Facebook's New Location Features Look Less Like Foursquare, More Like, Well, Facebook

Users Want to Tag Locales Just Like They Tag Friends, Says Social Network

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Everybody, calm down: Facebook is not getting rid of its location-based product, as has been reported elsewhere over the past few days. Rather, one year in, it is making some major changes to it. The new location-based features look less like a Foursquare wannabe and more like an all-inclusive product that better reflects the way users actually use Facebook.

The changes were laid out in a Facebook blog post explaining a bevy of new features on privacy and sharing.

Previously, the only time a Facebook user could mark a location was via the Facebook mobile app, the idea being they would mark their current whereabouts. Now, rather than tethering location to mobile devices and limiting check-ins to an app, the new product -- which is no longer called "Places" but has no new name -- allows users to tag locations in any post from whether on a phone or a tablet or a computer. Interestingly, as Facebook aims to be more like itself and less like Foursquare -- a service that has been strictly about where you are right now -- Foursquare could be seen as trying to be more like Facebook, where anything mentioned on the site is up for tagging.

Facebook executives told Ad Age that after evaluating Places for the past year (the product launched last August), they learned that users viewed location as just another part of their everyday lives, one that they are more than happy to share on their walls. "People tell their friends what they are doing, who they are with, and where they are," a Facebook exec said in an email, explaining that location can be tagged in the same way that users are tagging friends in posts. "Now a place becomes another descriptor to add to any post. It can be a place you are, have been, want to go or just want to talk about." As of Thursday, the Places logo will now be called Nearby on the mobile app.

It's no wonder Facebook wanted to tweak its location offerings -- that Places lagged behind more popular location-based companies such as Foursquare was no secret. In June, Ad Age learned that Places' most popular check-ins were airports and, ironically, Facebook HQ. The new location product hopes to change that .

Check-ins are essential to Facebook because they create an opportunity for advertisers and marketers to know where users are going and to offer savings, deals and coupons based on those check-ins. When Facebook Deals launched in November as an extension of the Places product, 22 retailers -- including Starbucks, McDonald's and the Gap -- partnered with the social network to offer deals based on check-ins. Foursquare, despite having a much smaller user base than Facebook, continues to partner with major restaurant chains, retailers and even American Express.

Foursquare has fared well since Places launched, reporting more than 10 million global users with more than 3 million check-ins per day this spring.

Executives said check-in deals will continue to be offered to users, but can now be based on a more expansive variety of Facebook activity. If McDonald's sees that a user has tagged it in a post ("I'm heading to McDonald's for lunch"), it can offer coupons before the user gets there. This is where Facebook's potential dominance becomes obvious -- the ability to mine real-time conversations of more than 750 million users is not really available on any other platform. (For a while, Facebook has been testing ads based on real-time posts.)

While they declined to say how many users are checking into these locations -- allowing for an assumption that the numbers are low -- Facebook execs said the top five dining locations measured by check-ins on Facebook are Starbucks, Buffalo Wild Wings, Chili's, Applebee's and McDonald's -- all brands that have millions of dollars at their disposal to spend on advertising on Facebook.

Business owners can still claim their business on Facebook and become part of the location ecosystem, one that Facebook hopes will continue to evolve.

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