Whether you're a developer with a great app idea, a business with an interesting location marketing plan or just a regular Facebook user who wants to get involved with Places, there are a few details to note before you start using Places. The feature is fascinating, but it still has its limitations. And our guide isn't without caveats, especially for users.
If you're ready to start playing, here's what you'll need to know about Places.
How to Use Places
First of all, you or a Facebook friend in your group will need a smartphone. If you don't have an iPhone, you'll have to use the Facebook touch mobile site on a browser that supports both HTML 5 and geolocation.
The company does plan to roll out Android and BlackBerry versions of Places, but they haven't released any specific dates for those releases yet.
To use Places, go to the Places tab on the iPhone application or touch.facebook.com. You'll first be asked if Facebook is allowed to know your location. Once you click "allow," you'll enter the Places interface. From there, you can share your location with friends, find out where your friends are (if they're using Places), and discover new places near you.
You can add places, check in to places that already exist, and tag people who are with you. If you're checking in for a group, make sure you tag your friends before you checkin, yourself. For example, I added my house and checked in there. I then opened the Places page for a nearby sushi restaurant, tagged my boyfriend, and checked us both in there.
We've noted that it is possible to checkin from other non-smartphone devices in a regular, non-mobile browser, but you will have to use Facebook's touch site.
You'll also need to live in the U.S. Facebook's goal is to launch all over the United States within a few days. International launch dates haven't been released yet.
Other Services That Will Use Places
Tomorrow, Facebook is opening up certain data that will allow any and all developers to access parts of Places. That means that a lot of applications will start pulling information from Places, scraping it for data about people, locations, groups and more.
For right now, though, only a few apps have been selected to push information back into Places. Initially, Gowalla, Foursquare, Booyah (creators of MyTown and Nightclub City) and Yelp will integrate with Facebook Places.
If you use a Yelp mobile app for checkins, you'll be able to push those checkins to Facebook Places, as well. Gowalla and Foursquare checkins can also be pushed to Facebook Places.
Booyah plans to launch a location-based social game called InCrowd; it will be built on Facebook Places. The company says it will be "a playful social app based on interacting with people and sharing real-time posts at real-world locations" and will allow players to "socialize, meet new friends and track popularity" in the app. It will be available in the iTunes App Store soon.
What About Privacy?
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said this feature isn't about sharing your location with the world; it's about finding places and sharing them with your friends.
That being said, your checkins will appear by default on your profile, in the news feed and in the activity stream for that place. We've also noted that your friends can, by default, check you in without your explicit approval or permission.
If you want to change who can see your checkins, go to your account's privacy settings. You'll see that "Places I check in" is by default shared with "Friends Only." You can change who views your checkins from this area.
If you want to change whether or not others can check you in without your knowledge or permission, you'll have to click "Customize settings" on your privacy page, then scroll down to the "Things others share" section. You will note that by default, you enable others to check you in. You can disable this setting; there's no option to allow checkins-by-proxy on individual approval.
Also, another default setting on the "Customize settings" page is "Include me in 'People Here Now' after I check in." When you check in, your location is visible to your friends and also to anyone else nearby. If you'd rather be more private, you'll have to opt out of this setting.
We've written a bit about preliminary concerns voiced by the ACLU over Facebook Places and privacy. With much of the Places-related information being shared by default, it's clear that most users will want to revisit their privacy settings before jumping wholeheartedly into this new feature.
Places for Businesses and Developers
If you're a business, you can use Places to give Facebook your business' location. Once your location has been added to Places, either by you or by another local Facebook user, just go to the Place page from Facebook.com and click the link that says "Is this Place Page your business?"
If you claim the location as your business, it will become a Facebook Page. You can then post updates to people who like the Page, update your business information and more.
Places can only be claimed by official representatives. Verifying a Place claim requires uploading some kind of official document, such as a local business license or Better Business Bureau accreditation.
If you're a developer and are interested in using one of the Places APIs to use this feature's technology in your application, you're in luck. Facebook is launching a Read API tomorrow. This API will scrape checkins from identified users and their friends and will gather public data about Places, as well.
Facebook has also developed a Write and Search API that allows third-party apps to publish checkins and run queries on Places data. That's currently in private beta; partners include Gowalla and Yelp, among others. We don't yet have a date for when that API will be opened generally, but we'll keep you posted.
When Places Go Wrong
In addition to changing your personal privacy settings, you can also report Places that aren't correct or that infringe on your own rights somehow. Facebook allows users to report Places for incorrect data, abusive behavior, the permanent closure of a business or duplication of other content.
Reported Places are flagged; removal may not occur immediately.
You can immediately remove checkins from your own profile, and you can also untag yourself if someone else has checked you in without your approval. Just click the "remove" button next to the story on your profile or news feed.