Sharing Locations the Facebook Way

The world anxiously awaits as Facebook promises to unveil its location-based status updates this month.

Okay, maybe not the world… But I, for one, sure am curious!

So far, Facebook has played their cards close to the chest, but it is rumored they will partner with an established location-based social network like Gowalla or Foursquare. Alternatively, they could develop and implement their own system. Either way, Location-Based Social Networks (LBSNs) are picking up steam quickly and Facebook, with their 400M + user base (100M+ mobile), are bound to tip location-sharing over the edge into the mainstream.

As with all types of digital sharing, privacy is a major concern. However, there are a few things Facebook can do to appease some otherwise hesitant location-sharers.

Below are my suggestions for designing the service to manage the core concerns of Facebook users.

Note: I took some time to imagine how a Facebook-style location service might function – these are only my assumptions based on how the current platform operates and recent announcements from the F8 Developer Conference.

1. Privacy

With comprehensive understanding of the platform and keeping abreast of functionality roll-outs (Hint: pay attention to the header notifications upon login), users can keep a pretty tight grasp on your profile’s privacy. That said, it’s not easy.

I’m hoping Facebook will protect location-based updates from the “everyone” bucket and default sharing location data to a designated circle of contacts and the developers behind Open Graph (more about that later).

Yes, I’m totally aware of this and this, and others, but I can give you 10 reasons why I can forgive Facebook. There, I said it. Facebook don’t let me regret this!

2. Sharing with who really cares

Facebook’s Friend Lists are the best thing since sliced bread. Facebook should take privacy a step further than limiting location to friends and limit sharing to customized segments of friends. That way, I can group my friends by our relationship and only share my location with people who really care (close friends and family). That guy from high school doesn’t need to know where I spent my weekends.

With existing location-based services, most of the audience I really care about is just not there. Facebook has a unique advantage here.

3. It’s not all fun and games!

Here’s to hoping Facebook’s version won’t be a game. Unlike Foursquare, Facebook will allow users to share location for many other reasons besides being badged and ousted as mayors. I’ll leave the badges to my girl scout days! Sharing status updates, videos, or photos natively on Facebook is not a game, so I doubt sharing “places” will be deemed a game either. Facebook has a habit of letting the developers, agencies, and brands take their API and come up with the fun things – and we appreciate that! ;-)

For example, AdAge already announced that McDonalds is among the first to tap into the service by allowing users to “check-in” at a Mickey D’s location alongside a the menu item of their indulgence.

4. That’s TOTALLY Relevant!

If Zuckerberg’s promise that Open Graph will make the web smarter and “better with every action taken” holds true, Facebook’s knowledge of their user’s location needs to add relevancy and personalization offline just as much as online.

Location data paired with Open Graph-enabled user insights is a gold rush for brands and marketers alike. All the knowledge can empower precise targeting and messaging resulting in genuine customer relationships. Knowing that I went to pilates three times this week can help Lucy (my favorite woman’s active wear company) target me when I’m actually shopping and have Pilates on the brain. And if Lucy is really smart, they will target some of my girlfriends that comment on my “Pilates” posts.

5. Location-based sharing in Laymen’s terms

Last but not least, Facebook will need to bring the functionality to the masses and make location-sharing understandable. The more Facebook explains its changes like Open Graph to their users, the more people start to get it. The more people get it, the more powerful the system becomes and the more opportunities arise for users, consumers and advertisers to build connections. If it’s introduced as a friendly, fun, opt-in Facebook feature, it’s not as scary as a bunch of crazies asking to be robbed!

So those are just a few ways it can shape out. Let’s see later this month what ends up making the cut. It’s going to be exciting nonetheless. It provides opportunities for you and me to create new ways to connect with consumers based on valuable data.