If you have been keeping up in the latest drama from the Facebook camp, you have no doubt seen the controversial rise and fall of what many are labeling the “Facebook Stalker App.” The app, tentatively named Friendshake (that is at least until it was pulled down less than a day into its existence) allowed users to locate other Facebook users nearby using a geo-locating feature of their phones. While the app was designed to create a more connected community experience through mobile, it quickly became the target of concerns about users’ privacy, causing the folks at Facebook to quickly backtrack.
While many are chalking Facebook’s effective sweeping under the rug of Friendshake up to a blunder on the social giant’s behalf, the truth is a lot of good can and will likely come from this. We all know Facebook has been scrambling to find ways to capitalize on mobile, and this little experiment has already provided some really important answers.
One thing that you have to find encouraging about the Friendshake debut (also referred to as Find Friends Nearby), is that Facebook opted to launch the app on mobile web instead of only providing it through its native app. Not only does this show that the folks at Facebook understand where their audience is headed, it shows a commitment and ability to providing innovative new technologies in the mobile web medium. Yes, the innovative technology here may have raised some eyebrows, but still it is worth applauding the effort. The initiative was also successful in drawing the attention of mobile advertisers, which we all know is something Facebook desperately needs.
What is also worth noting, is that the Friendshake app is by far not the first of its kind. Geo-locating apps that work through social media have been generating buzz all year, especially at festivals and conferences like SXSW. In fact, Facebook earlier this year acquired one such geo-friend finder, Glancee, and hired its two main developers. The innovation of the Friendshake app comes in the fact that Facebook really DID design the app to protect some levels of privacy, unlike other apps such as the also pulled Girls Around Me app. Friendshake required that both users have the “Friends Near Me” page open simultaneously for any connection to be made, making the interaction voluntary on both sides, however with Facebook having a long history of privacy concerns, people quickly jumped to some pretty negative conclusions.
Perhaps the biggest upside to the Friendshake fiasco that many are overlooking is that this is exactly the sort of thing that has always helped Facebook grow. The company has showed time and time again that it is not afraid to experiment with new ideas to try and make a better product. New features and directions come out of the Facebook camp all the time (especially following one of its notorious hackathons) but it is the public reaction that ultimately determines the direction the company goes. This is why the Friendshake app was not heavily promoted by the company; they wanted the public to decide whether or not this would work, not their marketing team.
So, while for now Friendshake, or Find Friends Nearby, or whatever Facebook wants to call it, may be little more than an experiment gone awry, don’t be surprised if sooner rather than later, we see it rear its head again.