When Facebook Places launched this week, I was like a kid waiting to unwrap a present. You know it’s coming but you don’t know what’s inside. I was ready to see what Facebook dished-out in their geo-app and how it would compare to Four Square. Here’s my $.02 and why I fail to be impressed.

Facebook Places is a yawn. I mean, honestly, you’re Facebook and you launch a location-based app with two features? Yes, there are two features: 1) check in and 2) tag your friends. Checking in – duh, every other location-based app let’s you do it. So I’d say that’s more of the basics than a feature. Tagging your friends, now that’s unique and cool and the power of the Facebook social graph. But, it’s also where things get interesting, and that’s not necessarily a good thing.

Let’s say you’re at Game On at Fenway and you run into a friend who you happen to be friends with on Facebook. You check-in to Game On and you tag that friend. Said friend now automatically gets a post on their wall that they’re at Game On with Mr. Check-in. Let’s say said friend told his wife he was working late instead of running to meet the guys for a beer. Hm, I’d call that plain cold busted.

This is a privacy nightmare. Checking-in is a first person prerogative. There are places I check in and share and other places or times when I want to remain stealth. It’s my choice. Now, Facebook gives other people the ability to “check me in” and share my whereabouts without my consent. As my friend Aaron Strout said in his post about the privacy issue:

This is the thing that could make or break Places. The major sticking point being the ability to check people into a location. While I personally like this feature in theory (and it is unique to Facebook as far as I can tell), this will cause plenty of problems down the road. It will only take 1-2 times of someone being checked into a location that you either don’t want to be checked into or weren’t actually at… but by the time your friend/parent/significant other sees the update, it will be too late.

The one thing they really missed the boat on, IMHO, is the gaming aspect or lack there of. I love Four Square. Sure, it has it’s glitchiness and sometimes won’t let me check-in or can’t find my venue, but I think of it basically as geo-location “game” and games are fun. Let’s face it, people, especially social media people tend to be a little competitive and just a tad ego-centric (#justsayin). The idea of checking in to become the Mayor is pretty powerful. I have been trying to oust Aaron B. from his Mayorship at my local coffee joint. Seriously, who is this guy and why do I care? This guy must be drinking espresso via IV over there – I just can’t catch him. See! I love that. I watch people on Twitter banter about stealing mayorships or earning Player badges (yeah, I have that one too:). It’s fun, it’s something to share with your friends and it makes me want to use the app. Facebook completely missed this aspect of the app. Maybe it was on purpose to keep it simple but, to me, it falls way short.

I was out last night and checked-in on Four Square and noticed about 10 of my Four Square friends had checked in at a variety of places. When I thought about checking in on Places, I noticed that none of my friends had checked in – none. It made me wonder if people are hesitant to use Places because of the lack of privacy settings. What if I don’t want to tell my wall that I’m at the coffee shop? Well, too bad. You check in, you broadcast it. I hate this and it will definitely alter the way I use Places vs. Four Square.

So, I haven’t written Places off but I’m definitely finding it less fun and much more invasive than Four Square. What’s your take? Are you using Places? Would love to hear your thoughts.

Join the discussion 4 Comments

  • Gins says:

    Great post, Michelle. If I may add another $.02…my frustration with Places is that I can’t use it–my BlackBerry’s browser doesn’t support the Flash needed to use touch.facebook.com. I understand the initial focus on the iPhone & Droid, but still frustrating for lots of us left out of the “fun.” Additionally, as you do, I enjoy Foursquare. The gaming aspect, the badges, seeing who’s around…and with an automatic Facebook integration as an option. The privacy thing is going to be huge–too many people won’t update their settings for awhile & will get tagged involuntarily As with everything Facebook though, they are constantly iterating, so Places may be a very different product in 6 months. We’ll see.

    • Michelle Heath says:

      Yeah, BlackBerry users really got screwed on the launch. I haven’t even heard of plans to launch a BB version of the app. Aaron Strout had the same comments about privacy and tagging, along with some thoughts on acquisitions and other LBS business initiatives perhaps coming down the pike. It’s Facebook, which means it won’t be the same for very long 🙂 Thanks for the shout-out.

  • Aaron Strout says:

    Michelle – great post and thanks for the shout out. Honored to be quoted in your post. Regarding the “yawn” reaction to Facebook, you’re not alone. Friends Simon Salt and Mike Schneider had the exact same reaction. However, there are two things at play here that could lead Facebook down very different paths:
    1) based on some of what I’ve read, Facebook may be playing the vanilla card on purpose so as not to compete with the gaming element of the other LBS players.
    2) it was announced on Friday that Facebook had acquired LBS provider, Hot Potato, which could be the reason they kept functionality stripped down out of the gate.

    Either way, I look forward to what’s next. Personally, I don’t mind the simple interface of Places. And it’s fun for me to see friends that I wouldn’t normally see checking in on FourSquare or Gowalla checking in on Facebook.

    • Michelle Heath says:

      Hey Aaron. Thanks for your comment and the tweets. I hadn’t heard about the Hot Potato acquisition. That’s pretty interesting and makes sense as to why they went vanilla and skipped the sprinkles. So, perhaps they have some other things up their sleeves that will be revealed in coming months. I also agree on the friends aspect. Just hope privacy concerns don’t thwart the check-in fun.

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