Facebook reportedly launching location service Wednesday

Facebook is getting ready to announce its foray into location-based services, according to reports. Maybe they'll be able to answer the question, "What's the point?" I'm a Foursquare addict, I check in to locations regularly when I'm out and about. And I have absolutely no idea why I do it.

AllThingsD's Kara Swisher shares details of an invitation she received for a Wednesday Facebook news event. "[A] multitude of sources indicate that Facebook will finally be rolling out its new geo-location offering," she writes.

The event comes as Foursquare enters the "big three" of social networks, alongside Twitter and Facebook -- at least, according to the San Francisco Giants. TechCrunch's MG Siegler shares a photo of the San Francisco Giants' scoreboard at AT&T Park, listing three social media addresses for the team: Twitter, Facebook, and Foursquare.

Does Facebook's entry into geolocation mean existing players like Foursquare and Gowallah should be running scared? Maybe not. "[F]ear not, Facebook's service is likely to integrate other third-party services and will give developers on Facebook’s platform geo-location capabilities," Swisher writes.

Siegler also speculates what the announcement means for Foursquare:

So Foursquare is dead, right? Don’t count on it.

As we’ve been saying for months, it seems highly likely the Facebook is going to take a platform approach to location. That is, they’re more likely to federate other location streams (such as Foursquare’s) while they themselves remain fairly cautious with their own location services. You can probably expect a bare-bones check-in functionality on their mobile apps (as we spotted months ago).

But just as with their status updates, many people may populate that with location data via third-party services (again, like Foursquare).

Facebook will likely offer its own APIs to allow third-party developers to build location services into their products, Swisher says.

Foursquare, meanwhile, isn't standing still. It's working on Version 2.0 of its service.

And Twitter launched its own location service last month.

I've been a religious user of Foursquare for quite some time now. I admit that I'm probably Foursquare's oddest user, because I'm a workaholic with a home office. I spend most of my waking time in one place, where I am right now, sitting at my iMac. When I do go out, which I do several times a week, I go to the same places over and over: The neighborhood Chipotle, our favorite corner Mediterranean restaurant, the park five days a week where I exercise. I can't say I've ever gotten any significant benefit from my Foursquare participation, and yet I keep tapping that "Check In" button on my iPhone, because it's a habit, and because it's mindless fun. They have the basics of simple game mechanics down: Get people to do simple, mechanical, repetitive tasks, and give them occasional random rewards -- in the form of badges and mayorships -- to keep them doing it.

Foursquare has deals with some businesses to offer specials. When I check in at the local movie theater, I get a notice that says "Special Nearby," which turns out to be a sale at the mall Starbucks.

But location services will have to offer more than mindless, repetitive fun to have staying power. That might just happen; like Twitter and blogging, it may turn out the real value of location services might emerge only when enough people have been using them for enough time.

Mitch Wagner

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is a freelance technology journalist and social media strategist.

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