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Facebook Places May Bring Checking In to the Mainstream

Facebook Places May Bring “Checking In” to the Mainstream

Facebook Places Yelp, Foursquare and Gowalla have received their fair share of media attention and tech geek buzz, but none of these apps have reached critical mass in terms of audience. The notion of being able to check in, see where your friends area checked in and get information about nearby businesses with a location-aware app has long been heralded as the future of social gaming, proximity marketing and an all-around exercising of the full potential of smartphone technology. Facebook Places—the social network giant’s new feature that allows users to check-in places and see where their friends are checked-in as well—may be the one to make it reality. With over 500 million users, Facebook is nearly as universally subscribed as email, which is good news for socially-minded applications, where it’s always “the more the merrirer.” For Yelpers and Foursquare users outside of metro areas such as Los Angeles and New York, lack of activity has seriously affected the fun factor of social and location-based apps. Many Yelpers found themselves trying in vain to convert their friends into users just so they’d have someone to interact with on the platform.
That’s what makes Facebook Places so exciting. Facebook Places may serve as the tipping point that brings everyone into the realm of location-based social gaming and “check in” culture—especially since Facebook has no designs towards boxing out its existing competition in the field. Facebook is reportedly working alongside developers for Foursquare, Yelp and Gowallla so that the platforms are integrated, rather than at odds with each other.
Of course, it wouldn’t be a Facebook feature rollout without some controversy. Facebook Places allows users to initiate check-ins on behalf of their friends. For example, if you and three friends were sitting around a table at a bar, you could check them all in. Or, perhaps more troublesome, if you spied an acquaintance ducking into a venue, you could also check them in. If someone checks you in, you receive a mobile notification asking you to authorize the check in. But the American Civil Liberties Union takes issue with the only alternate option: “not now.” For now, there is no way to tell Facebook flat out that you don’t want anyone checking you in, which leaves the door open for Facebook Places to nag you to authorize all future check-ins until you give in. The ACLU also has concerns over the “People Here Now” feature, which allows you to see which of your Facebook friends are nearby. Currently, the feature only has an “on” and “off” option, without the ability to select which groups of friends can see you r location.
Facebook Places is still in its infancy, however, so these privacy kinks will likely be ironed out in the near future. For now, it should be exciting to see how Facebook Places brings location-aware applications into the mainstream.
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