After ‘jiggery pokery’ Facebook Places finally hits Ireland

4 Feb 2011

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Despite having a significant operation in Ireland, we are probably one of the last countries in Europe where Facebook Places has gone live. But finally it has and despite my irritation at its tardy arrival, my first impression of the location app is that it is slick.

Facebook Places, which debuted in the usual way to large countries like the US and UK first, back in August, on iPhones, and in September on BlackBerry devices, is effectively Facebook’s rival to Foursquare, there’s no getting away from that one.

Essentially it allows you to ‘check in’ to tell your friends where you are, whether you’re at home in your gaff, in the office or in a restaurant or a bar, wherever.

You could say it is a Foursquare clone, but then again if you think about everything Facebook hopes to achieve in the years ahead, location is the lynchpin of its entire strategy.

Not long after Places was launched, in October, Facebook launched ‘Deals’, which allows users to be rewarded discounts and coupons if they check in from a restaurant, bar or coffee shop.

Few realise just how important mobility and location are going to be to commerce in the years ahead. I detect a pincer movement of sorts in terms of how events are unfolding – on the one flank you have Google and Apple preparing next-generation operating systems for devices that will come with near field communication (NFC) chips to allow debit and credit purchases via your mobile phone. This flank appears quite orderly and is marching in step, slowly but steadily.

But over on the opposite flank a more rowdy horde of opportunists from Facebook to Foursquare, Amazon and eBay, not to mention Groupon, Yelp and LivingSocial are all trying to bound ahead and be your social wallet. Yep, get your deals and discounts, buy your goods based on where you are. Thrift commerce is unfolding rapidly as a segment.

One unexpected forager so far has to be Tesco, whose mobile app on the iPhone allows you to walk the aisles, scan barcodes of goods on the store’s shelf and proceed to the virtual checkout on your device and get the goods delivered to the home. You, in the meantime, can saunter off and have a coffee no longer encumbered with shopping bags.

eBay has said the introducing of barcode-scanning technology on mobile devices has enabled it to be a contender for fashion goods on the High Street. In 2010, eBay generated US$2bn in global sales through mobile devices alone – up by more than 200pc on 2009.

So back to Facebook and Places – Facebook has the opportunity to be the social glue in the future shopping experience. You can tell people where you are, what you’ve bought, they can ‘Like’ this, suddenly communicating this information to other like-minded souls who may saunter down and pursue a similar deal. This is advertising gold to retailers who are already in some countries reaping the benefits of the Groupon phenomena, in some cases receiving more business than they can handle.

I would be surprised if Facebook doesn’t come up with a barcode app of some description so friends can compare deals and find better deals down the street. That should be the beauty of location, right?

First impressions of Facebook Places

Well, for months I would play with the Facebook app on my iPhone and occasionally just check if the Places button teasingly placed there would actually work. “Sorry, this service is not currently available in your country yet” or some message to that effect would pop up.

From my Facebook news stream a few people I know who are clearly more in the know than me had that darn purple map marker logo popping as they hopped from place to place while I self-consciously checked in from Foursquare. This actually matters, what will I do with my Foursquare community now? Well, that depends on how useful I find Places in the days ahead.

First impressions: I don’t think Facebook is taking any chances with its privacy on this one. When you ‘check in’ you are reminded that this will appear to all your friends and offer you the opportunity to manage your settings.

What I like about Facebook Places is that it is slick and easy to use and feels lighter to use than Foursquare. Unlike Foursquare however, there is no badge system so you can be the mayor of a venue, for example, or create a swarm effect. I suspect Facebook is leaving it up to its app developer community to come up with social games that will no doubt herald in advertising and e-commerce opportunities based on location.

I was impressed with just how many of my Facebook ‘friends’ had started using the new app to ‘check in’ – 21 so far.

All in all, I see potential. It’s a smooth app to use and I will forgive Facebook for this late showing because I think over time it was worth the wait.

Facebook app developer Betapond described the delay of the app arriving in Ireland as a bit of ‘jiggery pokery’ and has posted a useful blog on the impact of Facebook Places for businesses.

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Editor John Kennedy is an award-winning technology journalist.

editorial@siliconrepublic.com