Monday, August 29, 2016

Tangled Web

Facebook Places: It's About The Platform, Silly

Perhaps it's not the best thing to write a post about Facebook Places, when I haven't even used it yet (it hasn't been rolled out yet in the Czech Republic, where RFE/RL is based.) But here goes.

There's been a lot of inevitable (and justified) grumbling about this new Facebook feature which, by using geolocation technology, allows you to "check-in" to certain places and inform all your friends on Facebook where you are: i.e. Luke just arrived in Starbucks, or Luke just arrived at the train station. Foursquare and Gowalla have been doing this for a while, albeit with much smaller audiences.

Brian Ries, writing on The Daily Beast, seemed to sum up a lot of the general feeling:

Perhaps not surprisingly, a growing number are not excited about this data dump infiltrating their Facebook page. When a friend of mine checked into his workplace using Facebook’s Places early Friday morning, his girlfriend soon commented, “I’m already finding this annoying,” smeared right there on his otherwise innocent notification update. And when Jenna Wortham, a technology writer at The New York Times checked in with a, "Testing, testing," Lindsey Weber, a freelance writer and blogger answered with a long, "noooooooooo." Another friend of Wortham’s, San Francisco-based Dwane Swanson, wrote simply, “dislike."

I can understand the annoyance factor as I regularly "hide" people who feed their Foursquare check-ins into Facebook, but it does seem a little early to write off Places just yet. For one, Facebook users will quickly learn to disable the functionality (with a bunch of "How to turn off Facebook Places" virals). They will grumble, but they will remain loyal, just as they have done with practically every new product Facebook has ever introduced.

The main reason not to write off Places though is that it's primarily about the platform and all the cool things Facebook is hoping third-party developers will make using the Places API (the interface that allows it to interact with other software).

Yes, now, Places seems a bit pointless (" Yep, in the office now; yep, just got in the car; now I'm buying gas"). But when all those user-generated geolocation restaurant apps (like Yelp) start being popular, or when people sign up for Facebook's HotDate app (where you can find a date within three kilometers), then there will be less grumbling. Check-ins have to enhance a social transaction, otherwise they don't make sense -- at the moment in the stripped-down version, they don't.

Geolocation, for long rumored as the Internet's Next Big Thing, is likely to spawn some pretty neat things, but also some pretty scary things. Imagine a geolocation service that allows people to alert Facebook users within a certain location that their pet has gone missing (the online equivalent of posting those posters around the neighborhood). And then the bad: vigilante groups on Facebook geotagging the houses of suspected pedophiles.

It will be interesting to see how Facebook deals with the latter, as it has tended to be fairly inconsistent in which groups it allows and which it doesn't.

Tags: Facebook,Geolocation

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
by: Thompson Morrison from: Portland, OR
August 23, 2010 18:03
My question is how useful the data from Facebook Places will really be to marketers. I've blogged about this issue here:

by: ej from: prague
August 24, 2010 09:28
You're right that the API will unlock more value but, despite the negative experiences you document, Places has the potential to be enormously powerful even without 3rd party services on top. It will add a real world dimension to Facebook that will bring you closer to your network. My friends will have a physical proximity rather than just a digital one. Its the logical next step.

by: WoodyZeldaB from: Eagle, Colo., USA
August 25, 2010 03:52
Luke, you finally brought me onto your side at the end: “Geolocation, for long rumored as the Internet's Next Big Thing, is likely to spawn some pretty neat things, but also some pretty scary things.”
The first thing I did when Facebook’s newest version appeared on my iPhone was to opt out of it altogether. Heck, the laptop, then the cell phone, liberated me in many ways, allowing me to do work, make and receive phone calls, share e-mails and browse the Web from just about anywhere without anyone knowing where I was or what else I was doing. So why would I welcome anything that blows my cover?
To me, the whole Places thing is both flawed and deceitful to begin with. Just as users can fictitiously tag their “friends” by checking them in at whatever location the user wants, what’s to prevent users from creating fictitious locations in the first place? Like their own house or, as you mention, a liquor store or even a street corner on the seedy side of town?
Besides all that, the Places feature, disguised as something innocent and useful, really is nothing less than the latest bonanza for the marketers and advertisers to whom Facebook and other such Web “services” sell their unwitting users’ private information, preferences, buying habits and social choices every time they “check in.”
Wouldn’t it be great if we all could move around in our society, communicate, chat and share files, photos and video with friends, family and colleagues without having to give up not only our location by a whole lot of other private information to boot? will never invade its users privacy, so predators, spammers and window peepers are kept away. It’s great for anyone on the road, at work or at home, as it offers users the ability to keep different circles of friends, family members, business associates, teammates, whatever, all with complete privacy and security. Check it out at

About This Blog

Written by Luke Allnutt, Tangled Web focuses on the smart ways people in closed societies are using social media, mobile phones, and the Internet to circumvent their governments and the efforts of less-than-democratic governments to control the web. 
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