Facebook Places: Where are you now?
Where are you just now? It's 8 in the morning and I'm in the pub just round the corner from my house - or at least that is what I've told my Facebook friends. The social network's Places function, launched in the United States last month, has just been made available in the UK.
Using the Facebook app on my phone, I can now tell all my friends where I am - and see where they are if they choose to use Places. So far, I can see that a clutch of technology correspondents are at somewhere described as Facebook London (and that a former colleague is at Tesco Express in Cardiff "201 km away" from my location). I imagine that they were keen enough to accept the social network's invitation to pitch up for breakfast and hear about the new feature.
As I'm on a day off, I've chosen to keep an eye on it from home, rather than rush into Soho to hear about its wonders while munching on a croissant. But I think I get the idea. The ability to broadcast your location makes the social network that bit more indispensable to the millions who use it to organise their social lives. So, for instance, I can log into Facebook Places in the evening and if all the other technology correspondents are telling me they are in some swanky bar I can head on over sharpish and join them for a drink.
The opportunities for advertisers are obvious - every local business within a few hundred yards popped up when I was "checking in". For a decade at least I've been hearing that location-based services are the next big thing for the mobile industry. The location-sharing Foursquare social network, with its exciting contests where users fought to be the mayor of their local coffee shop, was the tech flavour of the month a few months ago. Now a network with 500 million users is moving in and becoming the mayor of mobile location.
But in my mind there is still one big unanswered question to be settled - just how many people are eager and willing to tell the world where they are? The privacy concerns are obvious, though Facebook has done a reasonable job of making sure users know the implications of using Places and have to opt in to sharing their location.
What I don't buy is the idea that millions will look at Facebook, spot that Joe is in a cafe just yards away and Tracy is in a pub across the road and then arrange to meet up. Perhaps I am too old to get this, but it strikes me that Places is aimed at quite a small section of the social network's users, people whose social lives are so busy but fluid that they need to organise a series of chance encounters.
But who knows, checking in via your mobile phone may soon be all the rage. And by the way, I am not really in the pub at breakfast time, I'm sitting at my kitchen table. I don't want to broadcast my exact location to the world - but I would like to make my life seem a little more exciting than it really is. Perhaps that will prove to be the real use for Facebook Places.