Facebook Poised to Enter LBS Game

At the F8 Facebook developer event many people expected the company to announce its long-awaited location feature. It didn’t happen. But, according to AdAge, location is imminent for Facebook and marketers are already on board:

Facebook is preparing to launch location-based status updates for its users. But the social network is also planning to offer it to marketers, including McDonald’s.

As early as this month, the social-networking site will give users the ability to post their location within a status update. McDonald’s, through digital agency Tribal DDB, Chicago, is building an app with Facebook would allow users to check in at one of its restaurants and have a featured product appear in the post, such as an Angus Quarter Pounder, say executives close to the deal.

The launch of the feature is complicated to some degree by Facebook’s existing PR problems over privacy. However, let’s assume that those subside. Furthermore, “checking in” is entirely “affirmative” and voluntary.

Beyond the check-in capability (and potential advertising angle) it’s not clear how location will manifest on Facebook (online or in mobile). But let’s assume that it will look something like this:

The AdAge article and others wonder aloud (as is now an almost perfunctory exercise) . . . is this a Foursquare or Gowalla “killer”? I would say no.

I look at the whole thing somewhat differently. I would see this as the potential mainstreaming of check-ins.

We’ll obviously have to wait and see what shows up later this month (apparently). But Facebook will likely broaden the market and help expose more people to LBS and check-ins. And the McDonald’s angle is very interesting.

Couponing, deals and mobile loyalty is becoming a huge area of mobile marketing and Facebook may further expand it.

In February, I wondered over at Internet2Go how long it would be before Facebook became a mobile ad network (with its 100 million active mobile users). This could be the beginning — and it could become more “effective” than anything Facebook is doing with display online.

Update: AdAge is further reporting that McDonald’s “will be one of many marketers in on the ground floor and will be integrated into the platform sometime after Facebook turns on the feature for consumers.” These “ground floor” marketers apparently have been “stymied by the lack of scale with services such as Foursquare, Loopt, Gowalla and MyTown” and are eager to get into the LBS game with Facebook’s greater reach and scale.

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Over the past 24 hours there have been several posts about the relative sizes of Foursquare (1 million plus), MyTown (2 million) and Google Latitude (now apparently 3 million users). Google’s Steve Lee also “hinted” to the Web 2.0 crowd apparently that check-ins were on the way for Latitude.

All of this in the aggregate makes the check-in phenomenon a more mainstream part of the local-mobile experience.

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16 Responses to “Facebook Poised to Enter LBS Game”

  1. Will Scott Says:

    Greg,

    I think Check Ins are a logical extension of the social experience regardless of the platform. The Game Theory element of it is only a small part.

    As you’ll recall, 3 – 4 years ago there were a number of “Check In” type services, DodgeBall and others, who didn’t make it because the user experience at the time was awful (pre-iPhone, BlackBerry, Android ubiquity).

    I was having a conversation yesterday in which we were discussing the extension of the “game” idea. For many it’s simply being the first to check in in some silly place like “3rd urinal from the right at Commander’s Palace”.

    That said, I agree with you that I don’t think there will be much loss for Foursquare as Facebook enters the space. There’s something to be said for the value of a simple user interface, and until Yelp and Facebook come up with as compelling a user model I don’t see it.

    I’ll be very interested to see what happens if Facebook and Yelp begin to integrate some of the coupon and competitive / complimentary offer features for Foursquare. I see that as a really compelling, potentially killer app.

    Imagine you’re a Gelato Shop who happens to be on the same street with a half-dozen restaurants. Bam, there’s your customer base. If you could push a message to everyone who checks in at those restaurants (check in here for 1/2 price Gelato) imagine the power. And it gets more interesting when you think about the competitive aspects.

    Will

  2. Greg Sterling Says:

    Agree and agree.

  3. David Mihm Says:

    IMHO the full impact of this program won’t be all that great until Facebook has some sort of normalized data set to rely on, as Andrew (and I) have suggested in the last couple weeks. I could be wrong about that but it strikes me that the ‘Fan Page’ is not nearly as useful in terms of location information as a claimed place page or Yelp listing or Foursquare venue…how does FB tie in all of the geo-tagged “feck-ins”(?) to the same business, particularly if that business hasn’t claimed its page?

  4. Greg Sterling Says:

    Fan pages are obviously different than claimed listings. Yes, a claimed listing has more value because of the different user behavior (I’m looking for a dentist on yelp vs. being a fan of Dr. Mihm on Facebook). Although the new Like button makes every site/profile into a fan page.

    Think FB has to figure out all the location stuff. If it truly wants to be useful and effective for marketers it needs to evolve further.

  5. Will Scott Says:

    David,

    I think that’s a really interesting point.

    Here’s what I think: Facebook almost doesn’t need its own data (I’m sure they’ll hvae a Localeze, Axciom, InfoUSA dataset as soon as they want it). Given the information which is coming across in the “Like-ins”, if you will, they could easily develop their own local business dataset by inference.

    There is surely an issue of normalization but the same thing happens with Foursquare. There is a challenge on Foursquare of users creating the listings (Yelp has seen this too) and not necessarily representing the business as they would choose.

    Foursquare has *solved* this problem by enlisting power-users to actually merge duplicate listings.

    FB has yet to do serious SMB outreach but as we saw from the sticker move they’re clearly on their way. There are lots of smart folks at FaceBook so they’re likely to figure this out sooner than later.

    Greg, in re: location, GPS is a powerful tool and given Facebook’s stance on privacy I could easily see them activating it for all activity in their mobile apps.

    Will

  6. Will Scott Says:

    Oh, and by the way, I jut noticed the “like” button on Foursquare this AM. Ba-da-bing, ba-da-boom – it’s done.

  7. Greg Sterling Says:

    Twitter, Facebook, Google are all interested in small biz ad dollars. Agree with will that Like data creates something quite powerful. But there are tools and APIs as data sources and to de-dupe. See Placecast’s Match API (auto de-duping)

  8. Greg Sterling Says:

    How will traditional media players deal with it when FB and Twitter and Google are aggressively pushing into the SMB market.

  9. Will Scott Says:

    Greg, easy answer: Adapt or die.

    Look at what Dex is doing with business.com – it’s telling that RHD made the decision to do away with traditional IYP (e.g. Local Matters) in favor of pure-play online such as business.com. Business.com becomes a great partner for online outlets where “BestRedYP” (blast from the past) never could.

  10. Greg Sterling Says:

    Agree that Business.com is a great asset

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  14. David Mihm Says:

    I agree with much of what you guys both said, namely that ‘every page is a fan page now’ could obviate to some extent the need for underlying data. Power users could certainly do some of the heavy lifting but until FB starts asking businesses to include contact info as part of their Fan Pages I do not think they will achieve a large enough horizontal scale to be taken seriously as a true Local play…just my .02.

  15. Will Scott Says:

    David,

    From both the data and my experience with the people I think you’re underestimating the reach and ambition of Facebook.

    Will

  16. Simon Baptist Says:

    RE: Normalising listsings.

    It’s my understanding that there is no plans to normalise the objects in the OpenGraph and therefore not create an ontology from a claimed/official page – instead, a Social Rank will come into effect.

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