Facebook has just announced its long-awaited location strategy in the form of “Places,” a new check-in/location functionality baked into existing apps, starting with the iPhone in an updated slated for later tonight.
The new functionality is similar to other LBS offerings like Foursquare and Gowalla whereby users check-in to various locations to notify and be notified of friends in the vicinity, but differs in a few key areas. For one, users can tag friends who are checking in with you, which is an important feature going forward given Facebook’s massive social graph. In addition, you can tag people in photos and status updates using the familiar “@” sign which creates a “story” on both users’ walls. This “tagging” function will play an important role in the future of Facebook’s strategy.
Other differences include how “place pages,” or “venue pages” are represented. Each place page displays a recent activity section — or “News Feed” of sort for that specific place — and on the Web, there are a number of different section with data about previous check-in history and other venue-specific data. To the right has a cluster of profile images so you can see friends who have visited, etc. “Places is not about broadcasting your location to the world, it’s about sharing where you are with friends,” explained Mark Zuckerberg during the announcement.
Facebook was careful to mention the privacy ramifications of the new functionality and placed heavy emphasis on explaining it thoroughly during the announcement. First of all, you can only tag people you’re friends with and, by default, your check-ins will only be visible to people you’re friends with (though you can obviously change this to be visible to everyone if you choose). You can also opt-out of allowing friends the ability to tag you in a location update.
The new functionality is already live on Facebook’s touch-optimized site “touch.facebook.com,” and will be baked into an update for the Facebook iPhone app to be launched later tonight. As the hard details are still unknown, we’ll be following-up with updates as they become available.