With the long-anticipated launch of Facebook's location-based service, Facebook Places, predictions about the demise of competing properties like Foursquare, Gowalla and Loopt have been flying thick and fast.
Foursquare and Gowalla executives were on hand for the formal announcement of Places, giving the outward appearance that Places will play nice with its rivals in the social location space. Co-opetition, anyone? But it had the feel of an awkward embrace, like President Obama doing a photo op with Russian Premier Vladimir Putin.
PC magazine's Lance Ulanoff described the rollout of Facebook Places as about to make Foursquare "the mayor of Irrelevantville." Many others have expressed similar sentiments about the 800-pound gorilla of social media adding a location-based offering. But not everyone is forecasting doom for Foursquare and its ilk in the face of the Facebook juggernaut.
During a session on local mobile advertising at MediaPost's Mobile Summit on Friday, Dustin Jacobsen, vice president, social media and technology at interactive agency Barkley, suggested Facebook Places would lift all boats in location by raising awareness of check-ins and other activities beyond what are essentially early adopters.
As evidence, he pointed to Foursquare announcing it had its best day in sign-ups the day after the Facebook announcement. Overall, Foursquare has just about 3 million users compared to Facebook's 500 million. "You're going to see mass adoption around [Facebook Places] and mass education around this, so it will lift everyone in the space," said Jacobsen.
He argued that each of the prominent existing social location services has its own niche appeal and has a big headstart on Facebook in terms of attracting retailers and other businesses already on board offering special deals and discounts via check-ins through their applications.
"There's no value yet to using Facebook Places from a consumer standpoint," he said, since it has not yet been populated by businesses offering rewards or coupons. That view sounds a tad short-sighted, though, since scads of businesses will claim venues there and start offering deals soon enough. About 1.5 million business or other entities already have Facebook Pages to promote products and services.
Panel moderator Greg Sterling, a senior analyst at Opus Research, wasn't as sanguine about Foursquare's peaceful co-existence with Facebook Places. He thinks it's the one among the check-in apps that could be most directly impacted by the Facebook incursion.
"However I think the bigger challenge for Foursquare is to build a larger, more mainstream audience and address check-in fatigue or burnout that's happening to some of the early adopters," he said. Check-in fatigue could eventually afflict Facebook as well, but for now, it could provide another reason for users to shift from other location services to Facebook Places.
In that light, Foursquare could turn out to be the MySpace of the mobile social networking world. What do you think? Is Foursquare toast, or will you -- early adopter -- keep using it to connect with friends around town despite the arrival of Facebook Places?