Facebook may have been late to the location wars with Facebook Places launching only a few months ago, but it’s been thinking about how to add location to social networking for years. Yesterday, it was granted a patent on “Systems and methods for automatically locating web-based social network members” which could have serious implications for other geo-mobile social networks like Foursquare and Gowalla.
The patent appears to be pretty broad. It covers a “method of sharing locations of users participating in a social networking service at a geographic location.” The location is determined using a “GPS identifier” and it combines a status update with the member’s current location. It also seems to cover what are now known as checkins:
the status information manually provided by the first user on an input module of the mobile device; associating the location information with the status information of the first user in a database; and sending the status information and the location information of the first user to a second user for display.
In other words, Facebook might just have been granted a patent to Foursquare’s (and Gowalla’s) main feature. It remains to be seen whether Facebook will treat this merely as a defensive patent or use it as a stick in negotiations with other mobile social networks. Hopefully, Facebook won’t go all Microsoft on other startups and use this patent to eliminate competition.
The patent was first noticed a few hours ago by Erik Sherman at Bnet. Here is the abstract:
Systems and methods for automatically locating web-based social network members are provided. According to one embodiment, contact content including an associated GPS identifier and status for web-based social network members located at or near the same location automatically appears on a GPS-enabled device. A further exemplary system includes a GPS-enabled device configured to receive a GPS identifier and a status representing a location and a current state for a web-based social network member, a processing module that associates the received GPS-identifier and the received status, and a communications module that sends the associated GPS-identifier and status to a server comprising a web-based social network database. Contact content in a web-based social network database record in the web-based social network database is updated to include the associated GPS identifier and status for the web-based social network member.
It kind of puts the Facebook Places (aka, Facesquare) icon in a new light.
Facebook is the world’s largest social network, with over 1 billion monthly active users. Facebook was founded by Mark Zuckerberg in February 2004, initially as an exclusive network for Harvard students. It was a huge hit: in 2 weeks, half of the schools in the Boston area began demanding a Facebook network. Zuckerberg immediately recruited his friends Dustin Moskovitz, Chris Hughes, and Eduardo Saverin to help build Facebook, and within four months, Facebook added 30 more college networks. The original...
Foursquare is a geographical location based social network that incorporates gaming elements. Users share their location with friends by “checking in” via a smartphone app or by text message. Points are awarded for checking in at various venues. Users can connect their Foursquare accounts to their Twitter and Facebook accounts, which can update when a check in is registered. By checking in a certain number of times, or in different locations, users can collect virtual badges. In addition, users...