Facebook announced yesterday that they “are phasing out the mobile-only Places feature“, a check-in service that was introduced one year ago, and replacing it with the ability to add location to status updates, photos or wall posts. As the announcement says: ” Now you can add location to anything. Lots of people use Facebook to talk about where they are, have been or want to go. Now you can add location from anywhere, regardless of what device you are using, or whether it is a status update, photo or Wall post.” As Techcrunch adds, “Starting this week, you’ll be able to easily associate location with any update, even if you’re nowhere near the location.”
Another big change, again explained by Techcrunch: “Another location-related change: Facebook now prompts users to include a city-level location tag with all of their updates (for example, if I wrote this from New York City, it would prompt me to include that with a status update). You can disable this if you aren’t interested, but city-level location probably won’t present a huge privacy issue for most people.”
What it means: A couple of thoughts: it completely makes sense that Facebook now enables location data to be attached to a shared message. Twitter does the same. Location is a data payload of a status update the same way a URL accompanies one. I also like the idea that most status updates on Facebook will now be geo-tagged at the city level. A huge amount of locally-relevant content will therefore be available for consumption by users but also by Facebook API developers.
As for the disappearance of the check-in, two prevalent thoughts are expressed by experts and pundits. Most people agree that it either means Foursquare has won or that check-ins are useless. I think the answer is probably in-between. On a side note, this report (.pdf) published by White Horse and titled “Lost in Geolocation: Why Consumers Haven’t Bought It and How Marketers Can Fix It” generated four key findings:
- Location-based services have not yet reached the tipping point.
- The chief barriers today are a lack of clear benefit and privacy fears.
- Users are mostly young, active contributors to social networks.
- Marketers will need to create and test new geolocation experiences that are not generic but relevant to a particular brand and audience.
From a volume point of view, Facebook had managed to capture a solid number of check-ins vs. Foursquare. I’m a Facebook Places Editor which allows me to quickly see cumulative check-ins for some places. In Montreal, for example,
- Helm (bar/brewery) has 341 check-ins on Facebook and 502 on Foursquare.
- Hotel Le Crystal has 756 check-ins on Facebook and 351 on Foursquare
- Centre des Sciences de Montreal (Science Museum) has 851 check-ins on Facebook and 715 check-ins on Foursquare
- Brit & Chips (restaurant) has 342 check-ins on Facebook and 439 on Foursquare
Obviously, the sheer size of Facebook usage in Canada makes those numbers quite small (it probably should be 100 times more to be proportionate with Foursquare’s traffic) , but still people were doing the check-ins. Since I acquired my latest smart phone (a Samsung Galaxy S2), I’ve been finding myself doing more check-ins on Facebook than on Foursquare, probably because the friends I want to share my location with are already on Facebook. I’m going to make a prediction: expect the check-in to come back in one form or another on Facebook in the near future.
From a Needium point of view, we’ve found check-ins to be an excellent way to prove that a conversation leads to a conversion/sale/visit. So, we definitely like check-ins as a concept!
One last thought: the fact that Facebook wants you to add locations about “where they are, have been or want to go” reminds me of the past, present, and future concept I discussed in my temporal Web presentation. I wonder if they will start exploring this concept further?