Geo-tagging, location-based services or just plain ‘telling everyone where I am’; whatever you call it, ‘location’ got bigger last week with the launch of Facebook Places.
In common with social networking sites like FourSquare, Facebook Places allows users to share their location with their friends by ‘checking in’ to that place.
It’s only had a limited release in the US so far but, given that it comes from the world’s largest social networking website, it’s set to offer location-based services to the mainstream.
Of course, the early adaptors who use sites like FourSquare (1.9 million users) and Gowalla (340,000 users), both launched just last year, are already well-used to ‘checking-in’, but bolting it on as an offering for Facebook’s 500 million users will give the concept a massive boost.
And yet it’s not a part of Facebook I plan on using any time soon, except perhaps for some very light testing.
I already have a general suspicion about Facebook’s fiddly privacy settings, which only adds to my healthy distrust of the location-sharing concept. The latter is fueled partly by the Please Rob Me website and partly by articles on cyber-stalking such as this one.
But perhaps ultimately it comes down to what I’m willing to share online, which is guided by an often shifting set of principles. So, at the moment I might choose to Tweet about where I am, but the thought of checking-in leaves me cold. I think this is because where a Tweet is just one part of the conversation, a check-in is the conversation.
Added to this there are the practical considerations for it to work, for me at least. Foremost of these is that not all of my friends are on Facebook, not all them have smart phones, and if I want to meet up with them I’ll put a bit more effort into it than checking-in with Facebook Places.
But despite this, there are some location-based services that I totally get. The Maps iPhone app that automatically shows my current location or apps that point you in the direction of the nearest London Underground station have an easy and intuitive appeal.
Less appealing is the Google iPhone app that wants to use my current location each time it’s launched – exactly how that’s relevant to my Google search for what Bollywood films Channel 4 is showing next month, I don’t know.
So far Facebook Places is only available in the US, and then only on the Facebook iPhone app or online via touch.facebook.com, but a global roll-out of the service is expected soon. Then we’ll see if it’s the next Google Wave (remember that?) or the shape of things to come.