Facebook Kept Thousands Of Check-Ins On Lockdown For Months. Impressive.

As we noted a couple days ago, the video Facebook made to explain their new Places feature was a bit Apple-esque. But something else they pulled off recently was even more Apple-esque: the secrecy surrounding their location launch.

Sure, we spotted the code for it months ago when an overzealous engineer likely pushed the code (but not the actual feature) to the touch.facebook.com version of the site a bit early. And everyone generally knew that something in the space was coming from them. But what’s odd is that we hadn’t heard from anyone who was actually using it out in the wild in the past several months. The best we got was all the way back in March when someone saw a very early beta of it. As we noted at the time:

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.

That person also told us the feature was built so that it could bring in check-ins from Foursquare and Gowalla. Obviously, all of that ended up being very close to what actually launched — but that was five months ago! Not a peep since.

With a company the size of Facebook, that kind of secrecy is rare — well, outside of that company at One Infinite Loop, of course.

During their event, Facebook revealed that they had been working on Places in earnest for about 8 months. And if you look at the Facebook HQ Places page on Facebook, you’ll see that there have been something around 7,000 check-ins from various employees over those past several months.

For some context, on Foursquare, AT&T Park in San Francisco is a place of massive activity. So how many total check-ins have there been there? 20,000 — and that’s over 18 months. Facebook HQ got 7,000+ check-ins through Places in just a few months. Clearly, a lot of employees were using it.

And yet, we saw no actual leaks in all that time from any of the nearly 1,500 employees. Not about the app, and not even about the Facebook Place pages.

Yes, plenty of us knew what was likely to come (like me, for example), but besides that one source five months ago (well, and that code), it was all from second-hand whispers and straight-up good guesses. I had no knowledge of the product from anyone who was actually using it in these past five months. And I don’t know of anyone who did outside of Facebook. That’s fairly amazing. And it would seem to speak to a company that is in control and has a healthy (or at least fear-inspiring) relationship with their employees.

(As a side note: it looks as if Facebook may be doing some data scrubbing on these previous check-ins as the numbers are hopping around and sometimes check-ins before a few weeks ago don’t show up at all.)