Facebook Enters Location Sharing With Bare Bones 'Places'

Thus far, the new Facebook app only offers members the ability to share their exact geographic location with friends and family on their contact list -- or with the whole Internet -- at any given moment. It also lets users check-in any Facebook friends that are currently at the same physical location, as well as add status updates.

Meanwhile, Facebook's recent launch was met with initial skepticism from competing applications and other critics who claimed that the new Places lacks the complexity or rewards offered by other location-sharing apps.

Unlike other location sharing apps such as Foursquare, Facebook Places doesn't offer "rewards" such as virtual badges awarded to users who "check in" to a set number of venues. Users can't use Places to provide tips about the level or service, quality or ambiance of a business, or even upload photos. Users can't join any virtual groups based around the "places" they visit. And, unlike similar apps, Facebook Places doesn't offer discounts to members who "check in" to a business.

Facebook could possibly add these features down the road, but for now, it's simply a "no frills" location sharing service.

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There could be some indirect benefits. Some critics contend that the monolithic Facebook will likely popularize the location sharing space, which would give a necessary boost to more developed, competing services.

Meanwhile, the new Places feature might find its niche as a marketing tool for business owners with a physical location, and whose existing or potential customers might also be among Facebook's 500 million users.

Business owners can advertise their Facebook Places page, and target users who "Like" their Places page with specials and promotions. And the social networking giant could possibly add a marketing feature that would target only those who have "checked into" the user's place of business as the new app gains momentum.

Facebook users wanting to take advantage of the new app will be required to "check in" and claim their place to receive a Facebook Places page. The user will need to corroborate their place with details such as name, URL, address of business and a Federal Employee Identification Number, along with uploading scans of official documents. Some of the required documents include articles of certificate of incorporation, certificate of formation, local business license, or Better Business Bureau accreditation.

Facebook is likely taking its usual "strength in numbers" approach, relying on the fact that at least a fraction of its user base will take advantage of the new service. And with half a billion users, even a fraction will probably be enough to give competitors such as Foursquare and Gowalla a run for their money.