We’re live from Facebook in Palo Alto today covering their location announcement.
5.24pm: Mark Zuckerberg has just taken to the stage. We’re in the cafeteria at the company headquarters at 1601 North California Ave, Palo Alto.
“This is going to be a fun and interesting summer,” Zuckerberg says. There’s a lot of product launches coming up this summer – they release them when they are ready rather than on a schedule.
“Today we’re talking about our new Places product that we’ve been working on for a few months… er, a while,” Zuckerberg says. “We’ve been testing it for a few months.”
Sharon says this is important because not everyone has an iPhone or other smart phone but they still want to be included.
He says he knew the product was ready when he was out to dinner and saw that Chris Cox was dining right next door.
5.27pm: We’re now watching a video about Places. Lots of images of people out and about, at cafés, farmers’ markets, at the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco. On the video we’re hearing from Facebook engineers and staff talking about serendipitous meetings between friends both in the moment and when they’ve been to the same place some time apart.
5.30pm: Applause and wolf-whistles from packed cafeteria as video ends and Michael Sharon, Places product manager, takes to the stage.
He’s demonstrating Places via a slide. You tap on check-in button and a notice comes up with more about Places and what’s going to happen. When you hit ‘agree’, it creates a new story on the Places page.
“Everyone on Facebook now knows how to tag in photos and tag in status updates and we took that to Places, so it’s going to be really natural for everyone to use,” Sharon says. “You’re going to be with your friends and when you are with your friends, you may want to check each other in.”
5.37pm: However, Sharon notes that you can click “not now” if you want to protect your own privacy. The default for Places is that your location will only be available to your friends – though you can change this.
He says you can only tag your friends and you can only tag them when you are checking in. “If you want to play a prank and check your friend into a sleazy bar, you have to check yourself in too,” he says.
You can also remove any location tag retrospectively or change your settings to remove the ability for friends to tag you in Places altogether.
5.40pm: Sharon says the Read API will be available tomorrow with all the details in a blog post later today.
He is now inviting his partners on stage- Scott from Gowalla.
5.41pm: That’s Scott Raymond, co-founder of Gowalla. He’s now on stage talking about the integration and how Gowalla passport stamps will appear on Facebook.
(This has to be pretty big for Gowalla, especially since it comes at a time when Foursquare seemed to surging ahead. Some of my friends will be pleased – they say the Gowalla interface is much nicer).
5.44pm: Next up is Holger Luedorf from Foursquare. So Facebook is partnering with both.
“Check in is at the core of all this,” Luedorf says. “We’re going to build upon this check-in location and what we have now is really only the start.” One upcoming feature is to remind you of reviews when you are near the location.
5.47pm: The next partner to take to the stage is Eric Singley, director of mobile at Yelp.
Singley says their integration is simple, similar to Gowalla’s, and the Facebook API will improve the Yelp check-in experience. Yelp is launching something today for Yelp check-ins on Facebook via iPhone or Android.
5.49pm: Now we have Keith Lee, CEO of Booyah.
Booyah is behind MyTown and Nightclub City. In the past few weeks they’ve developed a new app called InCrowd, which has full Places integration. This will be out very soon.
5.51pm: Facebook’s Sharon back on stage. “As you can see we’ve got a great line-up of initial partners and we’re really excited to see what happens when we flick the switch and make this open to everyone tomorrow,” he says.
Now Chris Cox, vice-president of product at Facebook, is on stage. He’s quoting a sociologist, Ray Oldenburg, about three important places: home; work; and “the third place” of public social interaction.
There was a fear in the 20th century that television, telephones and so on were destroying the third place. “It’s like WallE with the fat people rolling around in their little bubbles,” Cox says.
Instead location-based technology is drawing us out to restaurants, bars and night clubs. “Technology does not need to estrange us from one another,” he says. “What starts to happen is the physical reality that we’re in starts to come alive with the human stories that took place there.”
Cox says that not only will Places help you connect with your friends but it will also help record the collective memory. “Maybe one day in 20 years time your children will go to Ocean Beach and their phone thing will start to vibrate and come alive and say ‘this is where your parents had their first kiss and this is the photo their friends took right afterward’.”
5.58pm: It’s now Q&A time.
First question was if someone created a place for your apartment whether you had the power to remove it. The answer was yes but if someone else created it, you’d have to do so by flagging and reporting it. Places are meant to be public but will only be visible to you and your friends until enough people check in.
Second question on monetization. Zuckerberg says they wanted to concentrate on making the product good and they hope to monetize later.
Next question is on whether this is global. Tomorrow’s launch is in the U.S. If you are not in the U.S. you’ll be able to see if your friends in the U.S. are using it but you won’t be able to check in straight away.
6.04pm Next question is on support for Android and other platforms. The answer is yes, they want this on everything that can support it – but there’s no time line.
Zuckerberg says it was a challenge to figure out what was a good product but also different from what everyone else has. He believes the tagging feature is what makes it unique. Getting the nuances of tagging and privacy and so on exactly right took some time.
“There was honestly so much to do that I don’t know whether we could have launched it before now anyway,” Zuckerberg says. However, he avoided the specific question of whether the privacy issues earlier this year made them think about it more deeply.
Sharon says that just because a location closes in real life, it doesn’t mean that Facebook will delete it from Places.
6.09pm: Zuckerberg is pointing out the “launch switch” – a big metal switch on an eight-foot high wooden board marked “LAUNCH”.
Now the team members are coming up to hit the gong. Apparently this is Facebook tradition.
6.11pm: GONG!!! That was loud! More like GONG!!!.
They need the tall guy to pull the switch. Everyone is laughing.
Event is over.