So Facebook, who a few months ago dipped their toes into the geo-location waters, this week leapt into them with a full on running jump. In announcing the next stage of development of Facebook Places to include Deals and a simple, cost effective way to monetise a user’s geographical check ins they have shown us what their vision geo-social networking is.
Whereas the 5 million or so geo-location early adopters on Foursquare, Gowalla, Yelp etc. have been happy to use it for the game element of getting badges and the enjoyment of seeing where their friends were, there was always the feeling of “it’s cool, clever and fun, but how can it grow/spread?”. I’ve had this discussion with a number of people, and this was always the underlying question.
Well this announcement has shown one way of making it happen.
The idea is simple. Owners of venues encourage footfall and offline traffic by offering deals/incentives to their Facebook fans who check in. For example Gap in the US have offered the first 10,000 customers who check in on Facebook with 3 of their friends free jeans, and 40% off for people who couldn’t make it in the first 10,000. Simple idea to get them in and sell them your products.
The technology is not new but in terms of taking it to the masses it is. Foursquare specials have done the exact same thing for a while but with the idea now exposed to a wider network of businesses that want to take advantage of it, it gives them an easy way of offering their customers rewards. The scale of the Facebook community (500m users, around 7% of the world population) cannot be ignored.
Where does this leave us and the competition?
Part of Facebook’s announcement concerned the read and write API, allowing developers to access user check-ins and feed back to them. This could hold the key to whether the competition sink or swim. Facebook’s scale makes it a big player, and if users adopt the deal model, then the Foursquares, Gowalla’s and Yelps of the world will need to somehow integrate into it. Can the coolness of the foursquare badge collection be sustained long term and will businesses think they’re as cool as users do and pay to sustain them as an independent model? Not so sure.
And how are the users going to adopt it? My Facebook news feed is quite random when it comes to Places. I have over the average number of Facebook friends (which apparently is 160) who seem to check-in quite randomly and in bursts, whereas my Foursquare friends check in pretty much everywhere they go. Train stations, stores, bars, clubs, at the gym, at home. I don’t mind that because that’s all it’s for so I accept it, but I don’t want my Facebook news feed clogged up with almost 300 people checking in to everywhere they’re going. It’ll be Farmville/Mafia/Vampire spam 2.0.
I’m genuinely intrigued by this, and I think the simplicity of it will facilitate businesses both large and small in being able to adopt the technology. When I watched the social network film recently, it put back into focus the simplicity of the idea behind social networks: getting friends together and letting them do what they do, online. They talk to one another about what they’re doing, talk about parties and events they’re going to and look at eachother’s photos – now they do it all online. This Places development takes that offline to online link and brings it back round to the real world again. It could be big.
What are your thoughts, will you now be using Places and do you think it’ll work?