The launch of Facebook Places is further evidence of Facebook jockeying to be the Google of social (of course, Google would like to be the Google of social).
Its new geolocation technology is now connecting friends not just virtually but physically via check-ins, tagged videos, and status updates. Facebook users' biggest questions today, naturally, arose around privacy.
Brand marketers and rival geo-based services, meanwhile, are trying to figure out what opportunities this presents.
Let's start with the Foursquare questions. Facebook's geolaunch could be seen as crushing smaller location-based services, although it's worth noting that geo-location precursors Foursquare, Gowallah, Booyah and Yelp were invited to the party (figuratively and literally, with their executives attending yesterday's press announcment).
Still, a flood of writers and commentators today wondered if Facebook would crush the previous king of geolocation, Foursquare, as Lance Ulanoff ponders on PCmag.com. Case in point: the Facebook Places logo, right (yes, that's a 4 in a square).
Just as Facebook made posting updates and sharing commonplace, this launch is sure to make checking in a widespread activity on a scale that the smaller geobrands can't achieve, as they lack Facebook's scale, clout and user base.
The train's already in motion. the planet's biggest social network is now letting mobile Facebookers find each other in the real world by sharing their whereabouts via the new Facebook Places iPhone app, or by logging into the touch.facebook.com site with a smartphone that has GPS auto-location.
Facebook Places is letting Facebookers see who and what is nearby, including people and businesses (a big opportunity for brand marketers — whenever Facebook rolls out geo-based ad units, that is). Some users, not sure what this means, are wondering how to block being tagged in geo-updates.
Facebook, which weathered a firestorm over privacy this year, is assuring those users that a broad variety of privacy controls are built-in: check-in default settings can only seen by Facebook friends; check-in notifications can be limited to a select handful; service activates only after a user opts in; two permissions dialogs on the iPhone app enable a user to opt-out from or disable friends from location-specific tagging; minors can not be checked in.
Still, many today worried that others could check them in, including the American Civil Liberties Union; Facebook countered in a response to the ACLU (which was circulated to the media, including GigaOm) that that's not accurate.
According to Forrester Research Senior Analyst Augie Ray, Facebook cannot afford any future disappointing surprises for members:
"With Places, Facebook hasn't rewritten the social media world, but it might just rewrite the way people think about social networks. Soon, the local restaurant or hiking trail may have as rich a personality as do the people on Facebook, not because everyone has visited, but because your friends have. And in the end, isn't that what we really care about? Not who is mayor of our local coffee shop, but what our friends did, said, and liked when they were there before us."
So what will happen to Foursquare and its geo-peers? Yelp is now a Places launch partner and users can see Facebook check-ins. Facebook members can create new locations which become hot spots after others follow suit…in which case all nearby members can see it.
As for Foursquare, PC Magazine’s Lance Ulanoff writes that "the only validation Facebook Places has given to Foursquare is the kind you use for parking. Facebook just validated your parking, Foursquare, feel free to leave the market." Foursquare CEO Dennis Crowley commented today that a redesign is looming and (publicly) he's seeing this as an opportunity for its superior app.
Tools for marketers and advertisers haven’t been announced yet, but speculation is that brands will be able to offer rewards and incentives with greater control.
According to eMarketer, U.S. companies will spend between $1.7 - $2 billion on social destination ads next year. $1.3 billion will be spent by advertisers worldwide in 2010 on reaching Facebook's 500 million plus members, and Facebook will receive 50% of all U.S. social network ad spending and 39% globally.
Michael Lazerow, CEO of Buddy Media, today writes on AdAge.com that Facebook Places-related opportunities abound for marketers around apps, Facebook pages and the just-released API.
Facebook Places further secures Facebook’s supremacy as the social media space where all things virtual and physical converge. It will be fascinating to see if Facebook users and marketers adapt to geo without going loco.