Facebook Places: What it means for media brands

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Facebook has launched its much-anticipated location-based service, "Facebook Places," which allows users to "check in" to certain locations such as restaurants, bars, music festivals, etc. Dubbed a "collective memory" of things Facebook members and their friends "saw, felt and lived," the new service is designed to co-exist with other location-based services such as Foursquare and Gowalla instead of competing with them.

Photo by Dave FisherFacebook Places API

Instead of simply taking the best of Gowalla and Foursquare's features, Facebook is opening up its platform for developers via an API. Launch partners Yelp, Foursquare and Gowalla all discussed how their apps will now interface with the Facebook API (documentation can be found Facebook's blog). Some highlights included:

  • Yelp: Eric Singley, Mobile Products Director, spoke briefly about a feature called Monacle, which will let you move your phone around and see which of your friends are nearby and in which direction they are in, which sounds similar to the Starwalk app.
  • Gowalla: CTO Scott Raymond said that photos from Gowalla can be published to Facebook.
  • Foursquare: VP of Mobile & Partnerships Hulgar Luedorf broke up a bit during my viewing of the video stream, but he seemed to indicate that badges and mayorships could be pushed to the stream. As of this article's publishing, TechCrunch reports that 20% of Foursquare users are already publishing their check-ins to Facebook.

Media companies can begin integrating this API into their own mobile apps. Consumer publications can take advantage of restaurant dining, the bar scene, vacation spots, sporting events, music concerts, etc. Just about anything that could become a shared experience is a great idea for the Facebook Places API. There's even a B2B application: Imagine a Wired.com app that lets CES trade show attendees check into the booths with the coolest technology and leave comments, take pictures, and see which of their friends had also been there. Heck… if I were Wired, I'd be calling CES to see if they were interested in a crowdsourced trade show daily.

What makes a good Facebook Places integration?

Chris Cox, VP of Product for Facebook, discussed how some technologies from the last century, namely the TV, radio and telephone, made us more cloistered in their homes. He said that Facebook sees location-based services as a way to reverse that trend. He said that Places should become a "collective memory of things we saw felt, and lived together, all memorialized… that's dope. Too many of our human stories are collecting dust on our shelves at home."

Good Facebook Places integrations will apply these concepts to their apps. Make something that really taps into a shared experience: a football tailgate at a game, a concert or festival, food and drink, etc. These events could be shared at the same time, or you can look into the past to see the stories that others have had there and bring them into your experience. Pictures, videos and tags (references to which of your friends was with you at the time) are all critical components to storytelling. Journalists should think of Facebook Places as one more resource to aid them in their storytelling or curation efforts.

Privacy

Facebook's privacy issues are well-chronicled, but they have made some efforts to avoid repeating previous mistakes. First, there are no changes to their privacy policy or terms of service as a result of this launch. Second, you can set your privacy settings before using the Places functionality, and the default setting is to share Places content only with your friends. You can remove check-ins in case you were at a place the night before that you don't want people to know about today (seemed like a good idea at the time!). In addition, you can only tag friends when you check in. So, you can't tag friends into a place without also checking yourself into it (perhaps inspired by the movie The Hangover). More coverage on privacy.

Summary

Facebook Places can be used by journalists to tell stories, while the API can be used by brands to create intimate connections with their audience, helping them chronicle their passions within Facebook and the brand/magazine that caters to that passion.

Additional Facebook coverage:

To get a better feeling for how Facebook Places works, check out this video. Let us know what you think - is Facebook Places a living time capsule or just another fad?

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