Well, first off, it’s only rolling out across the US at the moment. Like Foursquare before it, we have a little time to assess its utility, or otherwise, before we have to consider whether to engage with it or not.
But what is it?
Places is a location-based application. As Facebook says,
“Ever gone to a show, only to find out afterward that your friends were there too? With Places, you can discover moments when you and your friends are at the same place at the same time.
“You have the option to share your location by "checking in" to that place and letting friends know where you are. You can easily see if any of your friends have also chosen to check in nearby.”
This is the essence of the location-based applications like Foursquare and Gowalla.
What value are such services to me and my business?
These services allow companies to reward frequent users of their services (think of the reward card at your local coffee shop).
They are also a great way of tracking where on-the-road employees are. For example, are they at a particular client at the moment, servicing a photocopier or fixing a leaky roof?
It’s also a potential privacy risk; a mutual friend can disclose to you and your boss that your own personal sick day could be re-classified as ‘a day at the races’.
Naturally, after the recent kerfuffles around privacy, the team at Facebook have built in some on/off buttons to switch that and other features off.
Geolocation apps and business promotion
Foursquare is the leader is developing development relationships with a business focus in mind. According to Simon Salt on ReadWriteWeb, so far, the most developed app is placewidget, which allows owners of a location to promote, via a website widget, the "Mayor" of their location on their website. Until now, any real marketing revolving around Foursquare was offline, and had to be location-specific. By bringing the ability to market both their involvement in the Foursquare community and promote a loyal customer, this widget gives a lot more power to businesses looking to leverage this type of social networking.
According to Simon, Foursquare also recently announced it had signed two deals with media outlets. The first is an agreement with Metro, Canada’s number one free daily newspaper, to have content for venues provided by the newspaper. The second is with Bravo TV, which will include Bravo Celebrity Tips and Bravo-branded badges for over 500 locations.
A game like Foursquare is great, but a content-rich social network is something a lot more valuable. Thus, adding in Facebook’s 500 million-plus users into your database gives businesses a lot more flexibility when it comes to marketing their business through social media.
Imagine being able to reward not just the ‘Mayor’ (the person who visits your business the most), but also the remaining top four out of the top five. Handled correctly, goodwill can stretch a long way on the internet.
Geolocation applications like Gowalla, Foursquare and Facebook Places are just taking off in popularity. As more and more tie-ins with these services are developed (and they will be now that Facebook has joined the game), I am comfortable in predicting that in two years’ time most businesses will be wanting to harness the power that comes from people sharing their location.
N.B. See also Julian Cole’s views about Facebook Places in Australia; and also TheBusinessInsider’s thoughts. John Paul Titlow back over at ReadWriteWeb has a great article on the implications of Facebook Places for small businesses, too.