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.