As a big fan of location-based applications (I’m currently ‘checking in’ at various locations on five different apps…!) I have of course been watching the launch and subsequent spread of Facebook Places with great interest.

Now that the first batch of dust has had a chance to settle, I wanted to look in a bit more detail at some of the hurdles ‘Places’ may face in the coming months, if past experience is to be believed.

Image copyright Monte Mendoza @ FlickrApplications like FourSquare, Gowalla, Yelp and SCVNGR have all gone through (or are going through) teething troubles and often come
out the other side much stronger.

Most commentators have speculated that
Facebook’s massive userbase alone will be enough for them to trounce all other
applications with very little effort. However, if Spider-Man has taught us
anything, it is that with great power comes great responsibility. Could it’s
sheer size actually turn in to it’s downfall?

The trouble with people…

If, like me, you have used applications like FourSquare
and Gowalla, you’ll be familiar with how frustrating it can be when you go to
check-in at a built-up location, only to find dozens and dozens of locations
called things like ‘My House’, ‘Jeff’s batchelor pad’ or even more obscure
titles.

Facebook has seen exactly the same proliferation of
nonsense locations, on an even greater scale than FourSquare. In a few hours
alone on Saturday, I saw friends of mine checking in at bus stops (and more
bizarrely still, buses), their houses, their fridges and even their toilets.

Whilst some of these people may just be testing the system (with no ‘Mayorships’
or prizes to aim for, there is very little other reason to do this apart from
fun) Facebook Places is already filling up with thousands of nonsense
locations.

If Places is to succeed, Facebook will need to
develop a system for reporting/deleting these locations without needing to rely
on their own internal (and over-worked) moderation teams. Gowalla has a
Street Team‘ of advanced users who have the power to merge, delete, correct
and move other people’s locations – Facebook will need something similar, and
fast.

So many pages, so little time

Another issue that Places has thrown up – particularly
for brands – is the confusion that is now emerging from the new pages created by
each location being added. For brands, you now have to worry about: 1) Your
official page, 2) Any ‘community page’ that may have been created by Facebook
in their recent creation, 3) Old official (and unofficial) brand ‘groups’, 4)
Unofficial pages created by fans and 5) New Places pages created by this new
system.

Whilst Facebook insist they will soon allow brands to
merge some of these pages together, at present you can only ‘claim’ places
associated with your brand, and customise them to an extent. The confusion this
is causing in Facebook’s own search is already evident – type any famous brand
name in to the search box and you will find multiple official-looking pages to
choose from. If Facebook don’t sort this out soon, brands will begin
to get very frustrated…

And I’m doing this… why?

Foursquare has mayorships and offers; Gowalla has virtual
gifts, trips and prizes; SCVNGR has challenges and offers; What does Facebook
have to incentivise users to check in at locations? So far, nothing. I’m sure
Facebook don’t intend to leave the service in the skeleton form it is now, but users are going to tire of checking in very quickly if the ‘game’ doesn’t get
more interesting.

The potential boredom of it’s existing users is just the
start of the risk when it comes to Places fatique. Whilst other location-based apps
rely on you sharing activities with other users and occasionally
Twitter/Facebook, Places check-ins are visible to everybody using the
site – not just those using the mobile application. I’ve already heard dozens
of non-mobile users bemoaning the flood of new check-ins appearing in their
feeds – presumably the initial frenzy of checking-in will die down soon enough,
but the boredom of other users is only set to grow.

Integration, not segregation!

As I mentioned at the start of this blog, before Facebook
Places came along I was already trying out (in various phases) a number of
other location-based services for size. When Facebook launched Places, several of them released statements assuring users that they would soon be integrating
with Facebook’s service through their new API. This would theoretically allow
users to check-in using both Facebook Places and their own service, without
having to physically do so twice.

So far, the only real integration I have seen is the
inclusion of Facebook Places check-ins in my SCVNGR friend list; None of the
other promised tie-ups seem to have happened yet, at least not in the UK.
Whilst this isn’t necessarily a fatal flaw in their offering, it’s certainly
going to be another frustration for users.

So there we have it – just a few of the potential hurdles that Facebook are going to face if they hope to turn Places in to a world-beating service. I’m sure there are more though – feel free to add them in the comments below!