Facebook Revamps Its Nearby Friends Feature

Anna Gale
by Anna Gale 02 Jul, 2014

With the number of location sharing options available in your app store of choice, it was only a matter of time before someone figured out a way to make it stick. While not relegated to a specific app or program, ambient proximity seems to be the hot new approach and developers are jumping on board to include it in the latest wave of apps and updates available for users. 

With Facebook being one of the most recent adopters, there seems to be a bit of excitement over the potential for this particular approach to actually takeoff. First, as an explanation of ambient proximity, it differs from what we typically see in the sense that it's not about where you are exactly but, as stated by its namesake, gives your general proximity to other friends or users with capable apps. This is the first improvement to the technology with regard to a major concern about location-sharing apps and the uncomfortable creepy factor of people knowing what bar you're at, or the restaurant you're leaving. 

In the new update Facebook improves upon this by allowing the service to be opt-in and giving its users the ability to decide when, where and for how long they'd like to be on the grid.

To take things a step further there's also the option to share your exact location with a select group of friends, and send them invites to do the same with you. While not at all new to location-sharing software, we see the 'invite friends' feature as this utilities best shot at making it to the big leagues. With it, a bit of the stigma surrounding the whole process has been removed, while effectively making it easier to get directions to that party you just found out your friend was at via Twitter. 

There are a few popular location-sharing apps already on the market such as Path, Twitter has it's "nearby tweets" function, "Find My Friends" is exclusive to Apple, not to mention Grindr, Tinder and Foursquare. With Foursquare the attention has primarily been on neighborhood exploration and discovery. You receive badges for getting out and trying new things, being in certain areas, rewards like "Mayor" for checking into certain places a number of times, etc. Recently however, Foursquare launched a new app called Swarm which is essentially the same functionality as Facebook's nearby friends, the focus now being on social interaction and making it easier to link up with friends in the area. In similar fashion you have the ability to determine your level of visibility to other Swarm users, as well as toggle between sharing and not sharing, and their signature "Check-in's". 

It goes without saying that we are definitely a generation of sharers/over-sharers, but that's not to say we don't still have reservations about privacy and a strong desire to be the final authority on what exactly our fans/followers/friends see from us. It seems that app developers may be on the right track by putting more power in the user's hands and creating more privacy options, but it still remains to be seen whether or not the "check-in" will ever reach the same levels of popularity as the "Status update".

Anna Gale is a marketer at Fueled, the leading iPhone app builder in New York City, renowned for its award winning mobile design and strategy.