Facebook Launches Location Feature With the Help of a Few Frenemies

Last Updated Aug 19, 2010 2:01 PM EDT

Facebook launched a new location based feature last night called Places. It lets users "check in" to share their location and see friends who are nearby. Sound familiar? That's because it's a total rip off of trendy service like Foursquare and Gowalla, both of whom were at Facebook's headquarters last night to pay their respects during the announcement.

Executives from the smaller geo-location services all spoke about how exciting it was to be "partnering" with Facebook. But the truth is Facebook is just giving them early access to the open API that will be open to all third party developers. The WSJ's Kara Swisher nailed the disconnect, calling the execs from Foursquare, Gowalla, Yelp and Booyah who praised Facebook Places, "A parade of glassy-eyed hostages."

Zuckerberg, who has been accused of making off with other people's ideas in the past, probably felt it was wise to protect his image by showing how buddy buddy Facebook was with all these services. Places also follows Zuckerberg's clean, minimal approach, so having services like Foursquare and Booyah connected adds a layer of gaming and style that Places doesn't have on its own.

Josh Williamson, the CEO of Gowalla, declared that Places is a great opportunity for "additional distribution of our service." It's certainly true that Facebook's 500 million users are a huge market for these smaller services to engage with. But as the Altimeter Group's Michael Gartenberg wrote on his blog, if Facebook Places becomes the default location service, consolidation in the industry will follow. Only third party services that differentiate themselves in a meaningful way will survive.

Notably absent from last night's back slapping was Google, even as its name appeared front and center in the Places app. That's because the launch of of a location based service will thrust Facebook and Google intro greater competition for local advertising dollars. Hell, the search giant's small business service, which it launched back in April, is actually called Google Places. What is it about this geo-location stuff that makes companies so incestuous?

Image from Flickr user Chokola
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  • Ben Popper

    Ben Popper writes at the intersection of culture and technology. His work has been published in the NY Times, Washington Post, Fast Company, Rolling Stone, The Atlantic and many others. He lives at www.benpopper.com.