Changes announced today to Facebook's privacy agreement suggest the company is about to flip the switch and add location-based capabilities to the social network. Some think this might mean the end for standalone location-based services like Foursquare and Brightkite. I don't think so.
“Experts” have recently placed Foursquare valuations in the $50M to $70M range. I think this is low, and I also think it is too soon for Foursquare to sell. (More on 4sq in a moment.)
And Yelp is an interesting player in this market, boasting a huge user base (huge by Foursquare standards) that it brought into the location-based world with an iPhone app earlier this year. The Yelp iPhone app alone had around 1.25 million users back in January, compared to around 500,000 today on Foursquare*. Yelp, for reasons I don't want to get into right now, remains a dark horse in this race.
So will all of these players run from the fray when Facebook throws down its 400 million-user glove? I don't think so.
There comes a time in the life of every hot software product's life (whether a Web 2.0 company or a shrink-wrapped software product) when its legacy of features and its sheer complexity, momentum and size, keep it from being as creative and cutting edge as it once was.
Witness Google, with Google Buzz, which has generated some interest but doesn't really seem poised to destroy Twitter. Or Microsoft Word, which added HTML capability years ago but will never be used by serious Web developers. Once an entity gets enough momentum, it will always be what it has become.
Facebook will remain burdened with all of the things Facebook is famous for, like Farmville, Mafia Wars, and miles-wide-of-the-mark contextual advertising. (Aren't you glad they still offer a “Poke” feature?) And there's something nice about simple, uncluttered, standalone apps, particularly in a mobile environment. Part of Foursquare's appeal is that it does one thing really well.
I guess Facebook could clone Foursquare's badges and point system, but then it would be Foursquare screen scraped into Facebook. If Facebook can develop some unique capabilities or strategic alliances to enhance user check-ins, maybe they'll steal some users from Foursquare, but right now Foursquare is generating buzz, and, more important, signing deals with Zagat, Starbucks, Warner Brothers and others, an indisputable validation of the appeal and potential for the service. (Then again, if Foursquare is an acquisition target, these deals would make the company more appealing to whoever is going to absorb them.)
This is definitely the year of location-based social media, and a lot of interesting things are going to happen in the next nine months. Wagers anyone?
* I couldn't find current stats on Yelp's iPhone app user base, hence the discombobulated comparison