I think (and yes, hope) that Facebook fails in this latest endeavor. Ok, with an ‘installed base’ of 500MM users they certainly won’t fail fail, but I would argue wholeheartedly against the following statement from Silicon Alley:
Facebook will now become the platform on which other check-in applications like Foursquare will be built.
What is the first number that comes to your mind when I ask how many people you are interested in sharing your location with? On average? I bet it’s not 120.
120 is the average number of people the average Facebook user is friends with on Facebook.
As in the offline world, for each social group (family, friends, work friends, colleagues, gym friends, classmates, etc.) and for each social object (photos, videos, locations, news, tweets, status), users will rightfully demand unique privacy profiles to limit access to only those most relevant and appropriate connections. For example, I may want to share videos with classmates but not family; I may want to share location with gym friends but not colleagues.
Foursquare has in part been successful because, along with the emergence of a new social object (location), it has given users the opportunity to build (from scratch) a set of connections particularly relevant to that associated privacy profile.
My friends on Foursquare are only those people with whom I am willing to share my location. They tend to be in New York and they tend to be close friends (especially when compared to the 474 people I am “friends” with on Facebook).
So fear not ye social web start ups! The location-specific social graph is not easily replicable and the social graph subsystem of the Internet OS is only just beginning to mature. Purpose-built social applications that are subject to privacy policies outside of Facebook’s core competency will remain safe from the grasp of Goliath (for now)!