Facebook seems to be rethinking its approach to location. Following a number of large-scale changes to features on the site last week, it has also announced the closure of two of its relatively young location-based products; Facebook Places and Facebook Deals.
Places was the Foursquare-like product that allowed users to ‘check-in’ to locations and was launched with a great fanfare last year. It always had a slightly uncomfortable position on the site and, as with Foursquare, seemed to lack a clear raison d’etre.
Deals was launched in April on the back of Facebook Places to provide local businesses with an opportunity to tap into the Facebook network by offering location-based discounts and incentives. It was tipped as a ‘Groupon-killer’ by the mainstream tech media.
But it too has now been dissolved.
Not the end…
Many, far wiser than I, have suggested this is a sign Facebook is refocusing its efforts away from location. But I don’t think this is the case, for a number of reasons.
Firstly, location is still a key part of the new features that have arrived in the last week. In fact, location is now more prominent than ever and is (potentially) built into every update a user makes, much like on Twitter.
As mentioned above, the problem with Places was always getting users/giving them a reason to ‘check-in’. This move means it is not necessary for them to remember to do anything, it just happens automatically and that means…
Getting business on board
…that more users will be ‘checking in’ and therefore there will be more location data for businesses to use to push deals. Yes, that’s right, although Facebook Deals is closing, the idea behind it remains. Facebook says:
“We remain committed to building products to help local businesses connect with people, like Ads, Pages, Sponsored Stories, and Check-in Deals. We’ve learned a lot from our test and we’ll continue to evaluate how to best serve local businesses.“
So ‘check-in’ deals will remain and I bet they’ll become a key part of the platform in time.
The opportunity argument
This is because, for me, location still remains the nirvana for social businesses like Facebook. You only need to look at the massive success of Groupon and the relative success of Foursquare (perhaps not in user numbers but when it comes to the commercial deals that have been set up using the platform, demonstrating a clear hunger for this type of functionality) to see there is something there.
And Facebook has a great opportunity to tap into this trend namely because it has the users to make it take-off and also to get businesses weak at the knees with anticipation. Let’s not forget that Facebook itself is still frantically searching for new money-making strands. This could be it.
So I don’t see these moves as a sign of Facebook ignoring location, more that Facebook is readjusting itself for a full on location-based onslaught.
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