Mike Isaac

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Facebook Pushes Into Crowded Territory — Again — With Local Discovery Update

If at first you don’t succeed … well, you know how that goes.

As does Facebook, which is pushing hard into local discovery territory with Nearby, an updated feature inside its mobile app that offers suggestions on businesses and places of interest you may want to check out.

Nearby functions best by taking cues mined straight from your Facebook account — stuff you “Like,” stuff your friends have “Liked,” places you’ve checked in to, etc. The relevance argument here is that Facebook has a wealth of user data to draw upon for recommendations, perhaps more than Yelp or Foursquare.

It’s not entirely new ground. Facebook tried this sort of thing more than two years ago with Places, the company’s supposed Foursquare killer. Check in to joints, find friends, meet up and so on.

Surprise! Facebook didn’t kill Foursquare, nor did Yelp suddenly vanish. Foursquare has grown to upward of 20 million registered users, while Yelp went public and is growing by the day with overseas acquisitions. (Now, while they’re not dead, parsing Foursquare’s and Yelp’s business models and long-term prospects is another discussion entirely.)

So what’s different in round two? For one, it’s a heck of a lot nicer than the original effort. It’s personalized, it’s more robust, and all of your Facebook activity really does help fuel it.

In other words, it’s an actual discovery mechanism.

It’s probably going to be a whole lot better, considering Facebook acquired location-based services experts Gowalla, helmed by the very smart (and exceedingly pleasant, I may add) Josh Williams, almost a year ago to date.

But, you know, there’s the whole problem of intent to consider. Does my “Liking” a Facebook page for a business mean I’m inclined to visit them, or purchase anything from them? That’s the case that Facebook’s marketing department is trying to make to both SMBs and big brands right now, with mixed results.

Google, on the other hand, has this sort of thing pretty much nailed. Intent is built directly into how a Google search works. Looking for a restaurant address and times? Google it. On the move and looking for something to nosh? There’s a local discovery bar built into the Google.com homepage when you’re viewing on your mobile browser. In other words, ask Google and ye shall receive.

I’m curious, too, to see how often Facebook users swipe sideways in the app to dig through their tabs and find Nearby. I know I spend most of my time checking my News Feed from the app, rather than messing with other things. We’ll see if other folks use it differently.

Also of note: Facebook recommends you update your profile with lots more relevant information to make Nearby work better. Not too shabby of a way to collect more user data through the power of subtle suggestion, eh Facebook? Nice try.

Expect the new feature to come in an app update Monday afternoon.

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