Facebook Messenger wants to be an offline social gathering tool, not just an online chat app. Today it’s adding a new Live Location feature that lets you share for an hour within a private direct or group message thread your real-time location on a map. The recipients can then see an estimate of how long it would take you to reach them by car.
“Live Location is super helpful when trying to coordinate with friends, telling people how close you are when you’re on your way to an appointment or even sharing where you are with your roommate when you’re on your way home at night,” writes the feature’s product manager Selena Wang. It’s rolling out for all iOS and Android Messenger users today. Messenger could now challenge location apps like Foursquare Swarm and meetup apps like Down To Lunch.
Live Location is Facebook’s second big attempt at maps in Messenger after its first one blew up into a privacy scandal and was scrapped in 2015. Many users were sharing their momentary exact location with each message, which a Harvard student found could be scraped into a Marauder’s Map through a Chrome extension he built showing exactly where a friend had been. Facebook rescinded the student’s internship offer, made him take the extension down and switched to only letting users send their one-time current or future location.
That static location feature is still available, but now there’s Live Location, too. This time, though, you can’t leave it on by default. Head of Messenger David Marcus posted that “Many of us make plans on Messenger that involve finding each other, or letting friends and loved ones know we’re on the way. Sharing your location will also help some of you feel safer on the way home.”
To use Live Location:
- Inside a message thread, tap the Location button or find it in the More menu
- On the map, tap the blue bar to start sharing your Live Location
- The recipients will see your exact current location on a map for 60 minutes, and an ETA by car for you to reach them
- A clock in the corner of the map counts down until your location sharing expires, and you can hit Stop Sharing at any time
Of course, battery life is a big issue with location features as GPS can drain your device’s energy quickly. But Facebook tells me it feels confident that Live Location uses a standard amount of battery, and Marcus writes “We put a lot of time and effort into … minimizing battery consumption to the point you wouldn’t even have to think about it.” Though it’s still worth keeping an eye on it.
Alongside the Active Now status indicators and Messenger Day’s “Who’s up for?” filters, Messenger is becoming a much more full-featured utility for getting together with friends. That could give it an advantage over strict chat products and dedicated visual communication apps.
Offline gathering is still a largely unsolved problem. It’s tough to know who is available to hang out and close enough for that to be convenient. To win in this space, a product needs social graph ubiquity, location sharing, to be a place users already check frequently and to have a messaging component for planning. Swarm, Down To Lunch and a graveyard of other apps have always missed a critical piece.
But as I wrote last year, Messenger could succeed because it piggybacks on Facebook identity and is already where people are organizing meetups. For all our fancy apps, we still need a way to fight the loneliness and get face to face in person. Remember, though, now if you say “on my way” you better not be lying while still home in your pajamas.