Facebook is currently testing three new features designed to allow users to help the site improve the location database that powers its checkin service Places.
The Places Editor app allows users to add missing information to Places, as well as flag duplicate Places that are sometimes added by other locations services including Foursquare and Gowalla. The Favorite Places sidebar module lets users vote which of two Places they prefer, and the Add Category link on news feed checkin stories lets users tag Places with their type.
We believe Facebook is using the data to surface higher quality Places when users checkin and search the site, keep the database tidy so that different users check in to the same Place when they’re actually at the same location, and to improve ad relevance.
Facebook launched its checkin service Places in August, using Localeze to initially populate its location database. However, after nine months of use, the Places database has become a bit of a mess.
Places and Localeze are not synced, so the Places database does not always accurately reflect new or changed location, or contain pertinent data like a location’s website or category. Users sometimes add duplicate Places instead of checking in to official existing ones. Slightly different duplicate versions of Places are also sometimes added when users of third-party location services such as Foursquare and Gowalla publish their checkins to Places.
The result is that when users go to check in from their mobile device, they have to choose between a set of duplicates. For example, trying to check in to popular San Francisco hang out Dolores Park returns over a dozen duplicate Places. This splinters the checkins of users who are actually in the same location across multiple Places, reducing the value of the Here Now feature that shows friends and other users who are checked in to the same Place. It also prevents Facebook from displaying aggregated checkin news feed stories that inform users when multiple groups of friends are at the same Place, or from returning accurate search results.
Therefore, for Facebook Places to be as useful as possible, Facebook needed a way improve the metadata and remove duplicate Places for locations around the world. Its answer appears to be crowdsourcing. Its first data cleanup features were Suggest Edits, shown on all Places pages, and the Community Edits tab application, shown on the Places of cities. Now, Facebook is pushing users to improve its data through a canvas app, sidebar modules, and the news feed.
Some users are now seeing a Places Editor bookmark in their right sidebar navigation menu. The bookmark opens a canvas application that explains:
Welcome to the Places Editor. You’ve been either chosen by your hard work of helping Places or you’ve been invited by a friend who has helped many Places.
Places Editor lets you make sure the information about your favorite spots is complete and accurate. See two pages for the same restaurant? Notice a miscategorized shop? Let us know.
Users can then select to work on adding info or removing duplicates of popular Places in their country, local Places, or Places they and their friends have checked in to. If users are in the Missing Information tab, they fill empty fields such as category and phone number, similar to Community Edits. More comprehensive information on Places will allow Facebook to stand in for a phone book or a Google search for an address, and categories in particular can assist with ad targeting.
If users are in the Duplicate Places tab, they’re shown the official or most popular instance of a Place, and asked to mark whether similarly named Places are duplicates. Sometimes these duplicates are listed as being sourced from Foursquare, Gowalla, SCVNGR or other location services. This is because checkin published to Facebook from one of these services via the API aren’t rolled in to the main Place for a location. Scrubbing Places of these duplicates will reduce confusion about which version of a Place to check in to.
While browsing the site, some users are seeing a module in the right sidebar called Favorite Places. It presents users with two Places, typically of the same category, such as bars, or restaurants. Users are asked “Which Place do you like better?” and can hover over one to view a “Vote for this” button. Voting simply brings up another set of choices, with no clear indication of what users are accomplishing. This feature may need better messaging or positive reinforcement if Facebook wants users to vote.
Users can click a “See Your Favorites” link in the module to see a ranked list of all the Places they voted for. Facebook may use the preference data it collects from Favorite Places to to show users the Places they prefer first when they’re deciding where to check in.
In this way it can make up for the inaccuracy of GPS and decrease the likelihood that users will have to scroll through many Places to find the one they’re at. It could also add the preference signal to its internal search algorithm so a search of a category returns a user’s favorite matching locations.
When users viewing their news feed see checkins of friends to Places that are uncategorized, they’ll see an “Add Category” action link beside the options to Like or comment. The link opens a pop up where users can submit category tags, or click through to edit the Place through the Suggest Edits feature.
When users add Places from their mobile device, they can add a name and description, but not a category. By adding categories to these Places, Facebook can properly group them in the Favorite Places module, and more accurately target ads to the users who Like those Places.
With Foursquare recently taking $50 million in funding, and other competitors like Google continuing to develop rival products, Facebook needs to keep the Places user experience as streamlined as possible. A major barrier to checking in on any location service is how long it takes. By improving the relevance of the nearby Places suggestions by combining preference and GPS, Facebook can make checking in less of a chore, and rack up more location data it can use to target ads.
To learn how your business can benefit from Facebook Places, visit the Facebook Marketing Bible, Inside Network’s complete guide to marketing and advertising through Facebook.
[Thanks to Kevin from Social Yeah for the tips]