Liveblogging the Geo-Location Announcement: Oh, the Facebook "Places" You'll Go

Published on August 18, 2010
by Kara Swisher

BoomTown motored on down the lovely Highway 280 in Silicon Valley to Facebook to hear execs talk about a new geo-location feature the powerful social networking site is rolling out today.

And, the new name of the service, which will be deeply integrated into its current update system, as I reported earlier, will be “Places.”

The service seems to be basic and useful–it is reviewed here by Walt Mossberg–allowing people to post their location on the Wall of their Facebook profile, much as you might a photo or video.

There will be no games, no mayors and no special discounts either in Facebook Places–just plain and simple checking in and, presumably, taking names.

Privacy is a big focus of the launch of Places, which will allow users to decline to be placed by others.

The $100 million question is how much Facebook will allow the integration of other competing services including Foursquare.

A lot, it seems, as sources said Foursquare Founder and CEO Dennis Crowley was invited to appear for the announcements, perhaps to minimize the idea that this is a Foursquare-killer.

It’s not. Today.

4:30 pm PT: Of course, I and a badillion other reporters arrived on time, to 1050 Page Mill Road in Palo Alto, Calif. in a mass of media force that would probably better be deployed on more weighty topics than the particulars of checking in from some hip dive bar in the Mission neighborhood of San Francisco.

After some waiting, we were finally bussed–or perhaps the better word is geo-located–to the actual HQ of Facebook nearby, and shepherded (just like sheep that we are!) into its cafeteria.

Except it had been duded up like a tiki lounge with palm trees and a driftwood stage. I felt as though I was suddenly on an episode of “Gilligan’s Island.” Cue Ginger for her big song number with the coconut bra!

Hey, Skipper…

5:18 pm: That skipper would be CEO Mark Zuckerberg, who was–as usual–dressed in jeans and a t-shirt and was endearingly awkward as always. It’s kind of touching that Zuckerberg still tries to have the just-us-guys posture, despite all the fame and fortune.

He quickly announced Facebook Places, across the U.S. tomorrow, on an Apple (AAPL) iPhone app and a mobile Web site.

He talked about deciding to finally launch Places after a dinner out with his girlfriend, when, deploying a test version, they realized another Facebook exec, Chris Cox and his fiance were nearby at another restaurant.

It was an earth-shaking moment, implied Zuckerberg.

Ahem, knock, knock…that’s Foursquare! Have you heard of it?

Yes, Facebook has been ogling the hot New York location start-up for a year, which is precisely why we are all here.

5:28 pm: Michael Sharon, the product manager of Places gave us a little run-through of the service, which was about what you would expect.

Foursquare except cleaner. Booyah except no games. Gowalla except, well, not Gowalla.

What’s important is that it is very integrated into Facebook’s current features, such as the Wall and status updates. Which is the right thing to do since Facebook has no business being all trendy.

The plains are covered with the bodies of pioneers, as they say, so what Facebook Places is, essentially, is a fast follow.

Sharon moved onto privacy, the big gorilla in the room. You have to opt-in and agree and click here and default to off and you can only tag your friends and you can also block them too.

Also, per Woody Allen’s “Bananas,” all Facebook citizens will be required to change their underwear every half-hour. Underwear will be worn on the outside, so we can check.

Next, lots of info about APIs, so partners can also be part of Facebook’s geo-locating universe.

Up trotted Gowalla’s CTO and Co-founder Scott Raymond, who showed off Gowalla and Facebook integration.

Then a Foursquare exec–not Crowley, who has apparently checked in at a Chipolte in New York at the time of the places launch–loped up to say how great it all is. Just great! Really! Frankly, what else would the Foursquares say at this point.

Next: Yelp dude. Great! Just great! Integration! Check-in and pull your Facebook friends into the Yelp app.

Of course, it would not be a set without Booyah’s Keith Lee. Loves it! Fun! Just great!

This felt like a slow-moving version of invasion of the geo-location snatchers, a parade of glassy-eyed hostages, some scurvy mates walking the platform plank. Aaaaarrrr.

5:50 pm: Finally, Facebook’s product head Chris Cox, who is perhaps one of the more fetching geeks out there, bounded onstage to be all fetching and smart.

He talked about places like home, work and, um, bars. Well, actually, community locations, quoting Ray Oldenburg.

I was honestly not really listening to him at all, because I was riveted on his new haircut, which is just like the buzzed one Vince got on “Entourage” this season.

Errant thought: Those guys on “Entourage” would never check in from a bar! They are totally busy getting their groove on with the ladies–even Johnny Drama–and chillaxing with the doobies and tequila!

When I checked in again mentally, Cox was still chattering away about some glowing phone that tells you everything that happened in that bar forever and ever, since everyone was checking in and memorializing the place over time.

Good god, isn’t it enough that Facebook has all those drunkey-drunk photos from college students nationwide.

No! It wants it all! Yay, all our our drunkey-drunk moments will now be preserved in check-ins for all eternity!

Honey, remember when I ended up in the gutter here? Fun times for our grandkids to unearth one day!

5:58 pm: The Skipper Zuckerberg was back to moderate the Q&A.

Privacy questions about making private places public. If a lot of people are there, it becomes public.

Next: What up with monetization with deals? Zuckerberg notes that Places is at its starting point and “certainly you can imagine these things in the future.”

There was a question about how Places started. Well, IMHO, the moment when Facebook saw Foursquare’s innovation and freaked out.

A very goofy question about what happens when drunkey-drunk places shut down and all those memories are gone, which made me wonder if the reporter asking was drunkey-drunk.

“That’s not a problem we can solve,” said Cox.

Good answer.

Now, the Skipper wants to show us a Facebook custom, which made me suddenly nervous. Sacrifice of the media? No, just some switch-pulling thing.

There was apparently also another tradition–for a six-year-old company, that is–of hitting some gong.

Aha, it’s “The Gong Show.”

Geo-locate that.

Return to: Liveblogging the Geo-Location Announcement: Oh, the Facebook "Places" You'll Go