Facebook Checks Out of Places

There must be some schadenfreude in the location-based social media world today, as rivals like Foursquare and Gowalla celebrate the demise of Facebook Places, the location-based mobile check-in adjunct introduced with great fanfare by Facebook a little over a year ago in July 2010. More broadly, it is also important evidence that Facebook is not invincible -- an absurd notion which nonetheless seemed to be taking root in recent years.

The axing of Facebook places is an undoubted victory for the other location-based social media services, which for dramatic purposes will be cast as the scrappy underdogs in this context. The Facebook juggernaut was supposed to take their collective lunch, sweeping them from the field merely by flexing its huge user base: when Places launched, Facebook had around 500 million members, versus just two million for Foursquare.

But Facebook Places didn't meet with a rapturous embrace by the masses. By October 2010 some 30 million Facebook users (less than 10% of the overall membership) had tried the service, but there was no data indicating how regular this usage was. Then back in June of this year social media software maker Wildfire noted that one of the top 10 check-in locations on Places was Facebook headquarters, suggesting it failed to gain traction with actual Facebook users (versus employees).  Around the same time an estimate from Socialbakers estimated total Facebook Places check-ins in the U.S. at around 750,000 per day in. Meanwhile Foursquare has grown to over 10 million users, who check in roughly three million times per day, according to CEO Dennis Crowley -- three times the number who were checking in a year ago.

The lukewarm reception for Facebook Places is probably due in part to the lack of incentives for check-ins, say through discounts or special offers -- an inexplicable oversight, considering the Facebook execs explicitly positioned Places as their entrée to mobile, location-based marketing. By the same token, it's important to note that Facebook is not dumping location-based functionality entirely: Places is going away, but location-based context will be incorporated more broadly (albeit with a lower profile) across the site, so there is still plenty of potential for location-based mobile advertising, marketing, and the like.

Taking a broader view, the fact that both Foursquare and (until its recent demise) Facebook Places have remained relatively small compared to the social media universe at large suggest that, for whatever reason, most people simply aren't ready for mobile check-ins. I'm curious to hear what readers think is behind this ambivalence; in the past I've written about the concern over privacy and personal security, which is especially widespread among female users, and which may still be a big stumbling block.

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3 comments about "Facebook Checks Out of Places".
  1. Edward Heil from StoryTeller Media & Communications , August 24, 2011 at 6:34 p.m.

    Interesting move. I think you touch on an interesting point though - that FB is not going away from location-based functionality. Might they be passing on places because they don't believe the future is there and that there's something bigger than Places that is worth chasing? It just seems to me that if Facebook wanted to throw enough money and resources at Places - if they really believed there was opportunity to make a killing - they would be there. Sure, maybe they "failed," but I'm more inclined to believe they see opportunities beyond what we may see.

  2. Tracy Hill from T. Hill Group , August 24, 2011 at 6:40 p.m.

    I agree with your assessment completely. I don't believe there was enough value in checking in yet to get users excited about it. But it’s still very early in the game. There was a Mobile Insider piece yesterday about setting up temporary social media networks around events (why not permanent ones for businesses?) that got me very excited about the possibilities that check-ins could provide for both users and advertisers...finally: http://bit.ly/mPCSvD. Somewhat ironically, today, it was announced that Facebook is doing a version of that in its partnership with Ticketmaster by tagging the seat you purchase, so your friends can get seats next to you (although I think it’s also important for users to be able to connect and share content at the event/business to get them to participate). Since so many Facebook users access via mobile, and location-based advertising/marketing seems to be the wave of the future in mobile, I’m certainly not counting Facebook out of the game.

  3. Roger Toennis from Liquid Media LLC , August 25, 2011 at 8:20 p.m.

    This is proof that GPS "check-ins" as a standalone concept are still a "boutique", non-critical, social media feature.
    Places didn't fail because people didn't get rewards for checking in.

    It failed, and ultimately Foursquare and Gowalla and other checkin solutions will also fail, because they are all aimed at a very small minority of the population that are hyper-connected, males (not worried about stalkers), and who are willing to continue the grind of doing this "punch-the-clock" check-in chore.

    Thats a small sliver of any businesses customer set. So Check-ins have always been doomed to fail as a moneymaking "business marketing" solution.