So much for that! Just as quietly and quickly as Facebook had put “Find Friends Nearby” online on Sunday, the mobile service to instantly add new Facebook friends in your vicinity is no longer there. A visit to the mobile web page is blank, and a click on the “Find Friends Nearby” tab in the iOS app goes to an error page.
When we first broke the news about Facebook’s new feature yesterday, the prospect raised all sorts of questions about what Facebook might do in this space. The app lets users find other Facebook users near them, and then quickly add them to their network: the service looked very rudimentary, but the concept offers potential ideas for how Facebook could develop such a service going forward.
Find Friends Nearby played on the idea of ambient mobile services that offered social information to you based on your location, and raised questions of how this related to a recent acquisition at the company — the social discovery mobile app Glancee. It also gave a glimpse into how Facebook might also extend its service into areas where people met new people, rather than simply reinforce connections with those they already know.
And — this is not to be underestimated — it also caught the eye of a key target for Facebook, the advertising industry. One of the people I added using the FFN feature yesterday in my neighborhood just happened to be the head of mobile for a major, international media buying agency (early adopters, unite!). He saw lots of potential in it, he said:
“Having had a meeting with Facebook this week to discuss how we can use mobile to advertise more effectively, I think this development in particular will put them at a real advantage, and quiet the naysayers a bit,” he told me when I asked what he thought of the service. (I don’t want to name him here because I didn’t clear using that comment in advance, but his agency is a biggie.)
Ryan Patterson, the Facebook developer who worked on the app, was yesterday encouraging people to spread the word about it, and even posted some ideas of how it could be used yesterday in response to our story:
“For me, the ideal use case for this product is the one where when you’re out with a group of people whom you’ve recently met and want to stay in contact with,” he wrote. “Facebook search might be effective, or sharing your vanity addresses or business cards, but this tool provides a really easy way to exchange contact information with multiple people with minimal friction.”
That gives me a feeling that this may not be the last we see of FFN, or Friendshake, or whatever FB decides to call it.
In any case, Facebook offered no promises yesterday, when we reached out to them about the app. “We are constantly testing new features but have nothing more to share at this time,” a spokesperson told me by email late yesterday.
And there would have been lots of other issues with which to contend: for example, more questions about privacy, and how you might be able to better filter who can reach out to you using the app (eg, only developers, but not recruiters, at a hackathon; but the examples are endless).
The news of the app disappearing ironically comes as a rabble-rousing app developer in New York has accused Facebook of ripping off its idea for the app.
Friendthem.com, which comes as an iOS and Android app, links up with Facebook and — yes — lets users make friends with those physically near them. It has 30,000 users and has facilitated 20,000-25,000 friend requests.
The CEO, Charles Sankowich, tells me that he met with “a top executive and with Henri Moissinac, director of Facebook mobile,” over the service. “We had at least two emails with him with regards to Friendthem,” he told me in an email. He is currently looking into whether to take legal action over Facebook stealing his idea — although Facebook pulling the feature may have take the sting out of those plans.
We’re reaching out to Facebook for a fuller comment on the development today and will update as we learn more, but a statement to Wired noted: “This wasn’t a formal release — this was just something that a few engineers were testing. With all tests, some get released as full products, others don’t. Nothing more to say on this for now, but we’ll communicate to everyone when there is something to say.”