Facebook is removing the confusing, slightly creepy always-on location sharing feature in Messenger for a more explicit, one-time way to share where you are or will be. Location will no longer be a “second class citizen”, Messenger Head Of Product Stan Chudnovsky tells me. Instead, Messenger has big plans for GPS features, saying “What we’re launching is the foundation of everything that’s coming.”
For example, “You might want to make reservations. How are we all getting there? Maybe there’s a transportation service somehow” Chudnovsky hints. When I ask if Messenger might build on Uber’s API to let you instantly book rides, he coyly replied “I didn’t say that, but that doesn’t mean I don’t like what you’re saying.”
Here’s a quick demo of how the new location sharing system works:
No More Marauders Map
Unfortunately for Facebook’s public image, the elimination of the toggleable, persistent location sharing feature comes just two weeks too late. A Harvard computer science student recently built a Chrome extension that automatically logs the constant location data sent by friends with it turned on in Messenger to create a “Maruaders Map”. It’s named after the Harry Potter map that shows where people are.
The extension riled privacy fears even though it’s pretty benign considering people volunteer to turn on the location info, and it’s only sent alongside messages to your friends. Facebook had already been working on today’s update for the last three months, well before the Marauders Map release, though some will surely call its launch a knee-jerk backtrack.
Sharing When You Want To
The new design for location sharing in Messenger is rolling out today for everyone on iOS and Android. It banishes the blue arrow and any way to constantly share your coordinates. It’s replaced with a pin button alongside those for sending photos, stickers, or money, or an option in the three-dot More drawer. Tapping it pulls up a map with your current location pinned, which you can send to friends with one more tap. This makes it easy to tell a friend “Here’s where I am, come meet me.”
By dragging the map, you can change the pin’s location. That lets you pick a meetup spot. You can also use suggestion of nearby Facebook Places like local businesses, or search for one to set the pin to a specific destination. Chudnovsky says trying to do something similar by opening Google Maps would take “7 taps, 2 app switches, and 150% frustration.”
70 taps, 2 apps switches and 150% frustration.
Who Should I Hang Out With?
A huge portion of mobile messaging deals with planning to meet up with friends. Facebook targeted this use in its undying quest to eliminate friction. The real potential here is for Facebook to build something that incorporates the best of its Nearby Friends feature, which lets you constantly share your approximate location with friends, or send certain ones temporary access to your exact, real-time coordinates.
Nearby Friends works great and is relatively privacy-friendly, but Facebook buried the feature in its main app’s navigation drawer. The push notifications that you’re within a half mile of friends or that one is visiting your city are helpful, but few think to actively browse the list of who’s in what neighborhood that can inspire spontaneous meetups.
If they play their cards right, Facebook and Messenger could answer the question “which of my friends are free to hang out right now”. That’s such a big opportunity that, disclosure, I briefly advised a company called Signal that was trying to solve this, though the startup is now in hibernation.
Inspired By China’s Monolithic Chat Apps
Chudnovsky admits that when it comes to building extra features like location or commerce into Messaging, “in Asia they figured it out.” Apps like China’s WeChat let you book taxis and more while you text. Regarding today’s update, Chudnovsky says “We think it will change how people think about location in messenger. It will get us to the poit where we are ready to launch all sorts of awesome experiences going forward.”
With Facebook’s launch of its Messenger Platform in April, it created a home for third-party experiences in its chat app. But the launch partners and Facebook’s own companion apps for Messenger’s platform were all content creators for making Gifs or sending sound effects. As I reported before the launch, Facebook plans to watch adoption of the platform before considering adding utilities.
Now Facebook seems prepared to bring outside utilities like taxi hailing into our chat threads.