Oh the Places You’ll Go!

The title of this post is the name of a classic book by Dr. Seuss, but it also refers to the introduction by Facebook of its newest service, Places.

Places is Facebook’s long-awaited entry into the location-based services marketplace. As I’ve discussed previously, this area is an outgrowth of the social networking/smartphone connection and it’s quickly becoming the next major growth sector. Facebook’s Places is an attempt to counter the momentum of such services as Foursquare and Gowalla, if not crush it altogether, as well as capitalize on user activity in local over the long term.

As with Foursquare and Gowalla, Places enables users to “check in” at places and tell their friends where they are. The difference, of course, is Places users can seamlessly alert their friends on Facebook. Attempting to distinguish Places from competitors, Michael Sharon, the Places product manager, tells The New York Times:

“This is not a service to broadcast your location at all times, but rather one to share where you are, who you are with, when you want to. It lets you find friends that are nearby and help you discover nearby places.”

Not surprisingly, Foursquare and Gowalla told The Times that they see Places “as a complement to their own services and as an opportunity to gain additional distribution.” Foursquare actually was present at Facebook’s headquarters for the news conference announcing Places – so at least for the present time, the two companies are playing nice.

Facebook’s move comes at a time when it is increasingly positioning itself against Google in what could be the mother of all Internet battles. With its 500-million user base, anything new Facebook offers could have widespread adoption. “Facebook’s long-term goal with Places appears to be to capture the largely untapped advertising opportunity that local and small businesses offer,” says The Times, although Facebook says it currently has no advertising products for Places. Google, of course, generates most of its income from ads; in fact, AdWords is responsible for over 90 percent of Google’s revenues.

Walter Mossberg, the renowned technology reviewer for The Wall Street Journal, said his test of Places showed that it was “easy to use and reliable, with mostly logical privacy controls, an issue on which Facebook has been bruised in the past.” He does mention, however, that Places is “more stripped down and leaves out some attractive features others [like Foursquare and Gowalla] include.”

But it isn’t really the features that matter, as much as the fact that Facebook is now squarely in the location-based game. That could be good or bad for services like Foursquare. However, Places is definitely one more piece of evidence that Facebook intends to face off with Google head on. Google is making the inevitable move towards social networking features and trying to attract small businesses through location-based initiatives. Places is clearly focused on the small business market as well, because it is expected to help drive consumers to local businesses and will likely take advantage of developing options like pushing coupons or offers to users as they check in.

At the moment, Places is in early stage availability in the U.S. and available only on the iPhone. That will surely change as Places rolls out. And Places will just as surely add fuel to the fire in the Facebook-Google battle.

About Barry Silverstein

Barry Silverstein is a freelance writer/marketing consultant. In addition to writing for ReveNews, he is a contributing writer to Brandchannel.com, the world’s leading online branding forum. He is the author of three marketing books, The Breakaway Brand (co-author, McGraw-Hill, 2005), Business-to-Business Internet Marketing (Maximum Press, 2003) and Internet Marketing for Technology Companies (Maximum Press, 2003). Barry ran his own Internet and direct marketing agency for twenty years. You can find Barry on Twitter @bdsilv.

9 Responses to Oh the Places You’ll Go!

  1. Al Boss says:

    I've avoided the location-based games so far, but with it integrated into Facebook, I've got one less excuse.

  2. Just did my first checkin today. Did anyone notice the tounge and cheek shape of the streets? They look like the number "4". Get it?

  3. Pamela H says:

    I agree with Al. I did not adopt Foursquare or Gowalla. Please bring Places to the Android soon!

  4. Chris Condayan says:

    I think Facebook's entry into this space will definitely make location-based services more mainstream. And, certainly bump it up from Pew's recent survey that says 5% of American's have used such services. However, I think we are at least a few years out, if not more, from when this will become a profit center.

    From a consumer perspective, it would be nice to see a service in which you could create a wish list for products with a price point you desire. When you are in a location of a retailer that has that product at the price you want, you get a text alert. No need for check ins.

  5. David Jacobs says:

    Foursquare and Gowalla have been novelties up to now. This move by Facebook pushes things much farther toward legitimacy. That being said, adding check-in features to Google Maps should be a no brainer and very powerful for Google. The end result for Gowalla and Foursquare? They're in trouble.

  6. I am totally in agreement; of course I am biased since I along with my company am all about LBS which is why we are partnered with Facebook. UBL.org offer a service which develops LBS in Facebook along with Foursquare and to a less degree Twitter, plus another 350 local publishers.

    BTW, if you get to Sausalito, CA check out the Dr. Seuss exhibition; it was awesome!

  7. […] would be easy to dismiss Places as Facebook’s attempt to simply keep up with the Foursquares and Gowallas of the world. But the recent announcement that Places will […]

  8. […] 18, 2010 – Facebook entered the LBS market and launched Places, effectively relegating Foursquare and Gowalla to […]