The new social networking features unveiled at this week’s f8 event showed just how thoroughly Facebook intends to knit itself into the real-time flow of our lives, but judging by a conversation I had with a source at the social networking giant, we ain’t seen nothin’ yet.
Facebook’s mobile app is GPS-enabled, and the company can track the locations of users in real-time. “So if you’re in a bar or restaurant, wouldn’t it be cool to know that say, three of your Facebook friends are hanging out right across the street?”, my source asked me.
“No, actually, that would creep me out,” I replied. But hey, I’m a privacy freak.
My personal reservations aside, my source made it clear that Facebook could indeed offer just such a real-time friend locator service, if it wanted to, and it kinda does want to.
I actually had the conversation above a few months ago, not too long after the subsiding of one of the Facebook privacy freak-outs that seems to hit the public and punditry once or twice a year. At the time, I thought that this was probably one of those “we could do this in theory, and wouldn’t it be awesome” projects that would never see the light of day due to privacy concerns.
But after watching this week’s carefully calibrated move back in the direction of extreme (over?)sharing and finer-grained, real-time activity streams, I’m thinking that the newly announced features are the proverbial water temperature rising around the soon-to-be-boiled frog, and that a sort of real-time, location-based proximity notification service is the next notch up on the burner. Such a Loopt-like service that tells your friends when you’re nearby fits really well with the effortless exhibitionism that Zuckerberg and co. have said that they want to encourage.
Then there’s also the growing location-based ad market, which this will help Facebook get their share of. Plus, there are all sorts of possibilities for a realtime version of Facebook Deals.
If, or when, Facebook launches this, it’ll be huge. Sure, there will be a big privacy dust-up over it, and many people (like myself) will uninstall the Facebook apps from our phones and opt out online. But a ton of people are going to be into this, and, heck, I might even consider turning it on on the rare occasion when I go out in the evening. I’m already using Tripit this way, to let me know when out-of-town friends of mine are going to pass through SFO, so even a privacy freak like me can imagine taking the next step with something like this.
Photo: Ewan Munro/Flickr