After many months of rumor, speculation, and even some evidence, Facebook is finally preparing to launch a location service of some sort. The details are still not quite clear, but AdAge has an article out today with more information.
Apparently as part of the launch, Facebook is partnering with one of its long-time advertisers, fast food chain McDonald’s. From the article:
As early as this month, the social-networking site will give users the ability to post their location within a status update. McDonald’s, through digital agency Tribal DDB, Chicago, is building an app with Facebook would allow users to check in at one of its restaurants and have a featured product appear in the post, such as an Angus Quarter Pounder, say executives close to the deal.
There is actually a location-oriented app live already as a tab in McDonald’s Facebook Page, as GigaOm spotted. You can enter your zip code… but the app hasn’t fully launched, so you’ll just get a message asking for more feedback and telling you that McDonald’s is expanding its “local Facebook reach.”
We discovered Facebook documentation for developers last month that allows them to input location information including geographical coordinates and addresses. “This is useful if your pages is a business profile or about anything else with a real-world location,” the documentation says.
Facebook has played around with a wide variety of ideas for how to implement location. Among other ideas — according to reports — it has looked at acquiring location-based startups like check-in game Foursquare or mobile social network Loopt, and it has considered ways of providing a federated system so that other companies can share location data back and forth with it.
The move into location advertising suggests that the company will be competing against many smaller location startups for these dollars. Facebook’s leverage isn’t just that it has more than 450 million monthly active users around the world. It also has many direct relationships with advertisers large and small — companies that have Pages on the site to reach Facebook users, and who spend money on home page brand advertising or on the company’s performance ad system. McDonald’s, for example, has 2.2 million fans on its Page, and it has run Facebook advertising in the past; AdAge’s sources say that its new location app “was negotiated as part of a bigger media buy on Facebook, and McDonald’s will be the first marketer to take advantage of the service.”
Facebook otherwise does not appear to have plans to charge for the service directly, same as how it doesn’t charge for Pages or access to its developer platform.
On a final note, the way that the McDonald’s app is described sounds more like an experiment than the full product. Some users who go to McDonald’s and decide to share the fact with their Facebook friends may not want to have a big ad for a hamburger appear on their wall, for example. The possibility of such an ad could even discourage them from checking in. Foursquare and other startups have experimented with running incentivized ads, like ways for users to get free or discounted items at stores if they check in often enough. We expect Facebook to try out a range of location integrations with marketing partners, if not with location startups and other developers. We’ll be covering these efforts as more information becomes available.