One Big Reason Why Facebook Places Beats Foursquare: Clarity of Identity

By  |  Thursday, August 19, 2010 at 11:10 am

So Facebook has begun rolling out Places, its answer to Foursquare, Gowalla, MyTown, and every other mobile service that lets you broadcast your location by checking into local businesses and other locations. So far, I have only partial access: I can see friends who have checked in, but can’t check in myself.

Until now, the location service I’ve used most often has been Foursquare. I have fun with it. But I’ve also found it frustrating in one major way which I believe Places will address–it’s often unclear just who people on Foursquare are.

Of all types of social networking, location-based stuff is the most personal. One of the cool things about Twitter is chatting with random smart people you don’t otherwise know. And even Facebook is full of social features that make sense even when you’re socializing with someone who’s not exactly a close personal friend. (I don’t need to know you very well to compete against you on the Bejeweled Blitz leaderboard.)

But my location? I don’t want to share it with anybody or everybody. It’s not that I’m paranoid about getting robbed–okay, maybe just a tiny bit–but mostly, I just don’t think there’s a worldwide audience for information on where I’m having lunch or the fact that I’ve decided to go to a museum. Friends might care. So might anyone who happens to be in the same place at the same time. But not everybody.

At the same time, there aren’t all that many people whose locations I care about. If I cant tell who you are, I don’t care where you are, unless you’re in the same place that I am. And maybe not even then.

So I like the idea of my location-based service buddies being people I do, indeed, know–or at least people whose identities are clear. But Foursquare makes it maddeningly difficult to accomplish that. I spend much of my Foursquare time trying to figure out who people are, and I fail more often than I succeed.

In fact, at the moment, I have several hundred Foursquare friend requests I haven’t accepted. 98% of them are from people whose names don’t sound familiar. (They may be people who follow me on Twitter, but it’s hard to tell, since I may not be following them back–and even if I am, their Twitter names may be different from their Foursquare ones.) And many of these requests are from people whose Foursquare handles consist of a first name only: Chris, Michele, Peter, Ralph, and Scott.

In some cases, I can figure out who the one-namers are by clicking through to their Facebook or Twitter profiles; in others, the only evidence of their true identity is a tiny avatar.

Even once I accept a friend on Foursquare, it doesn’t list their entire names–it calls them Meriwether M. or Adam J. or Kevin R. If you happen to know two Lauren Ts or David Hs, it’s pointlessly vague and confusing.

But one of the defining features of Facebook is that–assuming people follow the rules–it’s easy to figure out who they are. Full, real names are mandatory. And if you’ve carefully tended to your Facebook friends list, making Places useful should be a whole lot easier than building a parallel universe of acquaintances on Foursquare.

It’s nice to look at Facebook Places and be absolutely clear on just who it is whose locations I’m learning about:

(Almost all the people whose Place I can see are tech journalists or Facebook staffers–I assume that Facebook may have given them early access to the check-in feature…or they’re at least among the first to try it out.)

I’m not saying that Places is going to appeal to particularly privacy-conscious folks. Facebook provides a lot of control over who can see where you are, but privacy organizations are already complaining about some of the default settings. I predict more grumbling in the days to come, and I wouldn’t be stunned if Facebook tweaks the service further in response. (The fact that the default settings let other people check you in is especially odd.)

But I look forward to using a check-in service that never leaves me asking the question “Who the heck is Edgar, and do I know him?”


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14 Comments For This Post

  1. Nick Says:

    Harry, I would love to see some embedded privacy options that are a combination of foursquare and facebook. For example, the ability to check in and share with friends or not– from foursquare. Or the ability to control who receives these places updates on a case per case basis– much like the facebook privacy settings for updating status. I'd enjoy telling close friends where I'm out at lunch, but don't need to tell my whole network. A list option while updating places would help users control who sees this information. I'm hoping to see some rendition of this in future updates.

  2. Jesse Says:

    I really like Foursquare because it has been easier to manage. I only let my closest friends partner with me on Foursquare, because they are, honestly, the only people I would want to know where I am anyway. Foursquare has also been super useful when I've been in new cities. While in new York I used the search function to locate bookstores and coffeeshops.

  3. Scott Eslinger Says:

    Harry I think you hit it on the nose. I want to know WHO I am seeing in a feature like this.
    I still have people on FB I have as 'friends' who I am not sure or cant rememember how or from where I know them. They are on the "Who ARE these people?" list in my privacy settings.
    I'd like to see a feature that lets me create a list to maybe narrow down which friends I get have their location sent to me.
    I am really NOT into Foursquare but as soon as they release a Blackberry app for "People Here Now" I plan to get it.

  4. L1A Says:

    Wouldn't matter to me, i don't use my real name on facebook.

  5. bcmayes Says:

    So you're saying Foursquare is dead?

  6. @DJAd Says:

    I'm sure it won't take long, or maybe FB could buy them…….

  7. Alexander Muse Says:

    I deleted Gowalla today. It was almost a relief not to have to keep checking in with a separate tool all the time. Now with Facebook Places I can keep all my updates in one place. Next step – delete my twitter account…

  8. anotheruser Says:

    Next step, delete your paypal and google accounts. You have facebook, why do you need other players around? Zuckemberg is such a nice guy!

  9. Anil Dash Says:

    GOod point, Harry. I asked Dennis about this last month and he said it would change soon.

  10. atma Says:

    I really did not understand the argument of the post. I hope the FourSquare keeps going on. I dislike facebook heavily but I use it because it's the most popular.

    I believe that FourSquare will not face a problem… As twitter overcame google buzz with no hassles…

  11. @adam_rosenberg Says:

    I get the argument that people say they keep their foursquare account tighter than their FB account – except it just doesn't scale. The vast majority of my real friends, I am friends with on FB – you know the people I see in person on a regular basis. And the majority of these friends are not early adopters who user foursquare. So there is a much greater chance I will be able to see where my real friends are through FB than a foursquare, which for me anyway, makes the product a whole lot more useful.

  12. Harv Says:

    Checking in. Who cares about this unimportant nonsense…really?

    "I have a headache."
    "I'm at Starbucks."
    "I don't care."

  13. Custom Dissertations Says:

    I only use facebook and no other more.

  14. iphone 5 Says:

    One of the main complaints or worries from people is how well their privacy and information is protected when using Facebook. It looks like the company has listen to those concerns when creating Facebook Places. That is a good sign and hopefully Facebook takes this issue seriously with other future product launches.