Facebook removes Find Friends Nearby feature, but is another location-based product on the way?

Facebook has removed its little-known location-based feature called Find Friends Nearby.

A day after the feature had been revealed by TechCrunch, Facebook removed it from its mobile site and apps. Facebook tells us it never formally released the product and it was something that a few engineers were testing after developing it during a Hackathon.

“With all tests, some get released as full products, others don’t,” a Facebook spokesperson says. “Nothing more to say on this for now — we’ll communicate to everyone where there is something to say.”

Find Friends Nearby allowed users to visit a mobile site or section within the iOS or Android app, and see a list of other users nearby who have also opened the page. Facebook engineer Ryan Patterson says in a comment on TechCrunch that he imagines the ideal use case for the product being a situation where someone has just met a group of new people they want to stay in contact with, for instance, at a party or conference.

“Facebook search might be effective, or sharing your vanity addresses or business cards, but this tool provides a really easy way to exchange contact information with multiple people with minimal friction,” he wrote.

Friendthem is a third-party application for iOS and Android that does something similar. On Monday, Friendthem contacted the press saying that the company was talking to lawyers about filing a lawsuit against Facebook. We have not heard an update on whether they have taken legal action or had any discussions with Facebook. A Facebook spokesperson did not comment on whether the removal of Find Friends Nearby had anything to do with Friendthem.

In May, Facebook acquired Glancee, a location-based app that helps users find and connect with people nearby based on whether they have mutual friends or interests. Facebook has an existing feature in place to let users know when one of their friends is nearby, but the feature only seems to count explicit check-ins, not location tags, which are being used more frequently. We’ve suggested that Glancee could be used to help improve this feature, which is more about finding existing friends, not meeting new people.

Possibly unrelated to Find Friends Nearby, we’ve seen a number of posts from Facebook employees that include new phrasing when location is shared. The body of these posts say that a user is or was “here,” and the location is included as a tag at the bottom of the story. Posts from non-Facebook employees do not include the “here” terminology. Readers can see the differences below between a Facebook employee’s post and the stories that generated through traditional check-ins or location tagging. Note that the Facebook employee’s profile photo is smaller because the story appeared within an interest list, and the traditional stories include the “tag friends” option because users only have permission to do this on their own posts.

Facebook Manager of Mobile Analytics Alex Bain and other Facebook employees with this new story type said they could not comment. A Facebook spokesperson told us in early June that this was a bug. However, we continue to see location stories with the word “here” among Facebook employees and not other users. Often when users discover a bug, it suggests that Facebook is making changes to that aspect of the site.

The social network is also rumored to be working on real-time location-based ad targeting for its mobile platform.

Top image from TechCrunch