In case you missed it, Facebook just shoved their body through the location door in a big way last night. The company cloned the most popular location services in the world and baked their ideas into its own platform. Everyone is asking the same question: what does this mean for the little guys?
Facebook has made a big deal so far about working with Foursquare and Gowalla, two companies that are going to integrate with Facebook’s new location API. Ostensibly, that sounds like a potential win for Foursquare and Gowalla – after all access to 500 million people is a big deal, right?
Half way. Think of it like this: you can use Facebook to check-in and never touch Foursquare, Gowalla, MyTown, or Yelp, which means that a lot of people will not access these services. Most people will likely start using Facebook Places and never even hear about Foursquare. The hardcore fans of each of those companies will continue to use the first-party clients to check into Facebook with the Places API, but they will comprise a small portion of the overall userbase.
Why bother to work apart from the social graph that matters? Facebook, not MyTown, is where all your social data is, and they are going to help you leverage it. I care, to put it plainly, one hundred times as much where my Facebook friends check-in, than where my Foursquare friends do. Why? Of my 300 or so Foursquare friends I know about 5 of them personally. Without giving any numbers, I will say that I actually know quite a few more of the people I’m friends with on Facebook. It’s a huge difference.
Facebook controls my entire social life in an odd, annoyinlgy pervasive way. If my normal friends (no offense, but that probably means not people reading this post) start using Facebook places, as none of them use anything else, why would I want to use Foursquare to check-in apart from Facebook? Why not go to the source? Why has my data moved into Facebook from some other application, only to then be treated and refarmed back to my phone? I could just use the built-in Facebook Places feature. It’s a one stop shop, simple and done. I’m going to lose my lone mayorship, but I can live with that.
Also, let’s be plain and blunt: Facebook is not going to help grow Foursquare, and the service’s paltry 2 million techies are not going to float it. Facebook is doing a big deal of playing nice at launch so that they don’t seem to be the evil big corporation who show up late to a small but growing party. Now they’re going to drink up the bar and pee on the host’s carpet.
Look at the graph below. It’s a rather famous way to look at a product life-cycle. Guess where we are right now? Before Facebook’s announcement we were teetering on the edge of the chasm between real momentum and the earliest adopters. Facebook just pushed the entire idea of location over the gap. In one fell swoop they changed the game. All the other location services have to jump sooner or later, but with Facebook sucking up their potential sign-ups and current users, will they ever make it?
Realistically, in six months Facebook will have built out its Places capabilities and will have at least three times the number of active users that Foursquare sees. They will also have a special tool that Foursquare will never have: access to Facebook’s real back end. Facebook Places can be integrated so deeply that everything else is just tacked on. Things like that can dry up and blow away; things that have ‘four’ in their names. Being able to access an API is not as useful as being the application that the API works with.
So, go ahead and do it, delete Foursquare and get set up with Facebook Places. After all, why fight the giant who is destined to win? Foursquare is going to remain a hyperactive hideout for nerds on the go. The future is here, and if you update the app, it will be on your phone.
PS: I am hardly alone in this line of thought, just in case you think that I have a personal axe to grind. I asked this question on Twitter: “Can anyone explain to me why Foursquare/Gowalla are at all excited about FB Places? I’m catching up at the moment,” and received these responses:
Not unanimous, but they have a strong lean towards the “uh Foursquare and Gowalla are in hot water” view that I take. What do you think?