Facebook Places vs. Foursquare

Foursquare and nearly seven years ago, Facebook was founded by Mark Zuckerberg. According to Socialnomics.com, it took a mere 9 months to rack up 100 million users. Since then, the world has been dazzled and amazed by the continuous development of the Facebook platform, as well as other social networking sites like one of the newest- Foursquare.  This platform was created in the latter months of 2009 and had accumulated 170,000 users by December 2009. In comparison to Facebook,  Foursquare doing pretty well considering how focused the practical application of this new social media site is.

Here are some of the great things about Foursquare: The nature of “checking in” to different businesses where groups of people meet to socialize or congregate encourages healthy competition amongst your friends for badges, “mayorships,” and even discounts on the product that is being promoted.

If the idea of opening your physical location to the world is eerie, you can modify your privacy settings. This is another feature that is great about Foursquare- the privacy settings are designed in such a way that you have sole control of what you show other users, and your friends.  The only downside that I can see to this social networking site is that you stand to lose credibility if you are caught being the mayor of… let’s say… a specific bar, especially if you visit that establishment too many nights in a row, it tags you as being on a “bender”.

Not exactly something most users would want their supervisor, clients, or Mother to see.   Always remember, what you post on the internet could be there for days, weeks, months, years, or even gasp forever. Yes, it’s true. Take heed now. The security settings are pretty simple and straightforward so most people (possessing average intelligence) should be able to avoid these possibly awkward situations.

Does Foursquare have any significant competition?  Yes.  It does.  Recently, Facebook developed and released an application called Facebook Places.  To put it mildly, it’s not great.  The concept behind the Facebook version of Foursquare seems a bit rushed and there are inherent flaws in the design that we are now discovering actually pose quite a privacy risk.  When you post on the internet, or any social networking site, the assumption is that you are there to socialize.  The assumption is that you want to socialize with your friends and share information.  However, each user has a different comfort level of what type of information they would like to share.  The privacy controls that Facebook set forth allows the ability to custom tailor each Facebook account to meet the discretionary needs on a per-user basis.

In the past there have been some “issues” with privacy settings.  There is a ton of information on this topic- so I’ll save that for a later article.   Recently, I was updating my Facebook privacy settings- and was surprised to find new settings for Facebook Places:

  1. Facebook privacy settings allow you to control who can see which places you check yourself in to.  This is good, obviously.
  2. Facebook privacy settings allow you to enable or disable if other users at the same location can see you in the “people here now” area of the application.  This is also good if you do not want people to know your every move.
  3. Facebook privacy settings allow you to enable or disable whether or not your friends can check you in at places.  This is where it gets tricky.

The Facebook Places tool does offer some control over settings as listed above. Some being the operative word here.  The users of this tool must actively check themselves in, as opposed to automatically being checked in as they move around town.  So this is good, obviously, however by default, friends can tag you at places where they have checked in to whenever they want.  Although you won’t show up in the places application if you don’t allow it in your privacy settings, your geo-tag will show up in your friends statuses, their friends statuses, and anyone else who can see the various tags involved in the specific place where you’ve “allegedly” checked in to.  But wait!  There’s more!  All of these tags that you can’t see- you can’t do anything about.  Because they are all controlled by your friend’s privacy settings, and the privacy settings of their friends, and friends of friends.

So now that we’ve discovered that your friends can tag you into one of the places where they’ve checked in, the question of validity arises.  In this application, a tag is (or appears to be) just as “official” as a check-in.  Once you are tagged in a post, your friend, other people who are tagged, and their friends can see this.  If they have their account totally “open” so that anyone can see their wall, then guess what?  Literally everyone can see this “check in.”  Nothing that you can change in your own privacy settings can prevent this.  This opens the door for mis-information to be spread around the world-wide web very quickly.  Obviously each user can un-tag themselves in any post that they can see- however it might be too late, the damage could already be done.

According to a recent article on MSNBC.com, a miffed co-worker or angry friend can “broadcast to everyone (including your boss) that you are in a coffee shop, museum or airport — even if you are sitting in your cubicle working. Even if you haven’t agreed to use Facebook’s location service. And even if you aren’t logged in to Facebook.”

This seems pretty frightening to me.  Imagine what could happen if this spirals out of control- here are some hypotheticals:

  • What would stop a Facebook Places user who opposes the current Administration from broadcasting odd, untrue, and possibly damaging things about our President?  Seemingly, nothing.
  • What would stop an angry ex-girlfriend/boyfriend from broadcasting malicious things to the world that could defame the character of the other half of that previous relationship?  Probably nothing.
  • What would stop a co-worker gunning for your position from broadcasting that you were out doing non-work related things during work hours?  Certainly not the weak-to-non-existent privacy settings that Facebook provides….

The point of this article is not to “slam” Facebook, because I think it is a great marketing platform for businesses, social circles, and Farmville fundamentalists alike.  The point of this is to make everyone aware of the frequently changing privacy settings- and that every single time a new feature is added, or changed, your privacy settings are compromised all over again, and in this case, some control is removed completely.  This seems ridiculously unfair and stands to cause problems that transfer over from the cyber world to the real world.

So now I’ll say… when predicting the winner of Facebook Places vs. Foursquare, I’d definitely have to say- overwhelmingly, Foursquare, for the win!  Facebook needs to get on it, fix the security settings, and fix the glitches.  Once that is done, they will be in top shape to compete against the surprising power of one of the newest additions to our savvy little social networking world.

Written by Kristin

Marketing professional in Rochester, NY, with over 14 years of experience in the marketing and advertising field. Broad knowledge base with all forms of marketing, with critical understanding of search behavior, search engine marketing, and social media marketing.

  • Tom

    Great analysis Kristin. One thing that Foursquare is holding in their back pocket to differentiate is the “game” aspect. However, I really don’t find the mayorship/badge model incredibly compelling, and I think has the potential to get old if not for the most die hard users. They are coming out wit a redesign focused on these gaming aspects, so we’ll see.

    That said, to me the broad winner in this space will be the one that can consistently engage local businesses to pass on the value of the free marketing they are getting from users in the form of discounts, etc. Think about your workflow online these days before buying something – goole it find the price then buy. Or google for discount codes then buy. That could be essentially the future for this market – you don’t walk into a store until you know their location-based social network TBD discount. Foursquare has made some great headway with this recently, which definitely gives them the lead, however as you said the power of the marketing engine of Facebook has been demonstrated at least for the big brands… let’s see if they can take it local.

    • Yes, I totally agree, Tom. This could do wonders for retail businesses, restaurants, bars, and social media marketing. I think it could benefit other businesses (think corporate) from the inbound links gained from active user accounts (who earn badges and mayorships) linking back to their business sites. One could hope…. I’ll let you know how my experiment turns out 🙂 I also like how it ties in your twitter and facebook accounts really optimizing it with all of your social media. Very convenient.