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Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Facebook Vs. Foursquare: What You Need To Know About Today's 'Location' Announcement

Posted By on Wed, Aug 18, 2010 at 9:11 AM

click to enlarge facebook.jpg
If you're the type who's always looking for another time-suck social-networking application to fall prey to, chances are you'll be tuned in to your Twitter account this afternoon for a much-anticipated announcement from Facebook at its Palo Alto headquarters. The technorati have been abuzz with rumors that the 500 million user-strong social network is getting ready to announce a new "location" service that enables people to share their whereabouts with the world.

Yeah, it sounds weird to us, too. And if you're not in the tiny fraction of the human race that inhabits the Silicon Valley hothouse of hyperactive bloggers and affluent early adopters, you probably don't get why you'd ever want to routinely publish your geophysical location on the Internet. What about stalkers? Bill collectors? Census takers? Does anybody really want to be interrupted over a plate of Little Star pizza by an angry boss or disgruntled ex?

Turns out they do. Some of them, at least. The location-sharing social application, Foursquare -- in which people "check in" to various restaurants and clubs throughout their city and can see the venues frequented by their friends -- has been able to raise a healthy amount of funding from investors and attracted a small but growing base of users. Foursquare markets itself as a way for people to discover new businesses based on the preferences of those within their social network; on the flip side, it provides yet another metric to businesses trying to profile customers within an inch of their lives.

Now Facebook is rumored to want in on the action. Here are the big questions the tech world will be looking for company officials to answer this afternoon:

-- To what extent will Facebook simply incorporate feeds from other, existing location services -- such as Foursquare -- as opposed to launching its own service in direct competition with these applications? The fate of the existing services, which are dwarfed by Facebook, could hinge on this decision.

-- A related question: Will Facebook be partnering with an existing location service, as opposed to breaking new ground on its own?

-- How extensive and detailed will location-sharing be? Various pundits have speculated about the sophistication of a potential Facebook location-sharing feature. Some speculate that it could be as simple as attaching a set of geographical coordinates to FB status updates, rather than the more detailed levels of commentary on businesses offered to users of Foursquare.

-- How big a deal is this, really? Tech bloggers are notorious for loose sourcing and bad predictions, so it could be that today's announcement won't be quite the watershed moment in social networking that some expect. 

The announcement is scheduled to begin at 4:30 p.m. Stay tuned for an update on The Snitch later today.

Follow us on Twitter at @TheSnitchSF

and @SFWeekly 

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Peter Jamison

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