Facebook is adding features again, this time it is a way to find friends that are in direct proximity to your current location. Using ‘Find Friends Nearby‘, you can find others who are also currently on the hunt for people close-by. To use the service, you need to load the page and wait patiently while others do the same –you can only connect when both parties have the page open at the same time.
This isn’t really ground breaking, though it does extend the usefulness of Facebook as a complete social network. Others have been doing this kind of thing for quite some time –including numerous Twitter clients that let you see who is tweeting in your area.
Generally speaking, physical distance is a ridiculous way to go out looking for friends. It isn’t a measure of compatibility or interests under normal circumstances –however there may be situations where this does apply. Ryan Patterson, a software engineer at Facebook, described a use that many may not have considered: “you’re out with a group of people whom you’ve recently met and want to stay in contact with.”
That makes sense to me. I have seen it happen on more than one occasion that you are sitting in a group of friends who were reunited at a wedding or other social function and everybody ends up saying ‘look me up on Facebook’ or friend-ing each other on their respective smartphones around the table. It would be infinitely easier to all load Find Friends Nearby and whammo, add everybody you are close to (especially when you are trying to spell names and such).
Now, what happens if hundreds of other people at the same function are also doing that?
The idea is an interesting one at least, and while my instincts say that the practicality of using it for Facebook is pretty minimal, there my be ways to extend it. I like the idea of walking down the street and being able to get quick and easy answers to questions like: where can I get a pedicure in this neighborhood? does anybody close to where we are sell my favorite brand of clothing or shoes? are there any photography club meetings happening in town this afternoon?
Those kinds of things already exist with location services in iOS and many apps already available (for finding anything from restaurants to hotels and back again), but integration with Facebook directly would give individuals more of an opportunity to self-declare expertise and interests.
Even though it isn’t really easy to find nearby friends (because you need to be logged in and on the page together at the same time), the security of the service is also a concern. While you have the choice to share as much or as little as you want in your Facebook profile, the nature of knowing you are logged in and ‘close’ may give enough information to some that it puts you in danger.
No matter the risks, it certainly shows that Facebook is further cementing itself into the mobile (social) world.