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Facebook is officially going Places

Posted by Max Tatton-Brown on 20th August 2010

After many months of rumours, Facebook Places is the official name given to the social networking giant’s new location-based features.  Currently only live in the US, the service is available via the iPhone app and mobile site with no date announced as to when it will reach other shores.  However, with 500 million users in the bank, it has a built in audience with which the likes of Foursquare simply can’t compete.

By checking in to a venue, users will be able to tag friends, giving them the option of either accepting the location tag or denying it and defaulting to a standard status update mention.  The idea here is that even those without smartphones can be included in the location aspects without introducing complex privacy issues.

Winners and Losers

Interestingly, and perhaps to avoid appearing as the bad guys, Facebook launched the service on Wednesday alongside Gowalla, Foursquare, Yelp and Booyah (Maker of MyTown.)  These services will have read/write access to the API (currently in closed beta) but the consequences for the location ecosystem are enormous.

Whether as the ‘gameplay’ of Foursquare or Gowalla’s passport, adding value will become the order of the day and predicting users wants/ ensuring you’re securing the right offers for them is going to become an area of massive competition.  At the same time, there are a thousand startups biting at the heels of the bigger services offering their own slant on location.  At this point, it’s still anyone’s to win.

Another step to Web 3.0 (Here comes the science bit)

Alongside the recent advances with Facebook Places, adding this location data to the mix strengthens a brand’s Facebook presence with strong semantically clear links to the real world- an incredible boon for the retail sector in particular.

<< If that last sentence left you scratching you head, check out this video to fill you in on Web 3.0, The Semantic Web. We promise you it’s worth it. >>

Web 3.0 from Kate Ray on Vimeo.

The result is a Facebook page which can act as the central ‘definition’ of a brand, collating data on its popularity (Facebook Like), location (Facebook Places) and even currency (Facebook Credits.)

When people refer to a brand on social networks, the question is, will they link to the corporate site or simply @Nike? By encouraging the latter, businesses further take advantage of the fact that any reference about the company is unavoidably also addressed to it. This is one of the valuable distinctions which social networks are built on, letting brands better keep track of who’s talking about them and what they’re saying.

And of course, Facebook wins big too by being in control of all this semantic information.  One thing’s for sure, Facebook Places is currently a small part of the big picture but when added to everything else, it only increases the threat to competition like Google.  Unless the big G can up its hit rate on new experiments (Wave, Buzz, Latitude), it could soon find itself in a place it doesn’t want to be.