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msnbc.com
updated 8/17/2010 12:05:19 PM ET 2010-08-17T16:05:19

Location, location, location — it's crucial to real estate, and increasingly, to social networking websites. Facebook, the giant among such sites, may roll out its own location-based features that would give it the kind of "check in" chops of Foursquare.

Facebook is holding a press conference Wednesday to talk about updates to its "features and products," and it's likely that location-based services will be part of those updates. It could even partner with Foursquare, the leading site for those who want to share their location with friends, and a site which Facebook tried to buy earlier this year.

Foursquare, whose top rival is Gowalla, has been registering more than 1 million "check-ins" a week since February. In July, its membership reached 2 million users.

Last March, on Facebook's blog, Michael Richter, the site's deputy general counsel, wrote that when Facebook updated its privacy policy, it "included language describing a location feature we might build in the future. At that point, we thought the primary use would be to 'add a location to something you post.' Now, we've got some different ideas that we think are even more exciting."

However, since then, little has been shared about those ideas.

With about 100 million of its 500 million-plus users accessing Facebook from their mobile phones, location-based programs may meld well with users' desires to update their friends from wherever they are. But more importantly to Facebook's revenues — the program is free for users — is that advertisers and marketing companies could offer their own location-based services to users to drum up business.

Privacy is a key issue — although once you agree to sharing your location, that pretty much goes out the window.

One of the downsides of location-based programs is having to digitally "check in" at the restaurants, stores and airports where they are to activate the programs, writes Jesse Thomas, CEO of JESS3, a product design firm, on Mashable's site.

"Stopping whatever you’re doing to check-in when you arrive at a location is just lame," Thomas says. "If you’re arriving at a happy hour, you might lose a conversation while you’re busy tapping away. If you visit a store, you’ll be standing just outside or inside and getting in the way until you’ve checked-in. The active check-in requirement is one thing holding back location-based social networks ... from widespread adoption."

In a recent report, Forrester Research recommended marketers stay away from location-based services for now, saying that only 4 percent of adults in the U.S. use such services so far.

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