200M users include location in Facebook posts; company looks to expand location APIs

About a quarter of all Facebook users add location data to their posts each month, according to a presentation by Facebook product manager Josh Williams at the Where Conference in San Francisco.

Williams also says the social network will soon open its place editing API and geocoding service to third-party developers. The company is working with beta partners on Open Graph place objects so that stories shared at locations through applications will show up on Timeline map or as Open Graph actions. This news reinforces the importance of location to the Facebook platform. When the company announced it would phase out Facebook Places as a standalone mobile feature, many pundits misinterpreted this as the social network conceding to services like Foursquare. Instead, we’ve seen Facebook deepen its location integration and create a foundation for users to share more than they could with simple check-ins.

Williams, who was CEO at Gowalla until Facebook acquired the location-based service company in December 2011, says that there are 200 million monthly active users creating 2 billion actions tagged with location on Facebook. This means that, on average, users who check into places or add location to their posts do so about 10 times a month.

Before August 2011, Facebook’s location data was only associated with mobile check-ins. Now users can tag locations — from countries to individual restaurants or buildings — in any post or photo they add to the site. It’s also possible for Open Graph apps to enable location tagging, but we haven’t seen many developers add this feature yet. For example, Spotify could allow users to share where they were when they listened to a song. This type of activity would quickly increase the amount of location data being shared on the platform.

Time is another unique feature of Facebook’s location strategy. Location-based services started by focusing on the present: “I am here now.” With Timeline, users can now go back and add location information to old photo albums or life events that happened in the past. And with the latest changes to Facebook events, users can indicate where they are going to be in the future so that others can join them. This type of data gives Facebook options for a powerful mobile location-based ad platform.

“Current Location Usage” image screen-captured from Williams’ presentation here.

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