Facebook vs Foursquare

I just posted about the Facebook Places UK rollout, but in an effort to try and keep my posts shorter I just talked about privacy.

As a developer, what interests me the most right now is how Facebook Places affects the likes of Foursquare and Gowalla. These companies brought the checkin into our vocabulary, and with only a few million users between them it would be easy at first glance to declare them defunct.

One survey suggests that only 5% of UK Foursquare users will continue to use it once Facebook Places is available. It seems clear from other questions that these users weren’t entirely enamoured by Foursquare anyway. So really, this survey tells me that many of these ‘lost’ users were never Foursquare’s to lose in the first place. Survey respondents were eligible if they had made at least three checkins – hardly indicative of their real user base.

Supposing that Foursquare’s real users largely remain loyal, that doesn’t make the Facebook vs Foursquare argument irrelevant – it just helps illustrate the state of the location-based landscape.

Location is a feature, not a product

Foursquare, Gowalla and Yelp (all initial Places ‘partners’) offer specific services including casual gaming mechanics, peer reviews and recommendation. These products may centre around a database of locations, and provide the ability to check into them, but if your only interest is sharing your location with friends, then you are bound to use Facebook Places.

With hundreds of times more users, there is no way Foursquare or Gowalla could compete with Facebook as purely a checkin service – and that’s the point. Checking into locations has become a cheap commodity. Places has defined a new boundary between platform and product; let Facebook give you that platform and do something cool with it.

If you care about your badges and your mayorships then you’ll probably carry on using Foursquare – it remains to be seen how many people that actually means, and whether this leaves Foursquare with a viable business. I’m not going to second guess that, except to say that losing 95% of their business is not an accurate picture – damned lies and all that.