When Facebook launched its Places feature last year, which allowed users of the social network to announce their location to friends, Chris Cox, a top executive there, waxed rhapsodic about what it meant for users.
"Too many of our human stories are still collecting dust on the shelves of our collections at home," Cox told reporters assembled for the event. "Those stories are going to be pinned to a physical location so that maybe one day in 20 years our children will go to Ocean Beach in San Francisco, and their little magical thing will start to vibrate and say, 'This is where your parents first kissed.'"
With the news that Facebook is discontinuing Places, is that romantic vision coming to an end?
In five weeks, Facebook will roll out a new feature that will allow people to post their location without logging into a separate section of Facebook on a mobile device, as they currently have to do.
The newer feature, according to analysts, also does a better job of addressing security concerns of users who do not want to publicly share their whereabouts. But the real unanswered question is whether it will create that fundamental urge to record one’s location for posterity that Cox spoke of.
According to a Kurrently search for “Facebook Places,” many users were posting links to articles about the change on Twitter and Facebook, but most seemed indifferent to the news.
“Facebook places killed off eh?” Kenny Lowe tweeted. “Fascinating.”
It’s clear, a year later, that Facebook didn’t create the emotional connection to the idea of checking in that Cox spoke of at its launch.
Meanwhile, Foursquare, the largest location-based social network, has continued to grow—and still attracts quirky usage like people checking into “Hurricane Irene.” Facebook Places never seemed to generate that kind of off-kilter behavior—a sign, perhaps, that people just didn’t feel very strongly about it one way or another.
“Facebook did a terrible job of explaining Facebook Places,” said David Amerland, an expert on social-media marketing.
“Facebook could have beefed it up but two other things happened in the meantime ….The first one was a storm blew up about privacy issues on Facebook. Its poor handling of privacy concerns seriously tainted in the public eye any kind of geolocation service it was proposing to bring out and hampered its efforts to promote Facebook Places. The second was that Google increased the functionality of its own Google Places.”
Google+, Google’s recently launched social network, has a check-in feature on its mobile app which is tied into Google Places, a feature tied into Google’s frequently-used maps and search services.
Others, however, think its too soon to count Facebook out of location-based social media.
“I have no doubt that Foursquare's growth gave Facebook a little more incentive to really look hard at this functionality and figure out what is best for its community,” said Ben Zifkin, CEO of Hubba, a software company that integrates with the different check-in providers and other mobile marketing partners. “They did not, however, bow out of the race. You have to remember that even if only 2% of all Facebook users utilize location functionality, their user base for this feature alone is still larger than Foursquare's.”
Some saw the changes as a move to eliminate steps for Facebook users who want to share their location with friends.
“In the end, it could make more people use (the new version of) Facebook Places because it will become more natural to check in somewhere right as you’re posting an update. There's less clicks involved to check in somewhere,” said Alex Peerenboom of Formic Media, a Portland, Ore.-based search engine marketing agency specializing in helping companies implement social media strategies. “I often used Facebook Places, and it was a hassle to pull up a different part of the app just to check in somewhere So I won't necessarily miss that dedicated section.”
The announcement also positions Dunkin’ Donuts to be one of the last major companies to utilize Facebook Places as a marketing strategy. On Monday—one day before Facebook announced it was doscontinuing the feature—Dunkin’ Donuts announced a contest to find the “President of Dunkin’ Nation” in which contestants use Facebook and Foursquare checkins to win prizes.
It’s just as well. Who wants their children’s magical things to vibrate at a Dunkin’ Donuts 20 years from now?
Photo by David Armano