This morning shortly after midnight Eastern time Facebook announced new features for their Facebook Places service.
On August 18, 2010 Facebook Places was suddenly available to everyone downloading the latest Facebook cell phone app. Shortly thereafter we spent a full week comparing and contrasting various location based services including:
* Facebook Places
We announced the findings of our study during our live broadcast on August 28, 2010. We felt that, hands down, Facebook Places was the most worthless of all services. It seemed Facebook rushed the service to the market without full maturity, or even a sense of potential value.
The biggest problem we felt was the fact that Facebook openly admitted that once someone checks-in to a "Facebook Places" page it would create an entirely new, stand alone type of Facebook "Fan" page.
Facebook gave business owners the ability to claim ownership of the Places page, but only through a VERY difficult document verification process which required a copy of articles of incorporation, or business licenses, or utility or phone bill with your business name. This proved to be impossible for many businesses with a doing-business-as (d.b.a.) name because you rarely have such documentation with your d.b.a name . Even if you managed to claim your Places page you were powerless to do anything with it unless you wanted to start all over again and build new relationships.
The first person who checked-in to a location had the full power to create the name listed on the Place, so we recommended that each jewelry store to check-in to their own store, but then leave it alone for now.
We referred to it as a desert island on the ocean. No boat, no connections to anything... it was just... well... useless as a business tool.
Facebook has thrown all those island survivors a very strong lifeline that will change the entire playing field for local businesses.
First, they made it easier to claim your place through email verification or via a phone call with a PIN (just like Google Places does it).
Second, it is now possible to merge your Business Page with your Places Page! The resulting page is a layout we've never before seen: a hybrid between the two. They don't seem to have a name for this merged page except to call it a "merged page," so we'll call it a Facebook "Business Place" Page.
The Business Place Page gains these features:
* Richer consolidated landing page design that includes a location map
* Tabs are no longer at the top of your page, they are listed as icons on the side
* A new "Friend Activity" area showing all check-ins
* Total number of check-ins by all people shows up on the side
* The Wall now shows up as a subsection of your landing page
We're happy about these new changes and see a lot of new value in the Business Place Page design, the first of which is the "cool" factor you could achieve among your fans when your jewelry store is the first to set this up. Your jewelry store has a chance to be a local technology leader if you do this merge right now.
In conclusion, here's our updated point of view:
1. Facebook Places has become valuable for illustrating to your online fans how many people are actually visiting your store (and there might be a contest idea in there somewhere too).
2. However, the cell phone Facebook app still doesn't have an incentive, or ability to attract new local customers with ads like Foursquare, Whrrl and WeReward do.
3. The entire Facebook app is actually devoid of ads, so the other location based services still have a competitive advantage, and are still more valuable at attracting first time customers to your store.
4. Now would be a good time to upgrade your cell phone to a smart phone and get involved with Facebook Places. There is inherent value for the upcoming holiday season.