Australians To Get Facebook Places 'Soon'

Facebook plans to roll out its location check-in service Places to all its markets by the end of the year, with Australia as one of the next countries earmarked to go live.

The social networking site launched Places in the United Kingdom and Japan last week, less than a month after the U.S. launch on August 16.

I spoke to Michael Sharon, product manager of Facebook Places, for a story published in The Australian newspaper today. He told me that there was no confirmed schedule, but the plan was to bring Places to all Facebook-using countries at least by the end of the year. He added that the company was rolling out Places gradually because it was working with local partners for initial listings data.

“We’re focused on getting out to as many countries as possible but we’ll probably roll out fairly slowly,” Sharon said. “We hope to roll out to all countries that Facebook is in. Maybe it will be sooner but we want to make sure there is a good range of places available to begin with.”

Sharon said Facebook expected to offer an Australian version “soon”, perhaps even within weeks. “Australians are really active on Facebook and active mobile users of Facebook so we would definitely prioritise them sooner than other users,” he said. Facebook has about 7 million users in Australia, out of a national population of 21 million.

Despite the sparse population for the continent as a whole, most Australians live in the major cities, especially Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane. This makes it easier for a location check-in service to thrive and sites such as Foursquare and Gowalla already operate in Australia successfully. Australians are known for being early adopters of technology and have been heavy mobile phone users since the mid 1990s.

Sharon did not mention any details of Australian partnerships but one obvious choice would be Sensis Australia, which owns the White Pages and Yellow Pages directories. Alternatively if Facebook partners with a media company that can provide film and restaurant reviews, as it did in the UK, the main choices would be newspaper rivals Fairfax and News Limited (part of News Corp).