Facebook, Placebook! Social networking giant enters location wars.

In a much anticipated announcement yesterday,  social networking powerhouse Facebook fired another shot hear around the world.  Make that the online world of “checking in”.  With the unveiling of Facebook Places, the company enters the hot and volatile war for geo-location supremecy.

Facebook Places is designed to let users include their location in their status updates, using the GPS on the user’s smartphone.  Whether you are going to work, the movies, or lounging at home, you can let your Facebook friends know where you are.  Apps like FourSquare (the current king), Gowalla, and Brightkite already do the same and are wildly popular.  What makes Facebook Places such a threat to the market however is the sites already eye-popping number of users.  Facebook comes out of the starting gate playing to an almost captive audience of a half-billion users!

Facebook Places also has some tempting features for those who like geo-location.  First and foremost is that your location is added directly to your Facebook status.  we all know how important those status updates have become.  Second is a unique tagging feature that lets you tag other Facebook friends who may be at that location with you.  It’s like an instant party invite to other friends who may be in the area.  Finally, Facebook Places has privacy in mind in that only your approved friends can see where you are.  The Facebook team were ready with the great features on day one.

Facebook Places is immediately available in the USA and will soon be coming to other countries.  It will be interesting to not only see where this goes, but how the competitors will respond.  With the explosion of the geo-location craze, the world just keeps getting smaller.

Loco for Location-Based Services? Take Our Poll!

Location-based services are certainly getting a great deal of buzz these days.  From the race to become a “mayor” or “supermayor” on Foursquare to cracking the top-ten visitors to a place on Gowalla, people are REALLY getting into these services.  Is it a sign that the world is getting smaller yet again or just passing fad?  We want your input.

Location-based services / apps are designed to essentially do two things.  First and foremost, they track your whereabouts.  All of the services that we tested required you to “check in” and log your location.  Secondly, they take that information and, well, socialize it.  They let others know you are there, ask you to rate or review the place, let you know where your friends are, and attempt to make the whole thing fun.  Some let you chat or interact with others in the same location (on the system mind you . . . not neccessarily in person) and some evern reward you for being there.  For those who are new to location-based apps, it can be overwhelming to conceptualize.  For hard core privacy protectionists, the concept can be downright scary!  Do you really want people to know where you are?

The editorial team at iBraryGuy sampled four of the more popular location-based applications.  Interestingly enough, we also eventually deleted them all from our phones.  Each started out fun and even challenging, but eventually became somewhat annoying.  Perhaps this is one area where we are just not “with it”.  Perhaps, given our enthusiasm for technology, it is a sign of the staying power of these services.  Who knows.  While we initially enjoyed the fun of trying to earn badges on Foursquare and pick up pins on Gowalla, the bottom line ended up being that it was a bit of pain to have to always remember to whip our phones and check in.  The social networking aspects of Loopt and Brightkite were equally as nifty at the outset.  However, we found that so few other folks were using these apps that it was pretty darned hard to be sociable.  Then there are the rewards . . . sure, you can meet new people and interact with folks who frequent the places you do, but the badges and pins are not like poker chips.  You cannot cash them in. [There’s an idea for any of you location-based services who may be reading this!]

So maybe we are missing something that the hypemakers are not.  What about you, our beloved readers?  Are you using any of these apps / services?  Take our poll below and please feel free to share your comments!