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Facebook plans to add 'place' feature

By John D. Sutter, CNN
Facebook proposed changes to its privacy policy that include a new "places" feature.
Facebook proposed changes to its privacy policy that include a new "places" feature.
  • Facebook proposes new feature called "places"
  • It's unclear exactly how feature will work, but it will incorporate location info
  • Adding locations to online posts has been Web trend this year
  • Facebook says "places" feature will be "more exciting" than standard location info

(CNN) -- Facebook on Friday proposed creating a way for people to add their locations to Facebook pages but released almost no details about how the feature will work.

The location-based feature, hinted at in a post on Facebook's blog, would give the social network's 400 million-plus members a function that has been popularized on newer "location-based" Web sites like Foursquare and Gowalla.

Those two sites feature mobile apps that are set up like games, encouraging smartphone- or laptop-wielding users to "check in" at restaurants, businesses and public locations. When a person checks in to a certain spot, his or her friends are alerted about their whereabouts.

Posting locations in addition to status messages and Web links has become a major theme of online social networking this year.

In a blog post on Friday, Michael Richter, Facebook's deputy general counsel, provided few details about how the places feature would work but did confirm that Facebook is working on features that use people's locations.

He writes that the addition is "more exciting" than a location feature the company had been planning.

"The last time we updated the Privacy Policy, we included language describing a location feature we might build in the future. At that point, we thought the primary use would be to 'add a location to something you post.' Now, we've got some different ideas that we think are even more exciting," Richter wrote.

"So, we've removed the old language and, instead added the concept of a 'place' that could refer to a Page, such as one for a local restaurant. As we finalize the product, we look forward to providing more details, including new privacy controls," the post says.

This month, The New York Times cited unnamed sources saying Facebook would unveil its location-based feature at its annual f8 conference for Facebook application developers, which begins April 21 in San Francisco, California.

Friday's Facebook post also says that the massive social networking site will make changes "sometime soon" to the policies that govern how it works.

Such alterations typically draw raucous debate, and often backlash, from the Facebook community, but the site says it is announcing the changes for review before they go into effect so users will have time to read them and post comments.

The idea of a "place" is mentioned at least twice in the proposed policy.

"Once you register you can provide other information about yourself by connecting with, for example, your current city, hometown, family, relationships, networks, activities, interests, and places," the policy says.

In a section about information the site collects about you from other users, the policy says: "We may collect information about you from other Facebook users, such as when a friend tags you in a photo, video, or place, provides friend details, or indicates a relationship with you."

The addition of "place" into Facebook lingo is an important change, Marshall Kirkpatrick writes on the blog ReadWriteWeb.

"The difference between location and Place is a significant one. Substantial resources are dedicated by location-aware social networks to determine what 'place' your location refers to," he writes.

"That might mean neighborhood, it might mean business name and it might mean recognizing when you are posting from home so that location can be selectively hidden if you so choose."

On the tech blog VentureBeat, Kim-Mai Cutler writes that the "place" feature could make Facebook pages for businesses and television shows more interesting.

"This could make Fan Pages for restaurants a lot richer and maybe even competitive to Google's Place Pages or Yelp's listings," she writes.

"If you could tag an update or post with a venue, you probably attach comments, mini-reviews and photos to the Fan Page."