It’s kind of bewildering. Pundits complain that only %6 of Facebook users used Places. But %6 of 700 million users is roughly 3-4X Foursquare’s entire user base. It’s really not even about active users anyway. It’s about the reach of Places check-ins through the social graph.
Places activity is featured prominently in your newsfeed. Check-ins frequently generate comments and from non Places users. These conversations can be a valuable viral marketing tool for venues and events. Check-ins on Facebook Places are far more valuable than those of Foursquare or any of its lesser competitors due to their reach.
Facebook has stated they are opting for a new geotagging feature on pictures and posts instead of check-ins. I do like geotagging much more than check-ins, actually. I think this is one of the best features pioneered by Instagram. I’ve gone to venues because I saw something really delicious tagged at a local restaurant. I’m also more likely to geotag than check-in. Checking-in is a big statement compared to adding location information to a post. Still, can’t check-ins and geotagging all just get along?
For developers, location just got a bit trickier. Basing a game or app on check-in history has always been a bad idea. You don’t want to require a log-in for a game–a good percentage of your users will drop out upon seeing a log-in screen. However, Facebook Places offered more of an opportunity to use social check-ins in an app since it’s attached to a mass appeal social network instead of a niche app like Foursquare. Who remembers their Foursquare password?
Places was seemingly thrown out there with very few enhancements made to it over time. Maybe Facebook decided the cost to whip it into shape was just not worth the effort. After all, revenue streams from check-ins have always been suspect.
This goes to show you that even if the 800 pound gorilla decides to muscle in on your turf being focused and nimble can pay off. It was looking grim last Fall, but Foursquare vanquished the beast and has emerged unscathed with a new round of funding.
Facebook will probably use that prime area of real-estate the Places button occupied in the mobile app for a more lucrative feature. Yet, I can’t help but think they didn’t give Places a chance. The fact is, location will remain an important feature in mobile due to the very nature of the device. Facebook just can’t figure out how.