Today, Facebook announced the introduction of a new feature called Nearby Friends in a press release.
Nearby Friends allows Facebook users to share their location information with their friends to see who’s in the area. Granted, this new service will only be available through mobile app versions of Facebook, mainly on iOS and Android devices.
Once users opt-in to use the service they can select whether they want to share their proximity with all of their friends, a specific list or a group. A list of your nearby friends will then be populated. Keep in mind that this list will only include and display friends that have also opted to share their information. Friends will appear on the user’s list in varying increments based on how far they are from the user’s current proximity (i.e., less than 0.5 miles, 0.7 miles, 1.8 miles, etc). If the user sees a specific friend, he or she can send their exact location just by clicking on their friend’s face.
The idea behind Nearby Friends is to make it easier to discover when your friends are around you, making those serendipitous encounters even more likely. For example, you attend an event out of town and are looking to unwind after a long day of networking; you turn on your phone and see that an old friend, who you haven’t seen in years, is nearby; you tap on their face sending your exact location along with a message asking to meet up. Shortly thereafter, you are reminiscing at one of their favorite local restaurants.
At its core, Nearby Friends is a physical manifestation of Facebook’s mission to connect people. Ironically, it also seems to rebuff claims by many that Facebook isolates us.
By introducing Nearby Friends, Facebook has created a huge threat to other location-sharing apps like Foursquare, Highlight, Banjo and Sonar. This is because Nearby Friends is directly integrated into Facebook and ,theoretically, has access to a much larger user base than any of the aforementioned apps combined.
Additionally, Nearby Friends has raised several privacy concerns. Facebook has addressed this in a few ways. As mentioned, Nearby Friends is an opt-in service. Second, users can only see the location information of friends who have chosen to share it and vice-versa. The location service is only for users 18+ and can be limited to certain groups or levels of friends (i.e., close friends, acquaintances, etc.).
Even with these assurances, Nearby Friends could test the limits of digital convenience. Most app users choose to receive real time app notifications. Because of this, users will have to police themselves in order to keep their specific location and proximity limited to those that they want to share it with. However, there is some assurance that location data isn’t always accurate as users move around. Your device may give someone your proximity within two square miles, but if you are in the middle of Times Square finding you may be like finding a needle in a haystack.
But, beneath all of the concerns is a golden possibility that Nearby Friends can offer something that other location-based apps have been trying to do for years: unlocking real-world interactions that we never have experienced before.