy has actually hit the radar of most of Facebook’s users, but it’s still something that Facebook needs to confront head on and quick.
photo credit: Steve Snodgrass