Facebook launches Places, targets local businesses

Last night, Facebook rolled out its long-awaited geo-location service called "Places." While potential competitors Foursquare, Gowalla, Yelp and Booyah were in attendance, the company's real target may be local advertising revenues.

Places is currently available via the newly updated Facebook iPhone app and via a mobile site at touch.facebook.com. However, the service is still being activated region-by-region, so it may not be working in your city quite yet. App support for Android and other platforms will follow later.

In her live blog of the announcement, Kara Swisher described the service as more iterative than innovative: "Foursquare except cleaner. Booyah except no games. Gowalla except, well, not Gowalla."

But with its apparent integration with Foursquare, Gowalla, Yelp and likely others, Facebook will immediately be the "500 million member" gorilla in the room. The company's access to a massively diverse audience could easily take geo-location features out of the dorm room and drop them squarely into your grandmother's book club.

The question seems to be: How is Facebook going to make money on this new service? The company didn't announce a specific revenue strategy last night, but Leena Rao points out the social media giant has already posted a guide to Places for advertisers.

In the guide, Facebook encourages businesses to add their "Place" to the service and, if possible, to merge their "Page" and "Place" for easier discovery by customers. Rao notes that this effort seems entirely targeted at encouraging local businesses to post more advertisements on the service:

"Facebook says that 'Once you claim your Place, you’ll be able to advertise it just as you advertise your Facebook Page. To advertise your Place, click I want to advertise something I have on Facebook in the ad creation flow and choose your Place from the drop-down menu.' Advertising is completely self serve and seems fairly simple. Currently, you cannot target people who check-in to your Place, but a business can target people who 'Like' your Place page if you have performed a Page to Place merge."


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