Facebook is taking location sharing to a whole new level with Nearby Friends, offering to improve real-world connections by letting users find friends who are nearby.
Social networking is oft blamed for degrading personal connections among users. While social media has enabled users to extend reach to other users around the globe, spending too much time online has been cited as a reason for the reduction in quality of real-world connections. Thus, rather than spend time hanging out with friends, users tend to spend more time connecting online instead.
Facebook’s latest Nearby Friends features aims to address this, by providing a way for users to discover contacts who are in their vicinity. This opens up a big opportunity for both users and businesses, although it also brings about a potentially big privacy issue.
Nearby Friends is essentially an opt-in feature that enables users of the social network’s mobile apps to share their location. When a friend is nearby, the app will send users a notification that a friend is within their general vicinity. Users then have the option of sharing their more precise location, which is aimed at facilitating a meet-up.
This can be useful, for example, when you’re traveling and you want to share a ride. Or, when you’re in a new city, you might want to have someone show you around town. Or perhaps it’s the after-hours or the weekend, and you’re searching for buddies to have dinner or a drink with.
According to the team behind Nearby Friends, the app functionality is smart enough to determine if a user is on the move or simply stationary. When the accelerometer indicates the phone is on the desk, or the user is not moving too much, it does not activate its location-awareness. But once the user starts moving, the Facebook app then starts keeping track of one’s whereabouts.
Likewise, Nearby Friends is smart enough to know whether a friend simply works or lives nearby, so it won’t alert you of that person everytime you’re within the same vicinity.
“The idea is to make it really easy to discover when someone is around you, and meet up and spend time together,” says Andrea Vacari, who leads the Glancee location sharing app team, which was acquired by Facebook in 2012.
The good thing is that the app should only contribute minimal battery drain. According to Facebook’s tests, Nearby Friends will only add a 0.3 to 0.4 percent drain per hour, which is smaller than the tested 0.7 percent figure for Foursquare (and which should be significantly smaller than the tremendous battery drain experienced by some Android 4.4.2 users because of location-awareness and Google Services syncing bugs).
Nearby Friends is currently built into Facebook’s core mobile application, although the company might soon launch it as a standalone app, in its tradition of unbundling its applications. Messenger has taken center-stage in the messaging space, while Paper has been launched as a standalone newsfeed reader. The social network’s strategy is aimed at making itself more relevant to users who don’t necessarily want a full-fledged social networking app, but still want to chat or read updates.
Right now, Facebook is not going to use Nearby Friends for location-aware ad targeting, although this feature might be available in the future. This should make ads more relevant to users (for example, which dining establishments to visit with friends), although there is, of course, the concern about privacy. For now, the feature is opt-in, and unless a user chooses to share his precise location indefinitely, one’s exact location will disappear within a day. Also, users have the option to choose which set of friends or persons to explicitly share their exact location with. Otherwise, it will just be a general vicinity.
Facebook’s Nearby Friends feature should be rolling out to the Android and iOS Facebook app for users in the US in the coming weeks.