POSTED BY: Luke
Facebook: You Can Check in but Never Leave
The social network field is going to get more and more crowded in the coming months. While several new and existing networks get ready to compete, Facebook are widening the gap between them and any competition. I’ve already covered Facebook Places, and the idea of checking in, but there’s a few more changes on the way that will expand Facebook further across our online and offline lives.
A Subscribe Option
According to Inside Facebook, Facebook is testing out a subscribe feature. It sounds similar to Twitter where you can ‘follow’ people with one click. The feature will alert subscribers when the person or brand they are following does something on the social network such as posts content or updates a status.
This sounds like Facebook is trying to fill as many roles and functions as possible, in this case trying to be Twitter. In the past Twitter forced Facebook to introduce real time streaming of information and while the likes of Foursquare were first into the geo location space, it was inevitable that Facebook would follow. But they were logical moves, changes that expanded the service. The only use I can see for this service is more like Twitter lists, where you can group people together and view just what that list is tweeting about. It would be like creating a list of people you specifically want to follow, to put their status updates and new content in one location where it can be referenced and doesn’t get lost in all the clutter of status updates from acquaintances, former work colleagues and brands. However, if that will work is another thing as individuals who would fall into one of the categories outside of friends you wish to follow, may just decide to follow you and expect reciprocity.
Facebook Social Bar
At the recent Blog Talk event in Galway, Charles O’Dowd the Head of Platform Development revealed the next step in the expansion of Facebook across the web. In the last year the social network has introduced Facebook Connect, the ’like’ button and a wall box plug in for external sites. Charles revealed the next big change is the Facebook Social Bar. This will be a bar that rests at the end of your screen even when you leave Facebook and visit other websites. It will allow you to like or comment on the external websites content, see how your friends are interacting with that content and it will also have a Facebook chat function. You can see it for yourself at the 12 minute mark in this video.
It’s often been said that if Facebook was a country it would be the third largest in the world, well now that country has a currency. In the last few weeks you might have received 25 Facebook credits for free. They now reside under your account settings, where there’s a credit balance and a buy more option. A virtual currency may seem a bit alien to us here, but in other parts of the world the use of virtual currencies for gaming has been common practice. Second Life in 2005 even had its own virtual currency exchange trading between the in game currency and US Dollars
Facebook isn’t there just yet. However, as of today credits will cost you at least 7 or 8 cents and can only be bought in batches of 15, 50 or 100. Not only can you buy this currency online but in the USA it’s also possible to buy pre-paid Facebook gift cards in the same multiples.
Credits for Facebook Payments
Its already possible to integrate Paypal with an online store in Facebook. But the advantage of credits is that they are multi-purpose. Not only can they be used for the buying of goods online, but also for loyalty programs, promotions and incentives which offer more scope for their use and will contribute to the wide scale adoption of credits.
Online Payments Outside of Facebook?
Facebook has spread across the web with Facebook Connect and the like button, and may go even further with the Facebook Social Bar as described above. So surely it is only a matter of time before Facebook offer a retail solution spread across the web? This would allow users to make purchases from multiple retailers without having to log in several times to different websites, or provide payment details many times over. It would all be streamlined into one straight forward process.
Credits An Offline Currency Too?
There’s also Facebook Places, the new geo location service from the network. With the location service why can’t the online uses of credits be applied to the real world? For example rewarding loyal customers with credits as loyalty points, as an offline promotion or even competition prize? It’s was done earlier this summer when Zynga teamed up with 7-11 chain in the USA to offer credits for use in its Farmville and Mafia Wars games.
Then you have to wonder how far this currency will reach. if it’s a virtual currency redeemable against online goods then why not offline goods and services? Take a clothing chain is selling goods via Facebook Credits, why can’t I also go into their high street store, check-in using Facebook Places on my mobile and then have access to my online credits account to purchase items in store. If I can do that then why not become a credit card on my phone accepted all around the world? It’s all entirely plausible.
Ireland To Benefit?
The scenario painted above may be some years away. But if Facebook was to continually expand on the back of such a virtual currency and grow its operations then Ireland may be set to benefit. According to Facebook terms for developers and credits, the payment process for those who’s main place of business is outside the US & Canada is being handled through Facebook’s European Headquarters in Dublin. Such an expansion to include the processing of payments for an online currency that is being used across the web and the offline world can only bring with it more jobs for the Dublin headquarters. Which is a great thing.
Security & Trust
Some questions need to be answered. Will Facebook be able to regulate an online currency that could expand into the real world? Will people feel secure using credits and trust the service in the same way Paypal is a trusted provider, but credits could go far beyond what Paypal does. With the potential to become the biggest currency in the world you have to ask when will it get traded like regular currencies, when will the first great Facebook Credits robbery happen and will inflation, deflation, a housing crisis or a recession have any impact on the currency.
One final issue is, will people let one organisation be such a large part of their lives?