Will a Facebook geolocation app kill Foursquare and Gowalla?

Kim LaCapria

If you read tech blogs and tech news, it seems every idea by a big, established company is really a bid to kill an existing upstart app or product.

Today’s assassination attempt comes via Facebook, aimed at the up and coming geolocation app Foursquare and possibly Gowalla. Facebook is reportedly partnering with McDonald’s to allow users to check in via an app that will tack on a “featured product” like Angus Quarter Pounders. And although Facebook’s rampant popularity may initially make it seem like they could easily grab market share from a fledgling technology like Foursquare, it doesn’t seem like the two services will be all that similar.

Facebook was vague about how other companies will be able to utilize the same Facebook app model McDonald’s is said to be implementing, and while Facebook has a wider reach, there are several reasons Foursquare probably doesn’t have much to worry about. If you read the piece in AdAge that most posts are citing for their Facebook-Foursquare battle information, it sounds as if Facebook’s geolocation services would work with individual companies like McDonald’s (and one would imagine larger chains like Starbucks) to get into the location-aware game.

However, one of the most unique aspects of Foursquare is adding and promoting local, one-off places. A quick scan of my local check-in options on Foursquare reveals no big-name, nationally available chains, but several nearby Polish delis and independent restaurants. This will differ based on location, but unless Facebook directly rips Foursquare’s structure, it will have a hard time replacing that ability. I haven’t seen any stats on check in locations, but having used the service both in New York City and on Long Island, I would guess that more than half of the check in spots are independent- far more than half when you get closer to Brooklyn and Manhattan. And Foursquare’s “tips” feature would be almost useless if restricted solely to chains we’ve all visited before- a cursory look at local check ins reveals recommendations for drinks or individual staff members, a feature you’re not likely to see take off with McDonald’s.

The other consideration that springs to mind is privacy. Facebook has gotten a lot of bad press of late, and it seems that all the concern stems around Facebook’s propensity to collect, sell and share your data without your consent. The majority of Facebook users probably don’t care all that much, but there may be more reticence among Facebook users to share their location and consumption habits with a company that has proven that they can’t even keep your private chats out of other people’s eyes. While Foursquare doesn’t have the name recognition or huge user base that Facebook does, neither does the company have any major blemishes on its privacy record, something Facebook can’t even claim for this week.

So while Facebook is almost certainly getting its ever-reaching tentacles into geolocation, I wouldn’t say Foursquare or Gowalla have to worry yet. If you use both services, would you leave Foursquare flat if Facebook offered the same service? Are you concerned about Facebook knowing too much about your movements?