At approximately 8pm EST, Facebook announced the launch of their greatly anticipated location-based product, aptly named “Places“.

At first glance, Places might seem like just another check-in service. However, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg stresses that this is not the case. The purpose behind Places is threefold:

1. To allow you to share where you are.

2. To help you find who is around you.

3.  To allow you to discover new places.facebook-dollar-sign

Taking Over the World: One Place at a Time?

Most of us are familiar with other location-based services such as Foursquare, Yelp, and SCVNGR. Some of them offer incentives when we check in, such as badges and mayorships. Others let us leave reviews of places we’ve been, and to upload photos.  What makes Places any different?

Facebook Places: Taking Location-Based To The Next Level

Places has taken what is already familiar, and has built upon it. Sure, just like with the others, you can check in. What if your friends are with you, and they don’t have smartphones that will let them access the Places app? No problem…you just check them in too. You can tag the people who are with you, view others who are in the same place, see who and what is nearby, and what people have to say about it.

We live in a technological age, and many have feared that this will be the downfall of our society as we know it. In the era of social media, many of us do much of our “socializing” from the comfort of our homes,  staring into the computer screen. Urban sociologist Ray Oldenburg recognized that there are three places in which we human beings spend our time. The first is the home, where we sleep, eat, and reflect on the events of the day. The second is work, where we develop our ideas and exercise our minds and bodies in order to create something of a greater purpose. Oldenburg coined the term “the third place” to refer to all of the other neutral meeting places: libraries, streets, bars, restaurants, barbershops, newsstands. These are the places where spontaneous run-ins occur. These are the places where we meet strangers, where we discuss, deliberate, and share our lives with each other.  Many have posited that the development of technology such as the television and the internet would cause the destruction of the third place. People just don’t go out and interact in the same ways that they used to. With Places, Facebook seeks to change that.

Saving The Third Place Puts Facebook Places In First

Chris Cox, the vice president of product management at Facebook, pointed out that the goal of Places is to demonstrate that the third place is alive and well, and that technology can actually be the thing that pulls us away from the TV and out to the theatre, restaurant, or bar. Perhaps the most poignant moment of tonight’s conference was when Cox said “Technology dos not need to estrange us from one another”.  In fact, to sum the purpose of Places up in a nutshell, the program is designed to bring people together.

Going into the Facebook conference tonight,  I was somewhat skeptical. My focus in just about everything lately has been “how do we make this different from what is already out there?”  In announcing the launch of  Places, Facebook went above and beyond just listing features. Chris Cox created a portrait of our world in the future, where, through Places, we have created a composite of memories. My theoretical children will be able to walk into a restaurant on my 50th anniversary, and check in to a place where their parents first met.  There may be photos of us; maybe my review of the shrimp scampi from the night their father proposed. Memories will no longer be confined to our minds, and to the photo albums collecting dust on the shelves in our houses. We will be able to share our memories with people around the world, and in doing so, we can make those memories come alive.

Facebook Places: Bringing People and Location-Based Products Together

I’m a sap, so all of this sentimental stuff kind of won me over. On a more rational note, though, the features of Places seem pretty solid. In case there were any skeptics left after Cox’s wonderful story, Facebook brought out their business partners: Gowalla, Foursquare, Booyah and Yelp. Yes, you read that right. Some of the biggest names in location-based products have joined forces with Facebook and will be using the Places API in their applications.

It may seem to some that Places is a latecomer to the location-based game. On the contrary, just like Fulton Reed in The Mighty Ducks, this is one player you do not want to underestimate.

Facebook will launch Places to users in the United States beginning tomorrow. The product is expected to gradually roll out to all users in the U.S. over the next few days.  What are your expectations for Places? Do you have any concerns about the product?