Facebook has renamed its Nearby feature on iOS “Local Search,” making its function more obvious and possibly increasing the number of users who will try it.
For now, the tab is still called Nearby on Facebook’s mobile site and Android app.
The social network relaunched Nearby on mobile as a local search product in December 2012. Previously it was a feature to see friends’ check-ins. Now its seeking to be a Yelp competitor, allowing users to search for specific places, browse categories or see broadly what’s around them, organized by their friend’s recommendations, check-ins and other social cues, such as star ratings. Users can see a place’s business hours, description and price range, as well as options to get directions, call the business, check-in, Like the page or visit the business’ Timeline.
Our conversations with users suggest there is little awareness about this product. When Nearby changed to a local search tool, Facebook announced the news, but as far as we saw, did not use any in-app prompts to get users to try it. The company has recently made posts about the feature on its Facebook Mobile page with 5.8 million fans, but user comments indicate there is some confusion about whether the feature is still for tracking friends’ locations.
Changing the name to Local Search is important to distinguish it from the old Nearby. We’ve wondered whether Facebook would turn the product into a standalone app to increase awareness and usage. The tool can be useful, especially in areas where a user’s friends are active in checking into places. However, it is limited in that it doesn’t show many pictures from a place compared to Yelp, Foursquare or other local search products. The actual search function is also not very flexible. For example, search for “tacos” only seems to return results with “taco” in the name. A user would instead have to search “Mexican restaurant.” Google Maps, Yelp and Foursquare can recognize “tacos” and return results for a number of restaurants that serve tacos but do not have the word in their name.
If Facebook can get users to try more local searches, however, it can discover the most important use cases and issues it needs to improve and make the product more competitive.