UPDATED: Facebook abruptly pulled its new find friends nearby feature, first reported Sunday, which listed users of the social network who were also logged into the application’s page, and which was available via the Web and its apps for Apple’s iOS and Android. Did the threat of a lawsuit have anything to do with it?
TechCrunch was the first to report on find friends nearby, which Facebook initially called friendshake, and the tech blog was tipped off by developer Roger Pincombe, who saw a demonstration of the app at an AngelHack event over the weekend.
Find friends nearby allowed Facebook users to meet new people in the area, or to more easily connect with people they already met, especially in cases of fairly common names (rather than searching through several John Smiths, if the user and John Smith were both logged into the app, the proper John Smith will show up).
Ryan Patterson, the Facebook engineer who created find friends nearby, told TechCrunch:
I built find friends nearby with another engineer for a hackathon project. While it was originally called friendshake, we settled on find friends nearby for launch (the URL was a little bit of homage to the previous iteration).
For me, the ideal use case for this product is the one where when you’re out with a group of people whom you’ve recently met and want to stay in contact with. Facebook search might be effective, or sharing your vanity addresses or business cards, but this tool provides a really easy way to exchange contact information with multiple people with minimal friction.
However, there was some controversy attached to find friends nearby, as Friendthem CEO Charles Sankowich claimed in an email to AllFacebook that he came up with the idea and mentioned it to Facebook in February, saying in his email:
I was amazed Sunday to read that Facebook is blatantly stealing our idea with what they are calling find friends nearby. Facebook engineer Ryan Patterson claims the feature was born at a hackathon as friendshake, but we believe they simply stole trademarked materials of Friendthem.com.
More than two years ago, we trademarked “Friendthem” and have had tremendous success and exposure with this concept.
Even their language is similar to what has been on our website for years now — Friendthem is a location-based mobile app designed to help you make connections with people near you. Use the Friendthem app to follow up on missed connections for work and personal.
We are consulting attorneys and, assuming this is true, we expect to commence a lawsuit very shortly. One would think that Facebook would have learned to play fair after being through the mud previously with legal difficulties, but now they are doing it again.
We may not be billionaires, but we are damn tough New York entrepreneurs, and we believe in this idea and will keep working to connect people.
Facebook issued the following response:
We are constantly testing new features but have nothing more to share at this time.
Facebook also told CNET:
With all tests, some get released as full products, others don’t.
To access find friends nearby via the Facebook apps for iOS and Android, users had to go to menu, apps, find friends, other tools, find friends nearby.
Readers: Do you think find friends nearby was pulled due to the allegations by Sankowich?