Facebook Places – Product Updates and User Behavior Three Weeks In
In the weeks since Facebook launched its location service Places, it has been refining the product while users and businesses get more comfortable and explore its potential. Places is being further integrated around the site, with check-ins listed on the Events home page and in the right sidebar. Businesses have begun claiming their Places, opening that Place’s wall to user posts, photos, and more.
Recent Checkins Module: Upon launch, Places was more of an isolated feature, with little representation on the web version of Facebook. Now, users are reminded of the product on many areas of the site. Along with Places stories in the news feed and Places pages, users are now seeing a “Recent Checkins” module in the right sidebar while viewing other in-house apps like Photos and Events. Surfacing highly relevant content you might have missed, similar to Photo Memories and Unread Messages, Recent Checkins shows the profile pic, name, Place, and time of a checkin recently made by a friend.
Current Events with Time Stamps: The Events home page includes a “Happening Now” panel to inform users of the day’s events and birthdays, to which Facebook added checkins two weeks ago. Facebook now includes the exact time of checkins in “Happening Now” to ensure users don’t trek to their local coffee shop to meet a friend who actually checked in 3 hours ago and has since left. It’s still not as useful as the checkin feed offered to mobile users, but third party developer PlacePop recently released a Facebook app to bring this functionality to the web version of Facebook.
Here Now: Facebook has also enabled the “Here Now” function to show strangers at the same location as you. The result: Instead of waiting for third-party apps to help them meet new people, some users are sending Facebook messages to strangers they see on the “Here Now” list in hopes of forging new connections.
Facebook says that the Here Now list which “lets you see who else is currently checked in at that Place” was active since the launch of Places, but many could only see friends in this list at first. Now when a user is checked in to a Place, they can see the names, profile pics, and links to the profiles of anyone also checked in there who hasn’t disabled the Here Now feature. Users don’t have granular control over Here Now, meaning they need to reveal their identity to everyone also checked in to the same Place, or hide themselves on Here Now even from their friends.
Those who leave Here Now enabled open themselves up to strangers. Since users can check in as frequently as they want to anywhere within half a mile of their GPS coordinates, one could theoretically check in all over town and scan each Place’s Here Now list to maliciously locate someone. Less sinister, but awkward and creepy to some is that since Here Now provides links to user profiles, its easy for someone at the same Place as you to send you a private message. We have received reports that users are now spotting someone from across the bar; matching their face to a profile pic on Here Now; clicking through to their profile; and messaging them. For some this could a fun way to meet people, but it could make others weary of the Here Now feature.
Most important at the three-week mark, though, is that people are still using Places. Initially, active users were checking in everywhere they went, but now they are mostly checking in to Places they want their friends to join them at. Group outings to parks, sporting events, and bars are seeing more checkins, while short, individual visits to coffee shops and non-name restaurants are producing less checkins. Users are signaling prestige by checking into high-profile restaurants, and broadcasting their mobility and general location by checking in to their departure and arrival airports. Checkins to one’s home at the end of the night are used to convey that one is no longer accepting inbound communications, and many are checking in to their Place of work – a common practice on older location services like Foursquare.
Places, and the user behavior that surrounds it, will evolve over time. Facebook can bolster long term popularity of the product if they use this crucial period to react to feedback and mold Places to facilitate its developing usage trends.