A Facebook Location API Could Be Coming Soon

We’ve been covering Facebook’s upcoming location-based service for months. Today, CNET says location APIs will be coming in a few weeks, potentially sooner.

Location-based application developers are already using Facebook’s platform to let people sync accounts with Facebook, and share check-ins back to Facebook. What this new API will specifically enable is not yet known, although rumors about it have been popping up since earlier this year. At this point, Facebook appears to want to connect third-party check-ins with profiles and Pages.

Facebook has also reportedly partnered with location-focused business directory Localeze, the same company that powers conversion of addresses or coordinates into named locations for Twitter. Facebook could use Localeze’s directory to match addresses, and coordinates coming in through the API with businesses that have Facebook Pages.

There are also some clues about how that interface might look. Code on the touch.facebook.com iPhone mobile site surfaced in April indicating a “Places” tab could provide friend location information on user profiles, Pages, and in mobile apps.

Owners of official Pages, if they have a real world location, could claim their “Place” and get a Places tab added to their Pages, like the tabs Facebook created for Questions, but showing public check-in data to that location. This allows check-ins to user-authored locations or locations who don’t have a Page yet to occur, then when a Page claims its Place, there will already have been check-ins made to it. Note that Facebook documentation has been showing Page owners how to add their own location information for months.

For any business or other organization that somehow relies on a physical location, this would immediately make Pages more interesting — you can imagine seeing all of your friends who have checked in to the local donut shop, for example, whether they are on Foursquare, Gowalla, MyTown, Yelp or any other check-in service. Given Facebook’s expansion into mobile, you can imagine Facebook providing this aggregated data on a real-time mobile map, too, making it more convenient for you to see where your friends are while you’re on the go.

Aggregating check-ins to a central viewing location would solve the problem of social graphs splintered across location services, and remove the need for users to cultivate networks in each.

It is also possible that Facebook would offer its own check-in service, in addition to third parties — McDonald’s is reportedly one of the initial partners for some form of app-based Page check-in service.

In another sign of how the product might look, a “Facebook insider” told at least one location startup to consider switching to the “Like” button theme versus a thumbs-up one, according to the CNET report. Doing so, of course, would match Facebook’s existing uses of the word “Like” to indicate that someone is a fan of a post, comment, Page, or web page or site.

Overall, Facebook can use the location API to make itself the center of location services, similar to how it leveraged its social features to make itself indispensable to many developers and marketers. And, by collecting information about where a user and a user’s friends check-in through the API, Facebook can show highly targeted ads on the Places tab and elsewhere, possibly even syndicating local ads, including group-discount coupons, to these third parties. The API could provide any third party with valuable new location data, but also give Facebook leverage to own the relationship with local advertisers.

Finally, CNET confirms the previously-reported acquisition of Hot Potato, a service that provided location features, but also a range of other social conversation products, for $10 million; it’s not clear if the company will be working on location or other Facebook products though. Facebook, meanwhile, tried to buy Foursquare for $120 million at one point, but walked away after the startup asked for more.

Here’s Facebook’s only official comment on its location plans: “We are working on location features and product integrations, which we’ll be launching in the coming months, and we’ll share more details when appropriate.”