Facebook’s Gowalla talent acquisition.

Location is changing and the impact of Gowalla's acquisition by Facebook could be felt for a long time to come.

Location

The move from Facebook Places to built-in location being attached to every status heralded a very definite change in direction as far as the use of location was concerned.

I wrote back in August that the transition away from traditional check-ins was potentially huge and that the likes of Foursquare and Gowalla should be concerned rather than celebrate.

Now that the players in the market for traditional check-ins is going to be minus a service perhaps it is time to be more worried than ever.

Context is key

It is interesting to read Josh Williams' comments on the Gowalla blog that the service was formed after a realisation that he wanted to share a moment by more than just a text message or status update, but by something with a bit of weight behind it, i.e some meaningful context.

A check-in on its own is an isolated experience without context and I argued that Facebook's move to integrate location was a way for everyone to provide the context required to make it more meaningful.

The acquisition of Gowalla's talent should serve to take this concept much further. While the user base and technology are not part of the deal there is no doubt that a lot of what makes Gowalla will find a new home within Facebook's walls; just look at the influence FriendFeed had on the news feed after being purchased.

Better facility within a status update to link content to a location (what I referred to as multi-purpose posts) will sit perfectly with the Timeline once it is finally launched.

The Timeline itself is designed as a history of who you are and what you have done so adding where you did it us a perfect extension of the principal.

Expertise

Location has gone slightly by the wayside while the rest of the recent changes have been, quite justifiably, taking centre stage. Places still exist but are currently in a state of limbo with confused functionality around their creation and use (especially for brands) that the help files don't assist in making any clearer.

Considering the timescales involved (as mentioned in Josh's post) it would seem that Facebook always had plans for location but maybe had neither the time nor expertise to build what was required. The apparent similarity between Josh's description of Gowalla and the vision of location within Facebook make the two a perfect fit.

Our digital scrapbook

After revealing the Timeline at F8 Facebook's failure to launch has come in for some criticism and comment. An apparent "softly, softly" approach combined with some concerns over privacy seemed to be the cause but could Facebook also have been waiting for confirmation that a location aspect inspired by the Gowalla acquisition would become a reality?

Irrespective of this, the court case with site timelines.com, which alleges that the launch of the timeline feature will destroy its business, means that we are unlikely to see a launch for some time to come. It, therefore, remains to be seen if the impact of the Gowalla talent acquisition is felt separately or if we will have to wait for the arrival of Timelines whatever they may become.

Why not discuss this post on Google+?

Facebook’s Gowalla talent acquisition.

Check-ins are dead, long live check-ins.

Facebook may have dropped traditional check-ins but does this mean other location based services should celebrate? What message does this send to the rest of the social web?

Facebook PlacesFacebook have announced that they are abandoning their "Places" functionality and the traditional check-in so some are arguing that the likes of Foursquare and Gowalla should now be jumping for joy as their main competition has left the arena.

I disagree.

Facebook hasn't dropped location, Places isn't dead; it has grown up and evolved and I believe that location based services should be more worried than ever.

This move sends a massive signal to the competition: if Facebook can't make traditional check-ins work with a potential catchment of over 750 million users (reports indicate that only 6% of Facebook accounts used Places) then it's likely no-one can. The reality, however, is that Facebook has realised something the others haven't: check-ins on their own are of limited use.

Context

For me, check-ins in isolation are too limited - we need context. A check-in is okay as far as it goes but we merely leave a paper trail showing where we have been. There have been countless times I have wanted to check-in somewhere and post an image with to show what I'm doing but have not been able to; usually this has left me not even bothering to check-in at all. Facebook has just changed that.

I have called before for multi-purpose posts on Google+ where we could add a URL and a photo, multiple URLs, in fact any combination of items - a check-in plus a URL or a photo (why not both) would really help to establish the context we need for location based posts/check-ins.

Facebook's move to switch from a check-in based system to having location available on every item you post provides more value for that item and is the first step to true multi-purpose posts. We will not just be sharing where we are but we will be also be sharing why we are there, what we are doing and, potentially, other supplemental information which others may find of use.

The next level

So, sorry to all those folks who think Facebook has abandoned check-ins, you couldn't be more wrong. Facebook has taken them to the next level; what they now do with them. however, remains to be seen.

Update:

The Google+ application on Android also allows for location to be attached to any post which can also include images (either taken straight from the camera or from your gallery) and text so the facebook move may have been partially influenced by this. Despite improvements to the app which include the ability to reshare we still cannot share links correctly but both Google and Facebook have their feet placed firmly on the road to posts providing full utility and value.

Check-ins are dead, long live check-ins.