Facebook will remove the Places check-in feed from its mobile apps and interface, a company spokesperson confirms with us. Rather than check-in, users will be able to add their city-level location or tag a specific Place in any post.
The change will come as part of the rollout of the new privacy and location sharing features announced today. Without the dedicated check-in feed, it may be more difficult for users to determine the current location of friends. However, Foursquare and other locations services built around a check-in feed should be pleased about the news of Facebook using location as a layer rather than as content itself.
Facebook launched Places a year ago, allowing users to check in to locations they were within three city blocks of and view a feed of check-ins of friends via m.facebook.com and the native smartphone apps. In April, Facebook added a map view to the iPhone app’s check-in feed to make it easier to tell if friends were nearby.
Some users, especially those in dense urban areas with lots of active Facebook friends, found these features very helpful for finding things to do in real-time. The check-in feed was never brought to the web interface, though, so users without smartphone access had to sift the location of friends out of the entire news feed.
Soon this may be the fate of smartphone users as well, as a Facebook spokesperson tells us “We’ve learned a lot since launching Places. The core insight is that most people on Facebook think about location as part of their everyday experience. The Places check in feed on the mobile app will go away and now a “place” becomes another descriptor to add to any post.”
When users post content from the web, mobile site, or smartphone apps, they’ll have the option to tag a Place, whether they’re there currently or just want to mention it. As TechCrunch illustrates, Facebook’s foot-traffic incentivizing Check-in Deals will still be available, with users seeing the option to redeem them appended to the news feed story of their mention of a location.
Unless Facebook adds a filter to the news feed that only shows posts tagged with specific locations, the change will likely make it harder to find exactly where friends are currently are and meet up with them. Even if Facebook did add a location filter, it wouldn’t be able to tell if a friend had tagged a Place because they were planning to go their in future, had been there in the past, just wanted to discuss it, or are actually there. This may also prevent Facebook from sending helpful push notifications about one’s closest friends checking in nearby.
This could drive users looking to keep track of the current locations of friends to Foursquare, Google Latitude, Gowalla, or other location services. While perhaps valuable to a smaller audience than location as a layer, these services will continue helping users find their friends in real-time.
Making location a component of status updates, photos, and other content will surely give users more context to what their friends are sharing. Those who currently enjoy checking in will probably just post status updates, tag their current location and friends who are with them, and add a description such as “Here at…”. It will also help users plan future meetups by allowing them to tag locations and say they’ll be there in an hour.
Still, it seems unnecessary to remove the check-in feed and the ability to populate that feed by explicitly informing Facebook of one’s current location. The mobile interfaces could keep the feed and use the existing check-in button to indicate real-time location rather than just a mention of a Place.
Instead, Facebook is removing functionality some have grown to enjoy, and ignoring the fact that sometimes location is valuable in its own right, not just as a layer.