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Facebook to take on Foursquare with Nearby feature

Facebook has launched a new Nearby feature to improve localized recommendations based on context and friend activity.
December 19, 2012

Social networking today is a dog-eat-dog world. With services gaining traction left and right, the incumbent is left to innovate, or sometimes even copy the competitor’s offerings, if only to survive. For instance, this scenario is true for social photo apps. With Instagram’s change to its terms of service earlier this week, it was a wake-up call to users that their photos can be used for commercial purposes without consent. What did other social networks do? Introduce their own filters and photo sharing services, of course, as bloggers and tech writers had a field day advising users to jump ship.

Facebook — which, incidentally, is the new owner of Instagram — knows the game very well. And given its dominance both in the desktop and mobile scene, the company is aware that local services and location-based services can be very lucrative in terms of advertising and referrals. As such, Facebook has tried to compete head-on with Foursquare in mobile check-ins. But Facebook had previously been limited as to what it can do once a user is checked in.

With a new update for Facebook’s Android and iOS applications, users will find a better way to discover establishments and friends nearby. With the Facebook Nearby feature, you can discover establishments, deals and places nearby based on friends’ recommendations.

The app is actually built by Josh Williams and the Gowalla team from last year’s big acquisition by Facebook. It will take advantage of the 250 million or so users who tag photos and posts with their locations, along with comments, reviews and recommendations.

Facebook has previously included location-based data, but that implementation was not as polished as this one. Facebook Nearby will use several factors, aimed at providing the user a curated experience. These factors include whether your friend/s have already recommended the place or establishment, or if that person has Liked the establishment on Facebook. This is similar to the algorithm used by Facebook in sorting items on your and your friends’ timeline.

Users can also drill into sub-categories like nightlife, food, coffee, the arts, and the like. Once you have found an establishment you’re interested in, you can tap to reveal additional information, such as contact information, business hours, and a button to Like the establishment and to Check In.

One big advantage by Facebook over its social network competitors is that the service has allowed recommendations since 2011. While that functionality is useful in itself, integrating recommendations into locale-based services brings the functionality to a whole new level, which will be especially useful for a person looking for a place to dine or hang out.

In my opinion, here’s where mobile devices and apps shine. Combine mobility with contextual data, and you won’t go wrong. As such, will Facebook’s Nearby feature be a serious threat to Foursquare?

Facebook’s updated apps for iOS and Android should be hitting the iTunes App Store and Google Play, so if you’re interested in local services, go update your app now.