Do you want to discover great places around the world? Facebook’s new feature offers to help.
Without any official announcement and apparently going unnoticed, Facebook Places have recently undergone some deep visual polishing, including emotional cover images, discovery sections, city and category landing pages and a deep integration with the Location API, Graph Search queries and user generated contents.
Rather than offering a mere list of places, Facebook is now using everything it knows about you, your friends and what’s happening in a specific location to help you discover the best places in town… and make you forget about Yelp, Foursquare, TripAdvisor and every other local discovery website.
The new Facebook Places Directory
The Facebook Places Directory is receiving deep visual improvements compared to the old and unarguably outdated version launched in 2011, with an overall design that is much more in line with the other sections of the website.
The main directory easily allows you to search for a specific destination (main focus of the page), provides quick visual links to popular local places and allows users to browse a list of cities from all over the world, segmented by country.
The city directory page features a prominent cover image (selected from user generated content) and is labeled "Things to do in city X", showing the aggregated number of likes and check-ins connected to that specific city.
The page is then structured into 6 main categories (Restaurants, Hotels, Bars, Cafes, Public Attractions, Arts & Entertainment) that are easily reachable through a tabbed interface that lets you move with simplicity across the different sections.
Each main category has a dedicated section featuring 5 tiles (one taking more space than the others), each of them including the best picture selected by the users, the place name and category, phone number, address and opening time, average price, number of reviews, average rating and friends’ comments.
Underneath the tiles, a slider features aggregated recent reviews, including the name and profile picture of the reviewer (friends will be shown first to increase the relevancy of the content), the name and picture of the place, the review score and the comment.
At the bottom of the page, less relevant categories (Gyms, Movie Theatres, Schools, Theatres, Grocery Stores, Landmarks) are grouped into a "More" section, while an interactive map allows to browse nearby cities.
From each section it’s then possible to either directly visit the suggested places pages or to access a Graph Search query view connected to the selected category and city, where the most important information is conveniently shown for easy consultation, with more details available on the actual page of each venue.
Why is all of this relevant?
Despite the changes and the introduction of brand new visual elements, what really matters is Facebook’s long term focus on local discovery.
Facebook has been working on geolocation for more than 5 years, starting with a pure Foursquare-like check-in logic and evolving it - through the acquisition of Gowalla and Glancee - into a much more pervasive view of location as a metadata to be added to any experience that is shared online.
Facebook’s push into local discovery will have to be big to make the efforts spent until now pay off.
It looks like Facebook has reached a point where multiple pieces of the platform (location, graph search, mobile, business pages…) are finally coming in together. Fueled by the incredible amount of demographic and interest data, all these items can be matched with each other, tailoring and individualizing the local discovery experience on an individual basis.
Facebook can look at certain coordinates on the map and assess what happened there in the past, what is happening now and what is going to happen in the future.
Facebook’s focus on mobile could also be another important piece of the puzzle: what started with the launch of Nearby in 2012 could evolve - given the company’s approach and Zuckerberg’s words - into a standalone app focused on local search and discovery powered by Graph Search.
What is now only a feature quite buried within the main Facebook app could easily be developed separately as an independent project by Facebook Creative Labs, the internal initiative that allows Facebook teams to quickly build and launch innovative apps that don’t necessarily belong to the core Facebook experience.
Taking advantage of the work done so far, Facebook can already integrate:
- Venues descriptions & extra info (inserted by page owners or by power users via Places Editor suggestions)
- Photos (uploaded by users via Facebook, Instagram or 3rd party apps)
- Likes, ratings, reviews & prices (left by friends that visited a place)
- Opening times & menus (via SinglePlatform)
- Restaurants reservations (thanks to an OpenTable integration)
- Directions (via Bing Maps)
- Open Graph queries
- Local Offers & Local Awareness Ads
- Events locations (and connected events check-ins)
"How do I get to the best sushi restaurant in Berlin that my friends like that they have been to in the last 3 months?"
Given the features that already exist within the Facebook platform which are focusing on local discovery with the help of Graph Search, a question like the one above will get answers that are useful and meaningful to users, something that Yelp reviews left by strangers can’t provide, and that not even Google is able to offer yet.
Furthermore, given the investments that Facebook is putting into the development of mobile payments solutions, it would not be surprising in the future to see an option to pay local businesses directly via Facebook.
All of this, in combination with the already existing massive user base that can be pushed into the adoption of a new app, could allow Facebook to make the final push to compete and take over many of the companies it has been working with during the past years, offering new innovative ways to fulfil investors growth and profit goals.