Hands-on With FaceBook Places: Location-Based Service Feels Like a Ghost Town

Last Wednesday, Facebook rolled out Places--the Foursquare-esque service that allows users to publicly check-in to any given location. Like with most new features that Facebook has launched as of late, Places raised quite a few concerns over privacy.

But after spending some time with Places on Facebook's iPhone app, we'd say that Facebook's bigger concern should be over whether or not people  actually use the service.

Right now, Places is only integrated onto the iPhone Facebook app. Android, BlackBerry, and non-mobile users can post status updates through touch.facebook.com.

On the Facebook app, it's easy to start using Places. The icon is situated right in the middle of the app's home page and pressing it pulls up a list that displays the current location of your friends and the time that they checked in. From here--or by pressing the Places marker next to the status update box--you can check into your current location.

Like on Foursquare, the number of available locations depends on where you are. Places generates a list of nearby places that you can check into and it's fairly easy to find your actual location. If it's not listed, you can create a listing for the place.

Once you're on the check-in page, you can add an announcement and tag people. Afterward, the announcement--which includes your current location--will be posted on your profile, your friends' news feeds and the walls of anyone that was tagged. You'll also show up in the Recent Activity section on the location's page.

There are definitely some significant social ramifications to having people or advertisers constantly know your location (and likewise, there are ways to close those holes), but in terms of practical usage, it's hard to draw any major conclusions just yet.

The fact that it only works well on a smartphone limits FaceBook Places' adoption. When I tried to post a Places update on a desktop computer, my location couldn't be found. As with most social networking applications, its success depends on popularity and so far it doesn't seem to have captured many imaginations. Out of my 270 friends, only three (who are in the photo above) had used Places.

Eventually, Facebook says that more content will take advantage of location-based information. As a recent Foursquare user who's now addicted to badge gathering, I can certainly understand the appeal of adding location to my social networking routine. But until Facebook figures out a way to better integrate Places into the end-user experience, I'll stick to something else if I want to let people know where I am.