Why Didn't Facebook Launch Location Features?

Facebook introduced some pretty impressive features at its f8 conference on Wednesday, including the social graph API, which will unleash a tidal wave of “like” plugins across the web, as well as a graph protocol to allow searching of status updates. All of this was predicted by many (including Om) in the lead-up to the conference. But one thing that virtually everyone expected was missing: a location-related feature for the network, or at the very least, the integration of location-based services. Location was supposed to be one of the biggest announcements made at the conference, something Facebook telegraphed in its recent privacy changes. So what happened?

Facebook hasn’t said why it changed its mind about launching location features (if it did in fact change its mind). I’ve got a request in to the company for comment, and will update this post if I hear back. But here are some of the leading possibilities:

  • It wasn’t ready to be launched: One theory is that Facebook is developing something in-house — something big — but that it wasn’t in production-quality shape in time for the conference, so decided to delay it.
  • It would have been confusing: Even if it was ready, Facebook may have wanted to save the location launch for its own separate event. Sources said several other potential new offerings were stripped out of f8 at the last minute.
  • Facebook is buying Foursquare: According to some rumors circulating around the web, the network is looking at acquiring Foursquare.
  • The company is working on partnerships: Instead of trying to develop something internally, Facebook could be working on integrating with providers like Yelp, Foursquare and Gowalla.

Of all these potential explanations, the last option seems the most plausible. For one thing, Yelp was heavily featured in Mark Zuckerberg’s keynote as a partner on the new social graph API features, and it’s unlikely that he would do that if Facebook were going to turn around and eat Yelp’s lunch on some location offering. Venture fund Elevation Partners — which has reportedly acquired a stake recently in Facebook via the secondary market for employee shares — is also a financial backer of Yelp, and would likely favor a partnership (maybe that’s part of the reason Yelp walked away from a Google acquisition deal). Roger McNamee of Elevation is also said to be an important mentor of Zuckerberg’s.

Facebook may have plenty of hubris when it comes to dominating social activity on the web, but I think it’s more likely that the company will opt to federate with or integrate services from Foursquare, Gowalla and others such as Yelp, rather than trying to duplicate them. It’s true that the network could simply add location awareness through its mobile apps, the same way Twitter has added the ability to tag tweets — but it would be just as easy, and would still allow Facebook to become the one ring for location, if it allowed other services to use its social graph API and then aggregated and mined the data. And while it didn’t mention location specifically at f8, there are references to location in Facebook’s documentation for the open graph protocol as one of the attributes that developers can use.

Post and thumbnail photos courtesy of Flickr user Dunechaser

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