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Check-in’ out the location-based apps, Pt 3 – Facebook Places

Henry Elliss
Henry Elliss
Managing Director
13 October 2010

This is the third in a series of five blogs, looking at some of the major players in the location-based app business – FourSquare, Gowalla, Facebook Places, Yelp and SCVNGR. As well as looking at the pro’s and cons of each for users of the service, I’m taking a look at what opportunities they present for brands and services who might choose to use them. On Monday we looked at FourSquare; Tuesday was Gowalla; Today, part 3 of the series takes a look at…

Facebook Places

The newest entry in to the location-based space – although they’ve been talking about it for longer than some of us care to remember. The launch of Facebook Places has obviously attracted a lot of attention – including a blog that I myself posted on Econsultancy just this morning – “The rocky road ahead for Facebook Places“…

facebook-places-logoHow app-y does it make you?

In terms of functionality, even Facebook themselves would find it hard to argue that it’s only really a ‘skeleton’ service at the moment – with one key differentiator setting them apart from the competition; That is, it’s a service built AROUND your existing social network, rather than a service trying to capitalise on your network.

As one of the commenters on the blog I mentioned above pointed out, being able to see which of your friends are ‘checked in’ at either the location you’re are or something nearby is a really useful tool for sociable people. Most of FB Places competitors offer this facility to a lesser extent, but the power of your Facebook-based social graph is what could really set them apart from the rest.

Essentially, all users can currently do with Places is check-in – though unlike other services, you can also choose to check-in other people with you. As with most of Facebook’s decisions lately, the “allow friends to check me in” option is opt-out rather than in, meaning the service has already attracted the usual bundle of complaints and scare stories from people worried about privacy.

How about the website?

Unlike the rest of the services I’m reviewing this week, Facebook obviously didn’t need to build a new website to promote Places – it’s built into the existing site. They did however build a little landing page for it, which you can see below…

facebook-places

What sort of coverage do they have in the UK?

In a word, excellent. Facebook had the VERY bright idea of pre-loading the application with almost every business address in the UK, seemingly using ‘local business’ directories and websites to pre-populate. This has obviously lead to a few teething troubles (I can’t seem to find any petrol stations on there, for instance) but generally speaking it made for a very professional launch on Day 1.

Hopefully this pre-population will discourage people from setting up their own spots and causing duplicates – or worse still, those spammy ‘My House’ locations that you see so much on FourSquare these days.

photo (15)What can brands do?

As mentioned above, a lot of brands will come to Facebook Places and find that their ‘pages’ have already been created for them, so that saves a lot of legwork for a start. However, some brands are obviously going to want to make changes to their locations – for instance if:

  • Your brand operates multiple locations, such as branches of a bank or shops in a chain
  • There are mistakes with your business details, or they’ve changed since the service launched
  • You don’t want the public to be able to ‘check in’ to your business, for some reason

The process of creating new spots is very easy, and ‘claiming’ existing spots is also surprisingly easy. As you’d expect from a service the size of Facebook, the process is quite slick. In claiming the Tamar.com office, for instance, all I need to do was provide a scanned copy of a utility bill (uploaded to the site – take note Twitter, with your silly reliance on Fax machines…!) and some other basic info. It took less than 48 hours too – though I suspect that may increase as claims become more popular.

Whilst a ‘claim’ is fairly simple, Facebook have not yet launched (at least in the UK) the ability to merge spots with your existing page (it’s coming, apparently) or claim multiple locations (ditto). More news on that when we get it…!

How easy is it for users to set up?

That’s almost a pointless question really – if you’re ABLE to use the service (i.e. you use Facebook on your mobile) you already CAN – the day Places launched in the UK it literally just appeared in the menu of the Facebook mobile application. No other sign-up or logins necessary.

photo (16)Why should I choose this one?

For starters, it’s certainly the easiest to set up (see above) – though the limited functionality means it’s probably not going to persuade serious users of the other services to switch too quickly. If you’re looking for a way to tell you’re friends what you’re up to though, it’s by far the most simple to use – provided of course that you’re on Facebook in the first place!

It’s also got a few nice micro-features that show good signs of things to come – a bit of intelligent wizardry in the background stops you from creating duplicate spots, for instance, which (as far as I’m aware) none of Places’ competitors currently have. They also make the process of reporting incorrect information very simple, as you can see from the screenshot to the left.

How ‘social’ is it?

If you call Facebook the centre of your social universe, very. There’s no option to port check-ins out to services like Twitter though, so it’s a bit of a walled-garden approach at the moment.

In summary…

As much as people like me might hate to admit it, unless something goes hideously wrong for Facebook, Places is quite likely to big the king of all location-based services before we know it…

Tomorrow… Yelp!

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