Facebook's Possible Location Launch: 5 Things to Watch For

Facebook is expected to unveil on Wednesday a new location-sharing feature for the social network's 500 million users. Reports about Facebook developing a location-based feature have been circulating for some time. Facebook has also b

een making references to a potential location feature. In March, Facebook said it had some ideas for about adding new location features that would go beyond just sharing your location in a Facebook update or wall post.

But despite all the rumblings about location, Facebook has yet to unveil such a service. In fact, it's unclear if location really is what Facebook plans to discuss at its upcoming press event.

However, a "multitude" of anonymous sources have reportedly told All Things D's Kara Swisher that geo-location is definitely on the docket for Wednesday.

Details are scarce about what Facebook's new location service would be like, but it's likely the main way you'd share your location would be through your mobile device. Beyond that, here are five issues Facebook should address during its press event on Wednesday.

Play Nice With Third Parties

News that Facebook may be getting into the location game has many wondering what the implications will be for location-sharing services such as Foursquare and Gowalla.   Both services use your mobile device's GPS feature to share your location with your friends when visiting cafes, bars, malls, and other public places. Sharing your location is known as a check-in, and users typically earn points, virtual rewards and other incentives that encourage frequent check-ins.

Foursquare has been the most aggressive location service in recent months among location services. The company has signed deals with Bravo television, registered more than 100 million check-ins, and encouraged small business owners to reward their Foursquare mayors -- the person who has checked-in the most at a particular location using Foursquare -- with happy hour specials, retail discounts, giveaways and other prizes.

Despite their burgeoning popularity, it's unclear whether smaller location services would remain popular if Facebook (with its 500 million-strong membership) got into location sharing. However, recent rumors suggest Facebook's location feature would somehow integrate with existing location services.

Platform

Facebook's location feature is expected to be included with Facebook Platform -- the software framework third parties use to integrate products, such as Farmville, with Facebook. It's possible, then, that location services like Gowalla and Foursquare could just hook into Facebook's location feature via Platform. This also means current Facebook Platform services including quizzes and social games such as Frontierville could include location features into existing products.

It's also possible that external Websites and services using Platform such as Meebo, the Huffington Post and Tapulous could take advantage of location services.

Privacy

You can't add a new service to Facebook without talking about privacy, and a feature that can reveal your location would be no exception. Facebook is often the target of criticisms over how it treats user privacy.

Recent privacy debacles have addressed how difficult it is for a user to manage privacy on Facebook, and on concern about the Instant Personalization service launched at Facebook's F8 developer conference earlier this year.

Key questions regarding Facebook's location feature: How easy would it be for users to opt out of the service? Would Facebook location be opt-in or opt-out by default? Will Facebook consider your location publicly available information or encourage users to set their location to public? Also, will Facebook automatically reveal a person's location, or would you have to expressly share your location on a case-by-case basis?

Deals or No Deals?

What kind of location-sharing service will Facebook launch exactly? Will it be about sharing your location just with your network of Facebook friends? Or will Facebook include a gaming element where you can win store discounts, free drinks, and other incentives by checking in at certain locations?

Reviews?

Many services invite you to contribute user reviews to places you visit. You can leave notes and tips about a particular location using Gowalla and Foursquare. Yelp and Google Buzz let you leave more detailed reviews and ratings for the places you visit.

It's unclear whether Facebook would include similar features. GigaOm's Matthew Ingram posits Facebook's location service could include a variety of things beyond check-ins including reviews and user-generated photos and videos.

It's only one day until we know for sure what Facebook has in store for its users. Facebook's press event is scheduled to start at 4:30 p.m. Pacific Time on Wednesday, August 18.

Connect with Ian on Twitter (@ianpaul).

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