Posts Tagged ‘foursquare’

Last week, I wrote a piece about extending one’s core business. One recent and very high profile example of this is Facebook’s “Places” application. To review, it is a Foursquare-like “check in” service so that users can let their friends know where they are at any given time by checking in to a location. For users, it lets them broadcast (or brag) to their friends where they are and what they are doing. For Facebook, it gives them geographic data to challenge Foursquare and puts them squarely into the local advertising game along with Yelp and Google.

Most everyone knows Facebook and uses it. I do. I think it is a great way to keep in touch with friends and to find old friends. I use it passively and would never be considered a power-user. There are actually days that go by when I don’t check it, and I have very few mobile alerts activated (only when someone posts on my Wall). Of the 500 million active users in Facebook, I am probably in their bottom 5% in terms of what they would consider a valuable user from a business standpoint.

When they announced Places, I did a little head scratching. Part of the reason was because they launched it right around the time when the great privacy debates began happening. Facebook was in the line of fire on their privacy policies in a very public way, putting their CEO on the defensive, and then seemingly days later they launched this service. The first things I thought were: “Why?” and “Why now?”

I’ve been in the advertising and marketing businesses for well over a decade, so I get why. When you wrap data, targeting and local advertising together, it becomes a potentially powerful mix for any merchant; and it allows Facebook to leverage their huge audience by putting them squarely into the growing local advertising business.

However, given the timing – where privacy concerns, tracking, cookies and the like are front page news – I’m not sure this was a prudent move for them now. Since I know the business well and understand exactly what information I give Facebook and how they’re using it, I probably have a higher tolerance than most. But “Places” even gave me a little bit of pause.

All of these points are probably moot if a huge swath of people used the service, so I wanted to wait to write about this to see if users would adopt it in masses. I, for one, disabled the “Places” function right away but wanted to see if others would too. It looks like I’m not alone.

When evaluating your core business, it is important to consider not only the business model behind it, but the timing and overall media climate since what the media covers informs the general public. Most importantly, though, you need to have reliable data or market research that suggests usage by your core customers. If a business tries to extend too aggressively they risk alienating their core users. I’m not saying this will happen to Facebook. But why didn’t they focus group this more? Why didn’t they ask their users if they would use such a utility?

Maybe a lot of people I don’t know are using Places, in which case I’ll be the first to say I’m wrong. But the bottom line for me is two-fold: Do people really care where I am and what I’m doing all the time? Do I really care to let people know where I am and what I’m doing all the time?

Even my very best friends would answer “no” to the first one. And I would answer “no” for the second one.

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