Facebook Places – An Initial Reaction

Facebook Places Icon, courtesy of mashable.com

Last night around 7pm Jamaican time, Facebook made THE announcement. Facebook Places was here. For months, I watched the rise of Foursquare in Jamaica. It still cannot be described as popular, but continues to grow. Many predicted that Facebook would be copying Foursquare with a location-sharing tag soon. Now it has happened –  I will be able to know where my Facebook friends are…at all times. Scary!  When I was training for the SouthPole Trod, I would update my location after I had left the place. It was dangerous to let people I was all alone in the midst of the Blue Mountains.

Nevertheless, Facebook pushed forward and, as predicted, launched Facebook Places last night. Places is an application that allows you to see where your friends are and share your location. You can tag your friends in the Places you visit, and view comments your friends have made about these Places.

The real story is not only Places per se, but the model of cooperation on which it is based. All the various facets of the geo-location social media world have partnered on this one – Foursquare, Yelp, Booyah, Gowalla. The social media world has shown us that collaboration and cooperation can bring great reward – a truth often lost in our hyper-competitive world. But with all these companies working together – is this the social media version of a takeover? Are they cooperating themselves out of existence? I am watching, like many others, to see if they will all survive this integration.

Of course, the privacy issues abound.  Already the ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union) has released a fact sheet of sorts on the privacy issues behind Facebook Places (http://bit.ly/9Hps3H). You will be able to tag friends at a location, know if they are nearby and know where they have been. The main issue is whether you can opt out of being tagged, and being tagged by other. The reaction online shows that Facebook’s previous privacy faux pas continue to follow it (http://bit.ly/9HjrcX). Even with foursquare, many people check -in and still hide their location.

My other reaction referred to the balance between individuals, and business on Facebook. This locational tagging feature, while being ‘sold’ to individual users, benefits business more. In an era, where I can be reached through my phone, my address (Google Maps), through email and now Facebook is tracking me too – privacy is important. It feels like everyone is wearing a tracking bracelet.

Businesses do not have these concerns. Businesses need to be found to earn. My business email signature includes my twitter handle, my phone number, my Facebook page, my address, and Stumbleupon and the list goes on. My private email has no signature!  Businesses, like Foursquare has done, can offer specials and discounts to customers nearby or to the 100th customer and the like. This integration with Facebook would allow for further development in that direction. The integration with Yelp is powerful – as it links a review system, with a reservation system and customer service system. The possibilities are endless. But for me the private user – it raises issues. I don’t even want my friends or even my own mother to know everywhere I go.

Then, despite complaining about Facebook Places, I am a little peeved that I don’t know when I will have access to it. “Only available  in the US” – I had forgotten that expression. American friends – how is it?  Moreover, the caution to use it with the latest devices smacks of tech elitism. We don’t all run out and get the latest phone , even when we can. Two words – remember Vista!

I am sure in the next few places will calmly accept my place in a world populated by Facebook Places – until then Facebook Places is definitely taking all of us to the very Endz of the Earth!


Why Endz of the Earth?

At the Endz of the Earth!

When I decided to go to apply to the Commonwealth Women’s Antarctic Expedition, I never thought of how much I would change. Like most others, I focused on how far I would go – all the way to Antarctica!

One of the sources of change was the sponsorship process. It is all well and good to train for Antarctica, but you have to be able to afford the plane ride there (approximately USD 30,000).

How does a Jamaican woman of no-gold-spoon origins afford Antarctica? I just read of Jamaica Producers’ 10 million dollar ripe banana campaign (http://bit.ly/drQIcy) – a campaign involving billboards, radio and print advertisements was definitely not an option for me. So I tried another traditional way – getting sponsors. But I was constantly told that Jamaicans are not interested in this kind of thing – “Jamaicans like music and parties – not adventures to the South Pole.” I was inclined to believe them, as Barrington Irving, a Jamaican who was the youngest pilot to fly around the world, had no Jamaican sponsors.

Then friends recommended social media. Facebook would prove to be not just a way to keep in touch with friends, but also a way to let ‘uninterested’ Jamaicans know about this ‘SouthPole Trod.’ Its quickness and freeness had already led me to start using it to keep in touch with my various Caribbean contacts as part of my job at CaPRI (Caribbean Policy Research Institute). I had even planned a seminar in St. Lucia largely through Facebook and Skype

Thus started my interest in opportunities social media offered to adventurers to showcase and publicise what they were doing. Even established businesses would benefit from the interaction with the customers and the ability to get real, rather than polite and filtered, feedback. I was able to use social media to publicise my adventure, get sponsors, get support, suggestions and even training partners.

Firstly, I started a Facebook group.  I wondered who would join – we had over 800 adherents. I tried to keep them updated with what was happening with me – the training, the events, the food, the happenings with my fellow teammates! The shock was the interaction – people wrote back and asked questions. This is the difference of the Web 2.0 era – interaction and commentary – not passive consumerism.  The SouthPole Trod group was amazing – they supported events and me!

I then started a blog. The idea came about after one sponsor, Wisynco, saw the press garnered by Frozen, largely through electronic and social media. But while there was a paper version in the Flair, only 2 people came up to me citing the paper version.

One issue was how few comments the blog got. People seemed to follow intently, if unobtrusively, online.  Now that I run Endz of the Earth (EOTE – a social media communications and brand management company), I know we should have used Google Analytics. We could have found out how many users read our blog (online), the name of their ISP, the users’ approximate location, how long they visited,  et cetera. But we knew not and worried! People would call, text, and even laugh with me in the street at some of the shenanigans described.  I even had an 8-year old walk up to me at a memorial service.

However, it was when I got frostbite that the power of social media was fully demonstrated. From the customs officer at the airport to Juici employees knew of the frostbite. Moreover, traditional media, such as radio, newspaper, and television had picked up on the story. So even at parties, and Haiti relief events, my frostbitten fingers were far more popular than I ever was!

Using social media has another very important effect. It prevents us from stereotyping each other and our interests. We don’t just assume that Jamaicans are only interested in football or cricket.

It is this democratization of the public space that causes social media to reap  opportunities and advantages and which led me to start Endz of the Earth. We can all contribute to redefining Jamaica and Jamaicans, to let all our different variations, interests and enterprises (such as record-breaking Rotary book drives) to be seen and heard…to the very Endz of the Earth!

One person touching the power of the network!