In the past, when someone moved to a new place or wanted to visit a city, they had to rely on sources not immediately available or reliable for neutrality. Asking from friends, reading city and tour guides, or even consulting Google Maps will soon become a thing of past, however, or at least that’s how the latest feature from the world’s most prevalent and widely-used social media platform has envisioned it to be in the shape of Facebook Places directory.
Facebook Places was a location and check-in feature introduced back in 2010. Facebook might have tried to take on famous review and check-in services like Foursquare with this home-grown feature but for better or worse it couldn’t gain enough traction and was cancelled in 2011 as a stand-alone search directory. Remnants of this feature, nonetheless, lingered on in the shape of developer APIs, and map- & location-based check-in options integrated into pages and posts.
This week, however, Facebook Places has made an unexpected comeback. It is being rolled-out quietly without any major announcement or even a press release. There are, however, enough changes to warrant some media attention, which it has eventually earned since the roll-out.
The new Facebook Places directory includes an emphasized cover picture to make it go hand-in-hand with other section of the website. Just below the cover art are select popular places from/around the user’s location. A list of cities, categorized by the country, follows those places which also features 3 of the Pakistani cities namely Islamabad, Lahore, and Karachi.
The dedicated pages for cities aggregate auto- and user-generated content, categorized according to the types of places. This content includes business name and address, photos, number of likes and check-ins, user reviews, comments, average price and rating of the place, and maps of nearby cities. The featured categories are Restaurants, Hotels, Bars, Cafes, Public Attractions, and Arts & Entertainments. A user can also explore additional places like Gyms, Markets, Theaters, Universities & Schools, etc.
The aggregated content prioritizes photos and reviews from the user’s friends if they have left any, which gives a personalized touch to exploring the places.
The new Places feature also makes use of Facebook’s powerful Graph Search. Clicking on the “See all … ” link on the top-right of each category takes the user to an advanced search tool where they can filter their results down. A more comprehensive set of information is shown next to each result here to make the search process easier.
It all seems exceedingly useful when we look at it from an outsider’s point-of-view but, since all this data comes from users, the question remains, where exactly is Facebook headed with all this information? Facebook has been expanding on its role as a social media platform, and amassing tremendous amounts of data puts it in a peculiar position to once take on other similar but dedicated platforms like Yelp, Foursquare, and TripAdvisor head-on.
Introduction of highly-contextual features like Places and others in the past, despite raising some privacy concerns, in the long run benefit the users in making their decisions, keeping in touch with their friends, and providing highly relevant results.