Facebook Places: the Good, the Bad and the Ugly

Unless you live under a rock (or are part of the ever decreasing part of the American population not on Facebook) you have probably heard the news about Facebook Places. On the surface, Facebook places is the social-behemoth's attempt to take over the growing market being pioneered by companies like Gowalla, Foursquare and SCVNGR*. The success of Facebook Places is yet to be seen, we've all seen other companies stumble when trying to move into other markets (see: Google Wave) and Facebook hasn't yet made a dent in Craiglist with its Facebook Markets.

It's certainly not a foolish move. The fact is, many large companies are trying to get their hands around location-based services. Even Major League Baseball. I noticed that my MLB iPhone app has a feature buried deep in its functions that lets you check in at ballparks. I'm not sure what they're planning to do with this functionality, but now that Facebook has moved into the market they can probably sync up with the big boy.

But let's take a look at what's good and bad about the way that Facebook currently has this configured.

The Good

Places opens up the idea of location-based services to a much larger audience than Foursquare could reach. At its heart, Facebook is about connecting with friends and finding out what they are doing with their lives. Why wouldn't location play a role here? Don't we all love the surprise meetup? Case in point: one night my wife and I were out to dinner in Brookline. While walking by a Thai restaurant we heard banging on the window, and there were friends we hadn't seen in a while. We talked and ended up getting dessert together. It changed an evening that probably would have ended early to a fun evening with friends.

Now imagine we checked in at our restaurant earlier and were informed that friends were nearby. Now it's not so spontaneous, but we can actually seek them out, or avoid them. Either way. But in this case Facebook is about connecting friends, not just online, but face-to-face.

The Bad

I can't imagine what my newsfeed will look like once people start checking in. If the Facebook newsfeed becomes a noisy mess, the utility it brings me drops and my use of it will as well. So this is something Facebook will need to manage.

Also, I'm wondering about the impetus for people to check in. I believe that the market of people who want to earn badges is relatively small, certainly not the mass audience that Facebook reaches. So it will be interesting to see what drives the checkins and whether Facebook can utilize relationships with advertsers or local merchants without alienating its users.

Finally, I'm not thrilled with how Facebook continues to apply its features as opt-in rather than creating an automated "asking" process on a login. Lifehacker has a great article outlining how to adjust your privacy settings. Facebook should take note that when Lifehacker puts out an article specifically telling people how to TURN OFF a feature, it may not be something people want.

The Ugly

The idea that someone else can check me into a venue is a horrifyingly bad idea. In a wonderful perfect world where everyone is actually friends and no one plays practical jokes, this would work. And if you live in a place like that please let me know.

But I'm not interested in letting people decide to tell the world where I am. That's a decision that is mine and mine alone. Facebook should disable this feature immediately, and in lieu of that, I suggests that everyone disable it in their privacy settings.

* It's worth noting that SCVNGR has funding from Google Ventures.

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