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Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg speaks during a news conference at Facebook headquarters August 18, 2010 in Palo Alto, California. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg speaks during a news conference at Facebook headquarters August 18, 2010 in Palo Alto, California. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Friends may not care where you go, but Facebook does Add to ...

While you might think Facebook's new location-based service is about you and your friends, you're wrong. Location-based services like Places and Foursquare are marketing and sales tools that give businesses an opportunity to sell more stuff to people nearby.

Let's face it, most of your friends really don't care about your every move. But companies do.

If Starbucks advertises that it will give you a dollar off your next latte if you check in on their doorstep using Facebook Places, you might be inclined to pull out your smart phone and broadcast your co-ordinates to your digital network.

With more than 500 million users worldwide, the Places announcement is a huge win for businesses looking for a way to capitalize on the number-one social site in the world (and also a win for Facebook as they, too, need to make money). From a consumer's standpoint, it's also a win if you're willing to share your information in exchange for the occasional discount. If you're into saving cash (and who isn't) it's a chance to eventually get coupons and discounts at your favourite stops.

If you check out the brief Facebook Places promo page the emphasis is not on the commercial element, but on sharing with friends. I would argue that people already share (and maybe share too much) on Facebook within their status updates. Further down on the Places info page there is a link to a long list of FAQs. There is one question within "Other information about Places" that briefly touches on a user's ability to connect with businesses.

The question reads, "If I check in at a local franchise like Starbucks, will that connect me to the Starbucks Page on Facebook? The answer is, "No, checking in is simply a way to let your friends know where you are and find friends that are near you." For now, it looks as though Facebook is simply encouraging companies to get their Place set up within the site. The business FAQs explains that targeting ads to people who have checked into a Place is "not currently possible." Not yet.

To be fair, Places will give you the ability to do additional tasks that you can't do in a status update, such as find out immediately who is nearby and tagging your friends so they can be part of your location post, but that won't be enough to make the new service a success. Even Foursquare saw very early that there has to be more to a tool like this, such as a social gaming element and rewards for customers.

Don't get me wrong, I think Places makes perfect sense for Facebook. I agree that location-based services have a bright future. What I think needs to be clear to Facebook's users is that Facebook doesn't really benefit from you checking in across your city and having good times stalking your friends, until targeted ads, deals, and coupons become a Places reality.

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Follow on Twitter: @ambermac


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