About two and a half years ago, when I first signed up for this new thing I had heard about called Twitter, and long before I had ever uttered the word “social media,” I was introduced to what was probably the first location-based social network. It was called Brightkite, and only a handful of people I knew were using it, probably 90% of whom I knew through Twitter.
Needless to say, Brightkite has gone the way of Bebo and Friendster, joining a growing list of startups that ended up in a “failure to launch” kind of situation.
Flash forward to late 2009, and along comes Foursquare. I got an invitation to join when the Richmond network was in some stage of beta, and next thing I know, 50 people I knew were on board. About 10 months later, my list of Foursquare friends sits at around 350, a much smaller number than my Twitter or Facebook lists, but for several reasons.
One of those reasons is privacy. I asked myself, did I really want everyone knowing where I am at all times? Through built-in connection options on the Foursquare iPhone app, I’m able to selectively choose which check-ins I share with my broader social media family and which I keep to the smaller group I’m okay with knowing on Foursquare.
Just this week, Facebook announced what I see to be a complete game-changer for location-based social networking. Facebook Places, as it was dubbed, is the social media giant’s entrance into the market. With such a small number of the total population using services like Foursquare and its smaller competitor Gowalla, it would seem a safe bet that Facebook would take the concept mainstream with their base of over 500 million (and counting) users worldwide.
In my opinion, Facebook is off to a great start with Places. It’s simple and intuitive, and seems to pull places from a database such as Google Maps, much like Brightkite did, as opposed to relying on users to create venues. But, if a place isn’t listed or has incorrect information, you can still add or edit the venue. What’s more is creating a venue makes a Facebook Page for that place.
I’ve noticed that most of the places I’ve checked into so far that have an existing Facebook Page don’t have the venue linked to it, rather Facebook creates a new, bare bones page for the venue, if that makes sense. This is kind of annoying and I would think could become frustrating for end users and business owners alike, but I’m sure it’s something that will be tweaked in the near future.
Another issue is privacy. Facebook allows you to tag friends at the venue you’re at, without their consent. With Foursquare, another person had to check themselves into a venue before they’d show up in anything you posted from Foursquare to Twitter or Facebook. While that information will only be visible to your friends by default, you can choose to share it publicly.
In summary, I’m excited about the possibilities of Facebook Places. As more of my friends have signed up for Foursquare, it’s been cool to walk around The Fan or similar places and see a friend check in and meet up for a drink or other spur of the moment activities. Facebook is no doubt going to make location-based social media a household concept, unfortunately at the expense of the smaller startups. While there are privacy and technical issues to work out, I think this is about to spread like wildfire, and just like the advent and evolution of other social networks, I’m ready for the ride.