My office is in a full-on fight for Foursquare mayorship. When I won it back this week, I cheered out loud in the office. This "great" feat was only seen by a small part of my social graph because most of my real-life friends aren't using Foursquare. Yet, when I checked into my first Place on Facebook, I saw that 20+ friends had checked into interesting locations all over the country. I reconnected with a couple of them to talk about their trip.
As these examples show, friends are the killer feature. We've known for a while that critical mass is a key element of success for nuclear weapons and social networks, but the nature-like ecosystem of relationships stored in Facebook are worth an order of magnitude greater than the parts. My 523 friends map very closely to the people that I know and care about most. I may not have spoken to some of them for several years, but their Place posts have already caused me to reach out and renew a friendship. In my opinion, the Facebook friendship map is probably one of the most important historical records of my life. Since I believe that social media makes you more social, I put a high value on the network's ability to improve my life.
If people like ourselves are the best way to influence us, then Facebook has the potential to be the best marketing tool in history. I'm sure to buy a product that my friends recommend and Facebook already knows all my friends and will soon know where they buy stuff. In fact, JiWire's (client) report this week indicates that more than one-half of people are willing to disclose their location to get more relevant advertising.
That doesn't mean that Foursquare and others are out of the game. Foursquare's concept of socializing loyalty means that brands may choose to market their products through Foursquare because it has the mechanisms to connect with customers at a much deeper level.
Friends take work to earn in our lives. Because of their value to us, we are reluctant to share them publicly. When we do, they become a tall barrier to entry and a killer feature that guarantees Facebook Places will rush to the top of the location-based services pile.
Disclosure: JiWire is a client of my employer Edelman.