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Facebook (s fb) is finally getting serious about its local ambitions with an upgrade to its Nearby mobile feature, which will pit Facebook against Yelp (s yelp), Foursquare and Google (s goog). Now, the Nearby tab in Facebook’s apps for iOS (s aapl) and Android (s goog), which used to only display friend check-ins, will now offer up a lot more data on local places, including ratings, recommendations and business information.
Now Facebook users can see a list of places that Facebook believes are relevant to them based on friend check-in data, likes and user recommendations. They can browse different categories and subcategories or search for specific businesses. Individual business listings tell you which of your friends liked that business and other pertinent information like address, distance and hours. Users can opt to call the business, check in upon arriving, view the business on a map or visit the merchant’s Timeline. Facebook is also providing user ratings for businesses, which Facebook began testing in October.
Like Foursquare, Facebook Nearby will get better and more personal the more people use it. Facebook said it will also look to add places from third party services in the future, which could mean Foursquare data as well. Businesses who want to show up in Nearby will need to establish and maintain a Facebook Page.
The improvements to Nearby should help Facebook become more useful to mobile users, who are very intent driven when they search for things. That, in turn, could help Facebook make some money if it can tap into the local advertising market. Nearby doesn’t sport any ads right now but it’s easy to see how Facebook could insert sponsored suggestions for local businesses.
I’m not sure how big of an initial threat Nearby will pose to Yelp (s yelp) or Foursquare. Most users are not used to looking to the hard-to-find Nearby tab for local search and recommendations the way that hardcore Yelp or Foursquare users are trained to search through those services. And there is richer content right now on Yelp and Foursquare as well as Google, which can show Zagat ratings and information.
But Facebook has more than 600 monthly mobile users. And it says that 150 million people visit Pages on Facebook every day around the world and more than half of those visits in the U.S. come from a mobile device.
This should be an interesting product to watch because it will indicate how serious Facebook is in mobile and location-based services. And it provides another glimpse at how Facebook will try to make mobile pay off.
The rollout of Nearby is starting with a small number of users but should spread soon to all iOS and Android users soon.