Yesterday brought news that Facebook is planning to launch its location offering at its f8 conference in the end of April. In first reporting the news, the New York Times noted that “the company was not trying to beat the smaller location-based social networks, such as Loopt, Foursquare and Gowalla.” From what we’re hearing, that’s true — because they could be using some of those services to federate check-ins.
How do we know? Because it appears that a Facebook employee has been showing the app around to friends. One person who has seen it notes that the icon for the location feature has a pushpin on a map. This was apparently a beta version of an app, but the functionality, if Facebook chooses to go with it, would likely be built into the massively popular Facebook iPhone app.
When reached for comment, all Facebook would say is, “We are constantly experimenting with new ideas and products internally. We don’t have anything more to share at this time.” That’s not exactly a denial at all.
What Foursquare and Gowalla (the two location apps specifically cited by a source) had to say was more interesting. Foursquare co-founder Dennis Crowley danced around the idea of working with Facebook on such a feature, but notes that anyone can access their check-in data through Foursquare’s API. And in fact, plenty of users are already pushing their check-ins to Facebook through Connect, he notes. Also, this page is sort of interesting. It’s what we call a placeholder.
Meanwhile, Gowalla founder Josh Williams said a bit more:
It’s no surprise that Facebook is wading into the location waters (cannonball!) — our ultimate goal at Gowalla is to provide the easiest and most fun way to share location with friends, regardless of where that information is distributed… Facebook, Twitter, etc. It will be important for folks like Facebook and Twitter to clearly spell out how this information is used and displayed.
That suggests that both Facebook and Twitter have been looking at ways to import check-in data. Twitter already syndicates the data through its Geolocation API, but as more and more players get involved in the space, it wouldn’t be surprising at all for the upstart players like Gowalla and Foursquare to ask the platforms (Facebook and Twitter) to make it more clear which data is being sent from where. And make no mistake, based on what we’re hearing, that’s exactly what Facebook aims to be with location: a platform. Yes, like their good buddies Twitter.