Facebook Places: A Guided Tour of Features and Privacy Settings

Facebook is currently rolling out access to its new Places feature to the Facebook for iPhone app and touch.facebook.com. Those with access can check in to nearby locations, view a stream of check-ins by friends, and add new Places for anyone to be able to check-in to. Those whose accounts haven’t been granted access can still use the iPhone app to view check-ins of friends. Everyone can currently see check-ins from friends in their news feeds, and edit their Places privacy settings.

Places appears as a button in the middle of the iPhone home screen and a tab on the touch.facebook.com home screen. Upon first using Places, users are prompted to allow it to use their current location. The Places home screen shows your latest check-in at the top, followed by a list of friends who’ve checked-in nearby, then a list of the most recent check-ins by friend regardless of location.

Clicking any of these entries brings up that location’s Places page. Here you’ll see a map of where the Place is, anyone who is “here now” (have recently check-in in there), total check-ins, and recent activity — a list of feed stories generated by check-ins to that place. These feed stories show who checked in there, anyone they tagged as also being present, a description by the check-in author if provided, and any likes or comments on the story. Users can also flag Places as having incorrect info, being abusive (such a someone creating a Place at your Mom’s house), being a business which has permanently closed, or being a duplicate of another Place. On Facebook.com, users can click through check-ins they see on their news feed to view a Place’s page.

Clicking “Check In” at the top of the Places home screen, or by clicking the upside down teardrop Places icon next to the status update publisher brings up a list of suggested nearby Places. Selecting one brings up the check-in publisher page, where a user can fill out the optional “What are you doing?” field, tag friends who are also present, and check in, as well as see people “Here Now”, and view previous check-ins to that Place. Checking in results in a post to your wall, the wall of anyone tagged, feeds of your friends, the wall of the Place, and you appear in the “Here Now” list to anyone, friend or otherwise, who checks in to the same Place. Check-ins peg you as being “Here Now” for 3-4 hours. There is currently no limit to how frequently you can check in to different Places, and you can check in anywhere within a half mile of your GPS-sourced location.

If you don’t see the Place you want to check in to, you can hit the “Add” or + sign to enter a new Place which will be available to the public for check-ins. You enter the new Place’s name, an optional description of it, and its location is set as your current location. Facebook shows users a warning when adding a Place to ensure they know that this data is public. Maps for Places are powered by Bing, so clicking a map on touch.facebook.com will bring up a separate mobile browser window with a Bing map. However, clicking a map on the iPhone app brings up Google’s in-Facebook app map interface with an option to open the Google Maps iPhone app.

Businesses can claim a Place by having an official representative go to the Places page and click “Is this your business?” This gives that representative admin access to the Place, which gains Page-like functionality such as the ability to list business information and post updates to those that Like the Places page, but not those who only check in. A Place can also then be merged with an official Page. This essentially migrates your existing Likes, photos, and wall posts from your Page to the Place page, and shows your Page’s tabs as a list of icons down the left hand column.