While everyone was talking about the new Facebook Places application last week, I wanted to wait until I had a chance to actually experiment with it myself and report firsthand back to you on my analysis. A little bit of historical perspective can’t hurt any analysis either: A few days in social media seems like a few months in real life. Now that a few days have passed and I’ve had a chance to take the Places application out for a test spin, I realize what Facebook is trying to do: Become the default social aggregator of your information at home or on the go. We’ve seen them do this by creating a platform and mobile application that helps you keep in touch with and check out what your friends are up to. They have extended this with the Social Graph API so that you can see what else your friends “liked” as you browse the web, with some companies like Levi’s extending the Social Graph APIs to the extreme.
If mobile and the location-based application are the next biggest thing, instead of reinventing the wheel, Facebook decided intelligently to partner with the leading “check-in” services in Foursquare, Gowalla and Yelp to extend their presence with the Places application. In doing so, they have positioned themselves as the default place to check out where your friends are when you’re outside on the go. As a result, similarly to extending the Facebook experience to the Web with the Social Graph, they are now extending themselves to location-based services, and in doing so will continue to be a sticky social aggregator. Here’s my analysis on 3 reasons why this is the case:
1) Places API and Partnerships Extend the Location-Based Social Application
By opening up their APIs as they always do as well as creating partnerships with the leaders in the field of location-based social applications, Facebook continues to position themselves as the aggregator of social information. I didn’t realize this myself until I started using Places and noticed all of the check-ins that were happening outside of FB on other platforms. Facebook doesn’t and shouldn’t care whether you use Foursquare, Gowalla, or Yelp to check-in: All of your check-ins on these other platforms will now flow into Places. Furthermore, with the new Places API, companies like Booyah, the creators of MyTown, are planning to release a new application called InCrowd. One can only predict that this is just the beginning of companies building upon the Places API. Why not? Analysis from a business perspective will clearly show that if you wanted to offer a location-based service, FB is the clear platform to partner with because they potentially give you access to half a billion users. Not bad, huh?
2) Where are Your Friends?
Recent statistics show that Foursquare and Gowalla have a combined 2 million users. As with any new Web 2.0 application, the value in the application is only there if a lot of other people are using it. While a lot of my social media friends are using Foursquare, analysis has proven to me that whenever I check in at a local restaurant here in Orange County, California filled with tens of people I am usually the only one checking in. Facebook recently hit 500 million members. Do the math and you’ll come to the conclusion I made: Facebook is where your friends are, not Foursquare, Gowalla, or even Yelp. Doesn’t it make sense, then, for the largest social media site to aggregate all of these other check-in services so you can truly see where all of your friends are? You can now see why the partnerships above make sense for each party: Foursquare needs more users for its platform to become mainstream, and Facebook needs active users of location-based mobile social applications. And, whether we like it or not, we all need Facebook.
3) It’s About Your Friends, Not Places
To further emphasize my point that Facebook is all about your friends, the user interface for Places first shows where your friends are. I was confused as to how I could go about checking-in from there, until I realized that the “Check-In” button on this initial screen will lead you to the familiar “Places” screen like you have in Foursquare. It is true in Foursquare that the “default” screen is Friends, but I am always using “Places” first to check-in and then see where my friends are. The cool thing is that as I write this blog post from the comfort of my home, I can launch the Facebook iPhone application and instantaneously see where all of my friends have checked-in. Facebook seems to understand that it’s not about the check-in and becoming a “Mayor” but about seeing where your friends are and keeping in touch with them.
Where is all of this analysis going? Without a doubt, Places will lead to broader acceptance of location-based social applications. In fact, as predicted, this has already happened: Foursquare has already seen a surge in new signups since Places launched. And it wouldn’t surprise me if Foursquare actually used the Places API to extend their own platform into the world of FB. I will personally stick with Foursquare for my actual check-ins while checking up on where others are on Facebook, but one very positive potential from all of this is that maybe people will stop tweeting their Foursquare check-ins and instead realize that all they need to is simply “check-in” to be found on the default social information aggregator of them all: Facebook.
In case you’re still not familiar with Places, here is a video explanation straight from the source:
Where do you think Places is leading us?