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Strategic insights
What Facebook Places Really Means to You

Written by on August 20, 2010

We are now a few days past the announcement of Facebook Places, and you can read about my initial reaction in "Does Facebook Places Change Anything?"

A much bigger question is what it mean to you? As a person, business, or as a developer? The short answer is; it will take time before any real meaning emerge.

For you as a person

Facebook Places changes very little to you as an individual. You can check into a place, but you have already been able to do that via Foursquare and Gowalla. If you are not already into location based services, chances are that Facebook won't change much.

It does mean that location based adoption rates will go up quite a bit. But, it doesn't mean that all Facebook 500 million users will suddenly check-in where ever they go.

Also remember it's iPhone only for now, which drastically limits the theoretical user base, though it is a popular device.

Facebook places is still too limited to be really useful for anything than telling people where you are, or have been. For most of us that aren't really that exciting.

Location based services only becomes really exciting when it can extend your feelings, experience, or your knowledge linked to a specific location.

Also read: The Future of Foursquare and Gowalla.

What is of some importance is the lack of privacy. Facebook has again completely missed the point of what privacy is all about. As I wrote in "The First Rule of Privacy," I am the only one who can decide what I want to share, not my friends, nor Facebook.

But despite that, Facebook has decided to allow your friends to share your location. They can share it with a place AND with 3rd party site/apps.

This is a serious privacy violation.

I don't mind my friends sharing my location if I have given them permission to do so, but I have to give them my permission first.

Especially because I, like so many others, don't want to tell people when I am away from my home for longer periods of time.

There are three settings you need to take control of. First go to: "Facebook Privacy Settings"

  1. "Places I check in to" can be adjusted by clicking on "customize settings," but by default it is set so only your friends can see where *you* check in. That's OK.
  2. But also under "customize," find the section "things others share," you will find "friends can check me into places." Curious enough it is set to "select one" by default. Set it to "disabled" to prevent people in your friends list to check you in without your permission.
  3. Under "Applications and Settings" and "info accessible through your friends," are all the settings friends can share about you when they use 3rd party apps. Uncheck "places I check into" (and all the others).

The last setting is something that most people miss. To me it is the most damaging of all Facebook privacy violations. Why they even allow your friends to share your personal information with 3rd party apps is beyond me.

Also, notice that it is a rather-complicated operation to change all the privacy settings for Places. Instead of just putting them in a single place, Facebook seems to make it as complicated as possible (they call it "complete freedom to decide on everything")

Note: Facebook has created this "simple" video that explain all the settings.

For you as a business

While Facebook places isn't that important for individuals, it is of vital importance for your business if you operate in a physical location (web shops, service companies etc can ignore it).

If you have a number of physical stores, people will now be able to find and see what other people think about your shop - directly on the most popular channel on the planet.

Facebook is far more popular than magazines, local newspapers etc, so it is of vital importance that you "do something with this."

First thing, of course, is to claim a place. Actually, if I had a physical shop, I would make sure I was the one who created the place in the first place.

When you claim a page, you should merge it with your existing Facebook page. Update your opening hours, pictures, info etc.

One very critical issue is that there will be a place for each of your physical locations. If your company has 300 shops, then there will be 300 Facebook places - each has to be claimed individually.

More important (as far as I can tell), you cannot merge a single Facebook page with 300 places. So each shop will need a separate Facebook page for that specific shop.

This is a really drastic change. Right now, most retail brands focus their resources and energy on a single Facebook page for the brand as a whole. But with Facebook Places, you will suddenly find that you have 300 channels whether you like it or not.

It might sound bad, and it is definitely a drastic change, but keep in mind that this is already happening with Foursquare and Gowalla (most business just don't pay attention to it).

What we have here is actually an incredible opportunity. When it comes to Social ROI, the money doesn't start to flow until you create a direct connection between the engagement that you create and the actual sale.

If you sell products in physical stores, then having a Facebook page is still several steps away from where the sale is happening.

But, if you move your focus from a corporate all-in-one Facebook page, to 300 hyper-local and personal Facebook Page/places, get you store staff to connect and communicate directly, then you have a much higher likelihood of creating real ROI (instead of imaginary numbers that look good at meetings).

If you are smart, you get a good developer to create an automated connection between your local pages, and your main page. So your staff don't have to post things twice, and to better help people find a local shop/connection.

Think of your main Facebook page as your life stream and guide, and each local place/page as the point of your long term interaction.

For you as a developer

As a developer, Facebook Places is just another dataset that you can use to your advantage. We have already seen tons of interesting implementations of Facebook's current Graph API, this just makes it even more useful.

For app developers, this gives you a really big platform to extend your app from. Sure it might cause trouble for Foursquare and Gowalla, but if you want to do e.g. an app for finding art museums, then Facebook Places can provide most of the data, the connections, and the reactions.

Like the huge amount of small Twitter apps and experimentations, Facebook places will facilitate an incredible explosion in location enabled apps.

A few other issues:

  • Facebook places is currently US only, no word yet when it will be expanded globally. My personal estimate is within a few months.
  • You can currently only add a place from a supported device (iPhone for now). So if you are a business, and don't have an iPhone... GET ONE!
  • Places is currently only designed to support physical places (like shops, parks, malls etc), not soft-locations like concerts, events, moving locations, or multiple locations combined into a single "location".
  • iPhone only for now, but other phones coming (will probably take a lot longer to emerge). You can also use "http://touch.facebook.com"
  • To claim a page you have to through a rather lengthy process, involving authorization via phone and proof of legal ownership. More in the Places FAQ.
  • There are some rumors that not all types of places can be claimed. I don't know what that means.
  • For developers, Facebook Places graph is currently read only. Only selected beta partners can write to a place.
  • Like with Facebook community pages, Facebook places will be really messy the next 6 months. (yet another reason to claim your place early).
  • All Facebook places are public (you cannot create a private place e.g. for VIP purposes).

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Thomas Baekdal

Thomas Baekdal

Founder of Baekdal, author, writer, strategic consultant, and new media advocate.

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