Facebook Phases Out “Places” but Adds Location to Status Updates and Other Shared Items

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:

  1. Location-based services have not yet reached the tipping point.
  2. The chief barriers today are a lack of clear benefit and privacy fears.
  3. Users are mostly young, active contributors to social networks.
  4. 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?

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12 Interesting "Local" and "Geo-Location" Conferences in 2011

I was asked by a Quora user to list “What are the best digital events focusing on ‘localisation’ this year?”. I answered on Quora.com but thought it would be a good idea to share with my blog readers as well.

Here is my top-of-mind list of interesting conferences/events with strong “local” and “geolocation” angles in 2011:

  1. Conversational Commerce Conference (Opus Research), February 2011
  2. Local Online Advertising Conference (Borrell Associates), March 2011
  3. Interactive Local Media East (BIA/Kelsey), March 2011
  4. Newspapers Association of America conference (MediaXchange), March 2011
  5. Yellow Pages Association Conference, April 2011
  6. Where 2.0 Conference (O’Reilly), April 2011
  7. European Association of Directory Publishers Conference, May 2011
  8. European Association of Directory Publishers Congress, September 2011
  9. Directional Media Strategies (BIA/Kelsey), September 2011
  10. Asian Directories Publishers Association Conference, November 2011
  11. Local Social Summit, November 2011
  12. Interactive Local Media West (BIA/Kelsey), December 2011

Check out GeoLoco (http://geoloco.tv/) as well. They haven’t announced anything yet for 2011 but they probably will.

I’m sure I forgot a few. Please let me know in the comments and I’ll add them to the list.

Update:

Other related conferences:

Four out of Five Cell Phones to Integrate GPS by End of 2011

New data from iSuppli:

With cell phones increasingly becoming the nexus of the burgeoning markets for navigation and Location Based Services (LBS), the use of Global Positioning System (GPS) technology in such platforms is set to explode during the coming years, according to iSuppli Corp.

In the fourth quarter of 2011, 79.9 percent of cell phones shipped—amounting to 318.3 million units—will incorporate GPS functionality, up from 56.1 percent in the first quarter of 2009—or 187.8 million units—iSuppli predicts. (…)

iSuppli also sees an increased penetration of embedded GPS in a range of consumer and compute electronic devices by 2014. For example, iSuppli estimates that 18 percent of laptops and 42 percent of portable handheld video game players will have embedded GPS in 2014.

via Four out of Five Cell Phones to Integrate GPS by End of 2011. (found via Laurent_Local)

What it means: this massive deployment of geo-location technology will create new business opportunities that don’t even exist today. Every device and application will be able to have a “local” flavor, a local angle. And I’m fairly convinced people will feel “local” is more relevant.

Local Monetization is Still a Challenge

My friend Mike Boland (BIA/Kelsey) discusses check-ins, geo-location startups and monetization over at SearchEngineWatch:

(…) But in all of the excitement, there’s still something missing; a clearly defined path to monetization. Some of the players mentioned above are exceptions with national advertisers, and other revenue streams such as carrier deals. (…)

The problem is that this ignores what those in local space have known for years; self-provisioning ain’t that simple. But the line is still the same from newcomers to the geo-location game: “Why wouldn’t any SMB want to sign up for something that drives foot traffic into their store or restaurant?”

In theory, I agree. But the thinking falls apart with the reality that most SMBs don’t have the time, technical competence, and inclination to launch and manage these promotions. Plus, don’t forget the complexity of countless sales reps and new digital options flying at them from all angles. (…)

via Mobile & Location: Checking in on the Latest (Part 2) – Search Engine Watch (SEW).

What it means: Monetizing online “local” is very difficult. Even Google has had difficulties with it. The only ones who have been massively successful are directory publishers but they forgot to take care of users all these years. It’s difficult to monetize but not impossible. Just look at Groupon. And I think we’re starting to see savvier small merchants out there, who are starting to use the Web in a very strategic fashion. But it will take time.

Zuckerberg: "I’m not ready to talk about anything around location"

Nick Bilton, lead technology writer at New York Times, just live-blogged Facebook’s privacy announcement. Facebook unveiled a series of measures to calm consumers fears on the privacy of content posted on the very popular social networking site. I think it will satisfy many people. You can read more in the New York Times article or on Facebook itself. I did note an interesting Local/Social question from Bilton during the session:

[Bilton] asked about the company’s plans to roll out services that share your location and how it will avoid another backlash about this.

Mr. Zuckerberg: We are really going to try to not have another backlash. The settings that we announced today will apply to all the settings going forward. I’m not ready to talk about anything around location, frankly because it’s not done yet, and we’re not ready to talk about it yet. But we can say that the settings that you apply today will be set for those experiences. This one simple setting will control all of the new products that we launch when we move forward. This is something that we’ve never done before.

What it means: excellent question from Nick Bilton, knowing how sensitive geo-location information can be.  Read about Please Rob Me to understand the potential implications. But Facebook geo-location capabilities are coming! And it will probably be a game-changer.

Facebook to Introduce Location Context/Sharing at F8 Conference?

Via Gigaom.com this morning:

Finally, it is widely expected that Facebook is going to announce some kind of location capability at f8. By adding place tagging, in one fell swoop, they could gain the largest single userbase for updates tagged with location. The check-in behavior popularized by the likes of FourSquare would become more easily usable for its more mainstream audience. This was the approach Twitter announced at its own developer conference last week.

But as users start adding location context to Facebook data, there will be more opportunities to make use of social actions married to geo-location. Aggregating people around location will make it much easier for people to socialize and interact offline. It also opens up the opportunity to go after the lucrative local market, another place to compete directly with Google. Facebook could soon have pages for every local restaurant and hair salon, accompanied by user likes, shares and comments and enabling offline businesses to have closer ties with their users. That would give Yelp a run for their money, too.

What it means: There goes the neighborhood.  Om Malik clearly spells out the local revenue future for Facebook and interestingly enough, Malik says Facebook will “compete directly with Google”, not directory publishers…

Update: AllFacebook.com doesn’t think Facebook will introduce anything related to location.

Google/Twitter Become More Local

Google is going after local search in a big way, especially with mobile and enhanced place listings. Now it is pushing more local searches through its auto-suggest feature on Google.com. When you start typing in a keyword, the suggestions that you see are now geared to your location. Previously these were already specific to a country, but now they are by city.

via Google Suggest Becomes More Local.

What it means: Google continues its  march towards a “local” Web. As I’ve stated before, they’ve won the “utility” war from a search perspective. The opportunity in “local/social” still remains open but for how long? Twitter’s announcement this week that they’re going to enable “places” as a geo-location proxy is important and I predict Facebook will announce something “local” at the F8 conference next week. Traditional local media companies are not innovating fast enough.