Location based social networking is surely the breakthrough of 2010 with the likes of Foursquare and Gowalla competing for most of the previous year. Facebook Places arrived late onto the scene and, as a result, has not run entirely to plan.
First we had the statement on launch night from Mark Zuckerberg himself that the usefulness of ‘checking in’ at locations via Facebook would allow users to find their friends in the real world.
Come on, we all know the real reason is:
“We’ve noticed a threat in rival social networks and they are eating away at our Market share, so we’d better get our asses into gear and launch our own, stripped down version but make it available to our user base to retain our users and sell more advertising”
We would all have respected Zuckerberg more if he’d told the truth.
Facebook was built on the strength that it never crashed, they released new functionality and spread to new locations slowly but steadily to ensure a seemless user experience.
This has also not been illustrated with Facebook Places.
The mobile apps were released worldwide but here in the UK, we were left with a defunct ‘Places’ button that we couldn’t use initially.
In addition, ‘Places’ are actually ‘Pages’. The URL structure is the same as business pages. This makes sense because places and businesses should be public, but surely they hold different information?
The user generated content of places, pages and groups may have decreased the uselessness of certain searches. Coast manages the pages of a top London based University. A quick search of this institution resulted in approximately 200 pages or groups. The add-on of places as pages has exploded this amount even further, thus reducing the reliability of the data that Facebook holds.
The use of places as pages also illustrates that this was not the meticulous, thought out process that we usually link with Facebook. Official documentation states that although you can link a place to a page to get an enhanced page, you shouldn’t do this if you are part of a chain (or have more than one location).
Again, another indication that the process hasn’t been thought through.
The current nail in the coffin is the users. Foursquare and Gowalla have a dedicated following, but these people tend to know what they are doing. The mission of these popular location based networks is to find out about where you live. The main function of Facebook places is to find out where your friends are. People tend to make their friends laugh by saying that they’re on the toilet… These networks rely heavily on their users and at the moment Foursquare are still on the rise.
Ultimately, Facebook will improve and hopefully their users will be educated to use the service properly. It’s too early to say that Facebook Places will fail but at the moment we hope that Foursquare and Gowalla continue to rise.