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Facebook Places vs Foursquare: Who Will Win and Why It Matters

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I'm at .... (... Street, London) http://4sq.com/xyz
I just ousted John Smith as the mayor of xyz on @foursquare http://4sq.com/xyz
Hanging on to my mayor ship! http://4sq.com/xyz


If you're a Twitter user, no doubt you've seen / been irritated by the flood of messages from Foursquare devotees. They spring up night and day telling you some old school friend just entered McDonalds or a work colleague turned up at the office. Every. Single. Morning. Inane or not is a debate for another time though, because the service has become immensely popular. So popular in fact that it has piqued the interest of Facebook.

Imitation is the Sincerest Form of Flattery

As Benny reported on Thursday the social networking behemoth has now launched a competing feature called Places. It is initially available only in the US as a Facebook iPhone app and to PC users with a geo-location aware HTML5 enabled browser (Firefox, Chrome, Safari, Opera). A global roll-out "will become available to everyone over the next few days."

"Ever gone to a show, only to find out afterward that your friends were there too? With Places, you can discover moments when you and your friends are at the same place at the same time," said new Facebook Places product manager Michael Sharon. "You have the option to share your location by 'checking in' to that place and letting friends know where you are. You can easily see if any of your friends have also chosen to check in nearby."

Sounds an awful lot like Foursquare to me and perhaps the most interesting aspect of the Places launch is a) Facebook saw no need to just buy the promising start-up instead and b) how blatant it has been. For example, take a close look at the Places logo and what do you see? As the eagle eyes at TechCrunch spotted, the base of the logo is a number '4' in a square. Ok rectangle, but you get the point.

Furthermore it took Facebook just 24 hours to release the Places API meaning third parties will be able to start creating applications that can access Places and post directly to Facebook. Key to this group will be acceptance from Twitter client developers - Foursquare's current stronghold - with the hope being it can quickly surmount its rival.

Yes Facebook is going for the throat here and with Foursquare currently employing just 25 people its approach implies it believes it can perform something of a smash and grab in the sector.

Perhaps the bigger question remains, however, is it a sector worth winning? Much as its banality frustrates me, the answer is a definitive yes.

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