Facebook Offers More Details On Location Tagging

By David Cohen Comment

Earlier this week, Facebook announced that users now have the ability to tag locations in content published to the social network by third-party applications using its open graph. Today, the social network offered more details on the subject.

According to the note, Facebook places and the technology behind it were the basis for the newest tagging features announced earlier this week, and the enhancements have been in the works since August.

Facebook Software Engineer Karan Mangla discussed how the new features evolved in a post on the social network’s engineering blog:

While places was an easy way for people to share where they were, we soon realized that the places people have gone in the past are just as integral to their identity as what they did there and who they were with. So in August 2011, we focused on making it as easy as possible for people to share their location, no matter what kind of updates they were posting.

To do this, our first step was to change the concept of location from being a specific type of information people broadcasted via their mobile phones, to metadata that you could add to any experience in your life. We added the ability to tag all your photos and statuses with location to provide useful context for the moments they represented.

When we redesigned the Facebook composer, a clear goal was to allow users to add location to any content that they have shared on the site. This made searching for places much harder to process since the user could potentially be searching for any place in the world, irrespective of their current location. To cope with this huge dataset, we changed the infrastructure to optimize for quick lookup of all possible candidate places.

While the new composer provided a way for people to add location to all of their content, the current profile design did not surface this information into interesting, easy-to-digest stories on their profiles.

So when we created timeline, we designed the timeline map as an integral part. This creates a single place that can surface every place you’ve checked into, as well as the photos and statuses you uploaded at those places.Now, when your friends visit your profile, they can go to your map and quickly get an idea of the cities you have lived in, the trips you’ve taken, and the places you visited during those trips.

Mangla went into far more technical details about how this was accomplished, but she also shared Facebook’s future goals for its location application-programming interface:

Moving forward, we want to make the timeline map a single source for people to display the places they’ve visited, and an important part of this is making it possible for other applications to add content to this map. We are launching APIs to allow applications that have obtained user permission to post content with location tags directly onto this map.

We’re also improving the API for place search to allow applications to access universal search requests so they don’t need to build their own location search capabilities. For instance, different travel sites can publish people’s recent vacations to their maps so they can easily share this data with their social graph.

Mobile apps that obtain user opt-in can add this metadata to content shared via the application to add more context to people’s activity. Facebook can also create custom aggregations, such as all the tourist attractions you visited on your recent trip to Europe, to allow people to easily curate and share this information on their profile.

We are also launching APIs to allow applications to read this data. With permission, it will allow any application that a person is interacting with to access the places that that person and their friends have visited. This will allow travel apps to create trip suggestions based on vacations taken by your friends or suggest customized experiences to people based on their current location. A person arriving in a new city can get restaurant suggestions, hotel recommendations, and advice on the best gyms to use based on the places their friends in the area frequent to make the experience easier.

Readers: Do you have any other ideas for how Facebook can use its location API?