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When Facebook announced that it would be folding Places check-ins into status updates, some took it as a sign that the company was bowing to…

Foursquare App
photo: Foursquare

When Facebook announced that it would be folding Places check-ins into status updates, some took it as a sign that the company was bowing to Foursquare as the dominant “check-in” service in mobile. But one app developer tells us that based on the activity on his apps, this is far from the truth.

Magnus Jern, the CEO of London-based Golden Gekko, which has developed around 400 apps for clients that include Vodafone (NYSE: VOD), Disney (NYSE: DIS) and Coca Cola, says that when it comes to some markets like Europe, Foursquare has hardly made any headway.

He says that taken as a whole, in cases where check-in options have been added into apps his company has created, the ratio of those who have used Facebook to check into places versus Foursquare has been between 5-10:1.

That’s a number that has some backing from at least one research group: comScore (NSDQ: SCOR) noted in May 2011 that Facebook Places accounted for some 96.6 percent of all check-ins in the UK — a proportion that Jern says is reflected in other markets in Europe. (Covering, of course, only those who are actually interested enough to check-in.)

“Services like Foursquare’s and Gowalla’s are growing, but just not fast enough,” Jern tells mocoNews. He also points out that having to sign up for another new service can be a barrier, especially when so many people are already on Facebook.

Jern points out that while Facebook is incorporating the location-aware Places service into its general status updates, it is not removing the APIs for the service. His company will continue to use these in apps they develop.

If anything, Places appears to be growing in its functionality. One enhancement coming soon, says Jern, is a service that will let people track their Facebook friends’ movements, based on their location check-ins, not unlike the service Google (NSDQ: GOOG) offers in Latitude.

But while Facebook is expanding Places, there are some question marks over how easy it is for check-in startups to diversify into more areas.

Just yesterday, Gowalla’s CEO Josh Williams announced that his company was actually getting rid of some of the services it had added on to Gowalla’s original check-in product: included in the cull are Notes and Items. Items, he wrote, were used by less than half a percent of all of Gowalla’s users; Notes is likely to reappear in another form in the future.

The message here seems to be that it’s easier to be a big social network/search engine and incorporate check-in functionality, than it is to be a check-in company trying to do a lot more. That’s not to say it’s impossible or not happening elsewhere — but just that it might be more tricky.

Jern, for one, thinks that the real competition in check-ins will not be between Facebook and Foursquare/Gowalla, but with Google, which will increasingly link up services like Latitude to Google+ to make it more useful to people. “A lot of the conversations going on now with our clients is whether and when we should integrate Google+ into their apps,” he says.

Monetizing check-ins. But even if Facebook is dominating check-ins at the moment, it is not necessarily monetizing those actions as well as they could be.

One area where Facebook has not seen as much success among Golden Gekko’s clients is in its Deals offers. Jern notes that those business who do push discounts or offers to users tend to do this directly through their apps to “control the experience more.” It also means that they do not have to pay Facebook any commission fees to promote those deals, he notes.

Update: After posting this story, Facebook actually announced that it would close the Deals service — perhaps a signal that whatever turned some app publishers off from using Deals was a wider problem for the company in making it a viable business product. Full story on Deals here.

  1. Unless something has changed, Facebook doesn’t charge businesses to run Checkin Deals. It monetizes them by encouraging owners to advertise for their Places or promote the checkins of a user’s friends through Sponsored Stories.

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    1. I’ve hopefully clarified this in the text above now.

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